North Florida Land Trust will purchase Fish Island Historic Fish Island, targeted by developers beat back by public protest at city planning board meetings, will be sold to the North Florida Land Trust. The nonprofit organization has been negotiating for a year after the Planning and Zoning Board rejected a 170-home residential development. The deal is for 57 acres of the property on the Intracoastal Waterway southeast of the SR 312 bridge. North Florida Land Trust President Jim McCarthy credited public support for preserving the land. The State of Florida will pay for the purchase with Florida Forever funds if Governor Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet to approve the purchase. The land trust cited the property’s history as a citrus plantation in the 1700s, but the land’s beauty and benefits to the environment also played a role. The land trust is still asking for help to pay for preservation and staff time that has gone into the work. Visit http://nflt.org/preservefishisland
May 15 2019
Concerts return for 29th season Concerts in the Plaza, St. Augustine's free summer-long music series, returns on May 30 for its 29th season serving up a variety of musical entertainment. Two-hour concerts will be held every Thursday at 7 pm starting May 30 and continuing through August 29 with a special performance on July 4 beginning at 6 pm. For schedule visit www.CityStAug.com/Concerts
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History’s Highlight Jesse Fish’s hacienda From Wikipedia.org According to contemporary accounts, Jesse Fish purported to be the sole proprietor of Santa Anastasia Island, located across Matanzas Bay from St. Augustine. The island comprised 10,000 acres stretching along fourteen miles of the coast from the city south to Matanzas Inlet. Fish built the great house of his plantation, El Vergel (the Orchard), on the island in 1763, where its orchards and orange groves produced abundantly for decades. Tens of thousands of barrels of sweet oranges and hundreds of barrels of orange juice were eventually exported from the plantation, and before the end of the British Period, Jesse Fish was renowned for the quality of his citrus fruit. In the 1770s his oranges were popular in London and were in high demand there for the making of shrub, a mixed drink with alcoholic spirits, sugar and juice. In a letter dated August 10, 1830 and published in the Southern Agriculturist, George J. F. Clarke, a planter whose family had owned a plantation on the Matanzas River since 1770, described the careful picking and handling of the oranges grown by Jesse Fish and shipped safely to London, where they had found favor for their sweetness. André Michaux, appointed royal botanist to King Louis XVI of France in 1785, was sent to North America the same year on a mission to make the first organized investigation of American trees and plants that could be of use to French building and carpentry, medicine and pasture forage. On March 12, 1788, he began a botanizing trip on the east coast of Florida at El Vergel, having heard of its elaborate gardens with lemon and sweet orange trees, and of Fish's experiments with growing olives and dates. Michaux called the place a paradise and went so far as to call Jesse Fish the most hard-working and industrious man in all of Florida. Fish depended on the labor of African slaves to work his plantation, owning seventeen of them in 1786- 1787; by the beginning of the Second Spanish Period in Florida, Santa Anastasia Island had become a hacienda (estate) used for cattle ranching as well as the cultivation of sweet oranges, and hundreds of wild horses ran free there.
Commission seeks details on Broudy gateway plan The idea that we could move people back into the city, and that we have them afford it, was a revelation. To do it we had to reimagine how it could happen. We would have to increase density and height. Property owner Barry Broudy The City Commission Monday gave unanimous approval to further exploration of a plan to create workforce housing, a parking garage, new police station, grocery store and other features to more than five acres at the northwest corner of U.S. 1 and King Street around Broudy’s Liquors. Property owner Barry Broudy, whose Broudy liquors occupies a portion of the property, said he’s been working with City Manager John Regan on the concept over the past year. Jeremy Marquis of design consultants Marquis Latimer + Halback said the workforce housing would be geared toward couples who make a combined annual income of $70,000 to $80,000. A residential tower would be 60-65 feet high and a mixed-use building with residential and commercial would be 50 to 55 feet high, and that concerned Commissioner Roxanne Horvath: “The density of this, the height of this in relationship to West Augustine is way too dense in my opinion.” Vice Mayor Leanna Freeman echoed Horvath’s concerns about height, but for Commissioner John Valdes “This hits all the buttons,” filling city needs for workforce housing, a parking garage on the west side of town and a grocery store for West Augustine. The concept will be refined for further review by commissioners.
