By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- City Commissioners agreed selling or leasing the old Administrative Office Building (AOB) site on the North Causeway and using that money to improve the Brannon Center or build something new for the public would be more beneficial than turning the land into a city park.
"We have had the AOB site as an agenda item for three plus years and the question has been raised, what are we going to do with it?" Mayor Adam Barringer asked the council. "The city is not in business to develop. If we want to keep it, it would become a park and we already have a great park. So to develop it, do we sell it or do we lease it?" he inquired.
Commissioner Jason McGuirk said, "I feel that if we keep (the AOB site), that's the worst thing we can do for the public use. We have a beautiful park at Riverside so it would be better to sell it or lease it." He requested city staff prepare a proposal on selling or leasing the land. Commissioner Kirk Jones agreed.
"We also have to consider the cost of maintenance on a park if we keep it," reminded Commissioner Judy Reiker. "I would like for us to remain open-minded in what a developer could do with the land. I know we have all been thinking of a hotel, but a developer may not see it the same way." Ms. Reiker said. "No matter what, I would like to ensure public access along the water."
She also wanted to see something developed there that would bring top revenue back to the city.
Vice Mayor J.S. Grasty agreed with the rest of the commission but brought up another issue. "What are we going to do about parking?" he asked. "I don't believe the causeway marina would allow a public walkway around their building so I am concerned about pedestrian access."
City staff said those issues would have to be addressed in a bid proposal by the developer if that was what the city decides to do with the site.
Mayor Barringer tasked City Manager Pam Brangaccio to draft an RFP by June 11 and place it on the agenda for the June 25 meeting. He stressed the RFP would be open in terms of utilization of the land and the developer must keep public access to the water as part of the plan. He also wanted to ensure developers had the option of buying or leasing the land as part of their bid proposal.
In addition to discussion on the AOB site, in the special commission meeting May 28 on the North Causeway Project, city staff presented recommendations to the council based on the three questions that were asked during a workshop in April. The Commission reviewed the results of a workshop on April 17 that examined options for the North Causeway Project redevelopment area.
Attendees of the workshop were asked what are the potential uses, issues and opportunities of the AOB site; about setting guidelines or standards for desirable uses and design for private development in the North Causeway; and about the issues and opportunities to enhance the appearance of public right-of-way along the North Causeway.
Commissioners were divided on the issue of setting standards for design after getting clarification from City Planning Manager Gail Henrikson between guidelines and standards. "Guidelines are suggestions, but they are not forced to follow them. Standards are enforceable and developers would have to abide by them," Ms. Henrikson said. From a developer's end, Ms. Henrikson pointed out that building according to standards or a PUD can be time consuming and more expensive.
"Guidelines are fine as long as you have a developer that is willing to work with the city," Commissioner McGuirk said. "I would like to see us set some kind of minimal standards for the area."
Vice Mayor Grasty disagreed, "I don't like mandating standards. Guidelines are fine." He pointed out creating standards will add to the workload of the Code Enforcement Board, which is already overtaxed. Mayor Barringer decided the council needed to address this issue again at the June meeting.
As to the issue of improvement to the public right-of-way, the workshop findings suggested several items including making the area more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, moving utilities underground, clearing the Brazilian Pepper trees to make more open vistas to the river, enhance the landscaping with native palms and shade trees, have more clearly marked crosswalks and improve the lighting in some of the shaded seating areas.
"I think we should be doing each of these," City Manager Brangaccio said. "We have the dollars set aside for things like these, about $400,000, and we should look at these items and determine what to put the money toward."
She suggested they could go to the state Department of Transportation for additional funding if needed and city staff could present a pricing plan for each item. Mayor Barringer tasked the city staff to bring a pricing plan for each individual item to the June 25 meeting.
The final act of the special meeting was the establishment of a new Neighborhood Council tasked with developing a vision for the city and helping shape the future of the city by examining special events impacts on neighborhoods, traffic, landscaping, building design and commercial development while maintaining the charm and small town feel of New Smyrna Beach today. They expect the first meeting of the new neighborhood council to be in July.