Taxpayer reserve funds flee City of St Augustine thanks to Coquina Avenue landgrab

It was a low-speed escape, but taxpayers in the City of St Augustine witnessed almost a half-million dollars, lifted from city reserve funds March 5th, as it made its escape out of the city limits, out of St Johns County, and, by nightfall Tuesday, was stashed 62-road-miles away in Flagler County.

The money, appropriated under pretexts by city manager John P Regan, financed the landgrab at 91-93 Coquina Avenue — essentially two previously tax-paying lots that are now off the tax rolls, and a rundown shack that received little upkeep since the 1940’s.

Regan romanticized the termite-trap, referring to it as “the Meldrim Cottage”.  Unfortunately, Regan’s claim that the historic value of the cracker-box justified dipping into the city reserve funds to acquire it, turned out to be fake.  Now that the “cottage” has been removed, we know that the truth is that the lots will be developed into a park for residents of the South Davis Shores neighborhood.

The city quickly learned that remodeling the “cottage” for a community use, like the Galimore Center in Lincolnville, was not practical.  Then the city announced to Historic City News that they could find a buyer who was willing to restore the “cottage”, and that the buyer would relocate the building.  Ultimately, the city gave the “cottage” away for free to the state Agricultural Museum in Flagler County.  The city also paid the museum $5,000 to move it and they waived all permits and fees required for the move.

Museum Executive Director Kara Hoblick reported that they are happy to receive the donation since it is connected, loosely, to northeast Florida’s turpentine and timber industry.  Hoblick admitted, “I’ve never done this before, but my guess is it’s probably going to take a year before we’re actually able to open it to the public.”  That may be an understatement.  Hoblick also said that she hasn’t totaled the final cost to move the building.

Although the “cottage” is not directly linked to the turpentine industry in the Sunshine State, the late James Meldrim, a timber farmer along CR-13 and the St Johns River, built the “cottage” about 1946.  It became part of his estate and was sold to the City of St Augustine by his family.

Hoblick said, “At first, we were not interested because it is a house, a residential dwelling.” However, the museum has many artifacts from the agriculture industry and the turpentine industry in storage.  According to Hoblick, the building is being prepared for use and display of the turpentine industry artifacts already in the museum’s possession.

Tuesday wasn’t the first time a historic building arrived on a flatbed truck at the Flagler County site.  In 2006, five buildings from the Strawn Historic Agriculture District in DeLeon Springs were trucked to the museum grounds to become part of the permanent exhibit.  With the Meldrim Cottage safely on the museum grounds, Hoblick is already looking ahead to acquiring more historic buildings possibly a couple of churches.  The wood-frame “cottage” joins nine other historic buildings on the museum grounds.