A new vision for St. Augustine

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By SHELDON GARDNER
[email protected]

Members of St. Augustine’s visioning committee had a big task ahead of them a year and a half ago: Bring together the ideas, desires and goals from the city’s stakeholders and develop a map for the future.

On Monday, committee members shared the fruits of their labor — including about two dozen meetings and reviewing more than 500 survey responses — with the St. Augustine City Commission.

Though there were some questions about Monday’s report, the commission was pleased overall with City of St. Augustine Vision Plan. The next step will be determining how to implement the plan’s goals.

The 11-page document frames the future for the city. It includes four main areas, livability, authenticity, character and vitality, and calls for everything from coming up with a transportation mobility plan to eliminating billboards and overhead cable lines.

Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline thanked committee members for their work on the plan.

“I think it’s really good,” Sikes-Kline said. “And I think it’s very consistent with what I have been hearing is on the top of the mind of the community right now. So that’s what I was looking for, and I think that’s what we got, what we paid for, and we certainly can never … repay you for all the work that you did.”

The plan represents the “current pulse” of what the community wants, said Len Weeks, former mayor and steering committee member. He said the committee tried to bring together the different needs of the community, which wasn’t always easy.

“I think that the balance is the key issue here,” Weeks said. “ … We felt like we were in the middle of a pingpong match most of the time.”

The cost to taxpayers for the plan is estimated at $80,000. Weeks said he said he believes that’s money well spent.

“I think that when people think that we spent $80,000 dollars what they’ll be frustrated about is if they don’t see some action,” Weeks said.

About $74,500 is going toward facilitator costs. The city hired Herb Marlowe, principal of the firm Analytica, to lead that effort.

The City Commission formally disbanded the visioning committee Monday. Vice Mayor Roxanne Horvath , who chaired the visioning committee, now plans to meet with City Manager John Regan to talk about how to move forward. He said he plans to marry the vision plan with the city’s strategic goals “over a multi-year horizon.”

City officials will also look into incorporating the vision plan into the city’s budgeting process. Regan said he plans to bring the issue up again at the commission’s June 22 regular meeting.

History and questions

The steering committee, appointed by the City Commission, had its first meeting in January 2014. The last visioning was done in 1995.

Though many committee members have dropped out and been replaced since the beginning, 15 business, civic and community leaders served on the final committee that made its recommendations Monday.

A couple of the 10 to 15 people in the crowd spoke during public comment at Monday’s meeting.

Historic preservation and re-enactments weren’t specifically mentioned in the plan, and local resident Melinda Rakoncay said they should be added.

“Authenticity includes re-enactment and historic preservation. Get those words in that document,” Rakoncay said.

Historic preservation will be added into the plan, and a revised document will be sent to the city today, Marlowe said after the meeting.

Parking, traffic and other goals

Joe Finnegan, a St. Augustine resident and co-owner of the St. Francis Inn in St. Augustine, said he has seen tourism grow in the city in the last few decades.

He said he has heard some people don’t come to the downtown area because of lack of parking. He wants the city to work toward finding solutions to solve traffic and parking issues, and he thinks the visioning plan will help the city do that.

Weeks said parking, traffic and mobility were top concerns from the public, and he asked that the commission move quickly to address the concerns.

Mayor Nancy Shaver said the commission has already directed the city manager to move forward with a mobility plan.

Other goals and objectives in the plan include re-designing entry corridors, developing a comprehensive utility and infrastructure plan and promoting a vibrant art and culture scene.

The city this year completed a baseline assessment of infrastructure, which gave city utilities a “C” grade overall — that means it is mediocre and “requires attention,” according to the report. Rehabilitation costs were estimated at about $140 million.

Marlowe acknowledged the issues discussed in the plan were not new.

But the point of a vision plan is to give broad goals of a community, he said, not to get down into the weeds.

Now it’s up to the commission to deal with the details.

The City of St. Augustine vision plan outlines the following goals and objectives for the city’s future

LIVABILITY: MAINTAIN THE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR RESIDENTS BY FOCUSING ON CITY POLICIES AND RESOURCES TO ENHANCE LIVABILITY

GOAL: IMPROVE MOBILITY

Goal: Increase diversity of people, places and opportunities for economic activity

Goal: Establish a greater sense of place that includes pride, understanding and valuing of the community’s features

OBJECTIVES

– Establish as the first priority of the city the implementation of a comprehensive mobility plan with funding strategies to address all transportation modes: Visitor and resident parking, Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility, visitor wayfinding and intercept.

– Develop budget and metrics that align with vision

– Participate in the homelessness strategy developed by the county

AUTHENTICITY: ENCOURAGE AND FACILITATE DEVELOPMENT AND REDEVELOPMENT IN WAYS THAT ARE CONSISTENT WITH THE LOOK AND FEEL OF THE VARIOUS AREAS OF THE CITY

Goal: Promote those local features that are found only in St. Augustine

Goal: Encourage the growth of small businesses and experiences that are historically accurate or consistent with respect to St. Augustine

Goal: Recognize and promote historic diversity

OBJECTIVES

– Expand the use of neighborhood empowerment zoning standards and tools to support the interests and goals of the various areas of the city.

– Establish a heritage tourism task force as recommended by the 2003 National Trust for Historic Preservation report. Among its assignments should be overhauling the training, testing and enforcement of the city’s tour guide program that will result in historically comprehensive tours that capture the distinctiveness of St. Augustine and developing an incentive program to encourage historically accurate and diverse businesses

CHARACTER: MAINTAIN ST. AUGUSTINE AS A SMALL RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITY WHILE PROTECTING ITS HISTORIC FEATURES AND SCALE, DISTINCTIVE NEIGHBORHOODS, HOSPITALITY, AND NATURAL ENVIRONMENT

Goal: Strengthen the distinctiveness of various neighborhoods and districts.

Goal: Improve the city aesthetics, especially the entrance corridors

OBJECTIVES

– Review the event management policies and procedures with the intention of better coordination, review of event themes for promotion of diversity and protection of neighborhood vibrancy and economy. Develop an event calendar.

– Develop and promote a brand identity and accompanying message that features the distinctiveness and uniqueness of our neighborhoods, art communities, music, culinary experiences and historical diversity.

– Eliminate overhead cabling

– Eliminate billboards

– Redesign entry corridors into distinctive destinations

VITALITY: SECURE THE VITALITY AND SUSTAINABILITY OF ST. AUGUSTINE FOR THE FUTURE THROUGH POLICES AND PRACTICES THAT SUPPORT ECONOMIC VITALITY, ENVIRONMENTAL ASSETS AND HUMAN DIVERSITY

Goal: Promote attracting visitors who value the city’s unique blend of history, arts, architecture and culinary features.

Goal: Support regional cooperation in economic development

Goal: Promote a vibrant arts and cultural life

Goal: Promote and enforce policies and practices to maintain a rich and healthy physical ecosystem

Goal: Recognize and promote diversity in the cultures and histories that comprise St. Augustine of the past and present.

Goal: Create incentives to ensure a balance in the development of business, recreation, education and culture for residents and visitors.

OBJECTIVES

– Increase city participation in regional economic development strategy and activities

– Develop a sustainability report on our ecosystem to address protection of natural assets, foreseeable environmental changes and potential responses.

– Develop a comprehensive Utility & Infrastructure Plan to remedy deficiencies, increase efficiency and resiliency, reduce environmental and aesthetic impacts including overhead utility lines.

– Complete a study of the fair and accurate economic contribution to the city of tourism.

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