Final Comp Plan workshop today The last in a series of community workshops in a nearly year-long process of reviewing and updating the city's Comprehensive Plan is scheduled for today, May 15, from 6- 8 pm at the St. Johns County Library.     The workshops have been held at locations throughout the city to encourage greater participation by the public.     Discussions have included current assumptions, local issues, and positive things about St. Augustine, while common areas of concern have included maintaining a sense of place, recognizing pressures on all areas of the city, and balancing quality of life with tourism and development. Find Comp Plan details here.
Names in the News Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline is among more than 100 other municipal officials in the state to receive The Florida League of Cities Home Rule Hero Award for their efforts during the most recent legislative session. In addition to other efforts in Tallahassee, Sikes-Kline traveled there to work against efforts to further restrict the ability of local governments to regulate vacation rentals. David Reichbach of Destination Analysts told tourism professionals here last week travel trends aren’t completely positive for the industry overall, but St. Johns County seems to have more of what travelers want than much of the competition. Ed Swift III, co-founder and president of Historic Tours of America, told the same group, “St. Augustine is the best value in America, and I think I have a pretty broad perspective.” Historic Tours operates Old Town Trolley here and  conducts tours in Key West, Washington, Boston, San Diego and others as well. Chester DePratter, University of South Carolina archaeologist and Research Professor, didn’t find St. Augustine’s second settlement in today’s Davis Shores, but he’ll continue to research maps and Spanish documents to see if remains of the second settlement might be somewhere else. The city and homeowners permitted his shovel digs in the Oglethorpe Battery Park area.
Vacation rental workshop May 22 Commissioners Monday scheduled a workshop for Wednesday May 22 at 9 am with public input for an ordinance discussion on vacation rentals. The workshop will be in the Alcazar Room at City Hall. In discussions earlier this year Planning and Building Director David Birchim reported on vacation rental regulations in seven Florida cities, Tax Collector Hollingsworth reported tracking rental properties to assure they are not homestead exempted, and Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline and Birchim both acknowledged receiving a letter from an Airbnb lobbyist “offering ideas regarding clients and registration systems.” Cost/benefit analysis asked on credit card settlement Commissioners Monday voted to join a class action settlement regarding Visa and Mastercard charging of “interchange fees” but directed staff to conduct a cost/benefit analysis to determine the costs of entering the settlement against the financial return.    Assistant City Attorney John Cary said, "It is impossible to estimate what the award will include at this time. If we are accepted by the Court as a member of this class, we would share the award with all other businesses and entities who signed up for the class, along with the lead plaintiffs and the class attorneys.” Mayor Tracy Upchurch, an attorney, made the motion to determine whether the award to the city would likely be greater than the costs of filing a claim. City video system still out For several weeks commission and other city board meetings have been televised with a camera on the commission table only, and Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline wants a return to multiple cameras on speakers and presentation materials. City Clerk Darlene Galambos said repair of the system is complex, working with the vendor Swagit Productions, two local technical companies and the county. A backup system is also being developed, she told commissioners Monday. There’s no guarantee the system will be back on line for the commission’s next regular meeting June 10. The May 27 meeting was not scheduled due to the Memorial Day holiday. Public meeting scheduled at Coquina Park The Public Works Department will hold an on-site meeting to gather public input on a possible Coquina Park design and uses of the area purchased by the city at 91 Coquina Avenue. Those uses will include a passive park. The meeting will be 5:30-6:30 pm on Thursday May 16. City staff will be on hand to answer questions and hear ideas for the space's use. Find a report by Public Works Director Mike Cullum and Planning and Building Director David Birchim given at Monday’s City Commission Meeting here.