Commencing promptly at 4:00 p.m. today and continuing until the close of the public meeting by Vivian Browning at 5:00 p.m., residents of Vilano Beach, Surfside and North Beach voiced their concerns about the effects of the city-installed barricades that block northbound traffic from entering the Nelmar Terrace neighborhood from May Street.
Historic City News editor Michael Gold, a native of St Augustine who grew up on Vilano Beach, listened with interest as Mayor Nancy Shaver addressed the crowd of over 100 citizens who were cramped into the lobby of the Hampton Inn. Every seat was taken and it was literally standing room only.
Browning told local reporters that the meeting was called by Vilano Beach Main Street, Inc. in partnership with North Shores Improvement Association, Inc. to better inform the community and establish a non-confrontational forum to discuss resident’s concerns with the City’s mayor.
The coastal barrier island is not part of the incorporated city limits of the City of St Augustine; although all residents must use the Vilano Beach Causeway (May Street) to escape the island or drive over 20-miles north to Palm Valley to cross the Intracoastal Waterway to the mainland.
At issue Wednesday night was an action taken in November 2016, when the city commission voted to support the city manager, John Regan, in what he termed a “quick win” to St Augustine’s mounting traffic congestion problems. With assurance to revisit the success or failure of barriers placed at the May Street ends of Douglas and Magnolia Avenues in one year, the commission gave the “go ahead”, and complaints from island residents started coming in almost immediately.
Browning told the audience that because May Street is a state road (SR-A1A) people will continue to act by reaching out to the Florida Department of Transportation. She also said the District 5’s new county commissioner, Henry Dean, is not a fan of the partial closure of the city streets.
Shaver made brief opening remarks, but wasted no time turning the microphone over to several residents who had been preselected to address their concerns and experience with traffic on and off the island since the northbound closure of Magnolia and Douglas Avenues. Browning said that she chose the speakers from residents who had attended prior meetings and were well prepared to convey their opinions.
A half-dozen school-aged children who live in the area rode their bicycles to the meeting and asked to address the audience. One held a poster proclaiming “Our Safety Matters Too” and “Vilano Kids Count” while another eloquently spoke for several minutes about his own experiences with the May Street and Magnolia Avenue boondoggle, including a story about how long it took to get his injured sister to the hospital.
The crowd was tempered and the discussion civil; although, at one point, the mayor was peppered with questions concerning how traffic data was analyzed and then used to justify the decision to close city roads into the Nelmar Terrace neighborhood. A few audience questions were taken in the remaining minutes of the meeting, and more emotion began to surface.
Lisa (Parrish) Lloyd, also a native St Augustinian, is well known for organizing community support and grassroots efforts to fix problems that people tell her “nothing can be done about”. She told Historic City News that’s when someone tells her that, she goes to work proving them wrong.
Lloyd was involved in supporting the “grouchy neighbors” in Nelmar Terrace when the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind was prepared to use the power of eminent domain to take property from the remaining owners in the area. She was also an active voice for Nelmar Terrace, and credited with helping to stop the 7-Eleven convenience store and gas station from being built at the intersection of May Street and San Marco Avenue. It is ironic that she would find herself at odds with Nelmar Terrace over the issue of cut-through access; but, she says she is not going to be dissuaded.
Lloyd believes that the city installed the barriers based on flawed data, a charge that Shaver disputes. Lloyd said that she believes the changes were hastily pushed through with the backing of a small group of residents and people outside of the neighborhood had insufficient time to consider the move and voice their concerns. She received spontaneous applause.
Another speaker asked for a “show of hands” of residents who felt that their “quality of life” had suffered because of the limitations and added delays since the barricades were installed. Virtually 100% of those in the audience raised their hands.
Shaver didn’t offer any concessions, saying that the City Commission will review the impacts of the barriers in November. She also said the city’s data was thorough; and, despite perceptions, cutting through the Nelmar Terrace neighborhood to avoid the May Street intersection, only saves a couple of minutes, maximum. The city manager has already said that safety concerns, including those from St. Johns County government, were already addressed.
About 20 members and residents, some wearing red to signify taillights and congestion, stayed after 5:00 p.m. to talk to the mayor one-on-one or to ask questions of Browning, Sallie O’Hara, or other representatives of the two non-profit community organizations.