Saturday, May 30, 2015

$80,000 For 11-Page Document? City Visioning Process Under Fire and Questioning: ST. AUGUSTINE RECORD INVESTIGATION By Sheldon Gardner

April 26, 2014 Visioning Small Group Breakout Meeting at Treasury

St. Augustine visioning: $80K
1995 vs. 2015
Posted: May 30, 2015 - 9:22pm

After nearly two years and about $80,000, St. Augustine’s visioning process is almost finished.

What taxpayers are getting for their money is an 11-page document. The document is intended as a map for St. Augustine’s future and a method for preserving the community’s character.

The plan focuses on parking and traffic solutions as the top priorities. The plan also stresses the need for balance in the community between the interest of tourists, residents and other community members in decision making.

“We don’t feel done,” said Vice Mayor Roxanne Horvath, who chaired the visioning committee. “We’re going to be reviewing this every year, hopefully.”

Horvath spearheaded the effort to refresh the city’s vision. The last visioning was done in 1995 and produced a more than 100-page document with a slew of projects and goals to accomplish.

While Horvath is happy with the city’s progress, not everyone is. And some residents hope this plan is actually implemented and has some teeth.

Resident Ilan Wolffberg has attended many of the visioning meetings.

“I think this is disappointing,” Wolffberg said. “I don’t see anything in this that says there will be anything different or exciting.”

In the meantime, the consultant/facilitator who is being paid for this work thinks the city is getting a great plan for the future.

1995 vs. 2015

The 1995 visioning started in 1993 in Charleston, S.C., when St. Augustine officials and other visited to get ideas. Officials wanted to study a city dealing with similar needs: Balancing the interests of tourists and residents.

The 1995 project, which included Mayor Greg Baker, emerged from that trip. The steering committee in 1995 received feedback from 10 committees focused on specific areas, including traffic and tourism. More than 200 people participated in the process, and the project developed more 200 strategies, according to the city. Those strategies included encouraging use of U.S. 1 instead of San Marco Avenue for north and southbound through traffic. Another strategy was to keep the Bridge of Lions to two traffic lanes.

Project updates were done in 1996 and 1998, which were progress reports on the goals the vision wanted to accomplish. About 52 percent of strategies that were the city’s’ responsibility had been accomplished, according to the city. Two years later, about 81 percent of those strategies had been finished.

The latest vision plan is much smaller. It focuses on four strategic priorities and goals to help the city get there. The focus areas are livability, character, authenticity and vitality. About 30 goals and objectives are listed in the plan.

The visioning effort began about a year and a half ago and is essentially finished, though the City Commission could suggest changes.

The commission will also likely provide their thoughts about establishing a comprehensive mobility plan for the city, one of visioning’s goals.

The cost of visioning to the city is expected to be about $79,231 once the final payment is made to Analytica. Meeting supplies cost about $1,068. Sign language interpreters for the meetings cost about $3,662. The remaining amount went to the facilitator.

The money is coming from the city’s general fund.

Herb Marlowe’s firm is being paid $74,500 for facilitating the effort. He is part of the firm, Analytica.

He said residents of St. Augustine are getting a plan for their money.

“It’s a pathway, a map to the future, that if followed and adopted ... will create the community folks want to have,” Marlowe said.

The plan

The vision plan came about after about a year and a half of work by the committee. The work involved about two dozen meetings and review of more than 500 survey responses, as well as conversations with people in the area and town hall meetings.

“Traffic and parking were top of mind in every conversation and with every group,” according to the visioning plan. “No single solution will eliminate this barrier. Therefore, we recommend that the first priority of the city be developing and implementing a holistic solution that encompasses parking solutions, alternative means of transport, creative uses of existing assets and accessibility.”

The plan also encourages a system for reviewing the visioning plan.

Among other things, the vision plan is intended to make St. Augustine a better place to live, protect the city’s features and historical character and to enhance economic activity, according to the plan.

Goals in the plan include improving mobility, encouraging growth of small businesses and experiences that are historically accurate, improving the city’s entrance corridors and maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Making establishing a comprehensive mobility plan the top priority in the city is one of the objectives, as well as establishing a heritage tourism task force and developing a comprehensive utility and infrastructure plan.

Some more specific objectives are eliminating overhead cabling and eliminating billboards.

‘Some teeth’

Residents had different opinions on the visioning process.

John Versaggi, who also serves on the Flagler College town and committee and also attended a visioning workshop, said private sector plans that he has had experience with have ended up on the shelf.

“I hope that in this visioning process we put some teeth in the plan and adopt it and live with it,” Versaggi said. “Not just call it mission accomplished and put it away.”

Versaggi had not read the final plan but said he believes having a vision for the city is important, and approved of the $80,000.

One resident not satisfied with the visioning process is Wolffberg.

Wolffberg, who has attended many of the visioning meetings, lived inside the city limits when visioning began. Now he lives outside of the city but still in St. Johns County.

Wolffberg said things in the plan point to areas that the city already knew were problems, such as the focus on mobility. One of the vision’s ideas is to create a mobility committee. He said when he thinks of a vision he thinks there would be a plan envisioning more drastic changes.

Marlowe said the point of a vision plan is to express a community’s set of values. He said the steering committee worked hard to listen to the community, and the themes reflect what St. Augustine citizens wanted.

“And that’s really critical in a vision plan,” Marlowe said. “The whole basis of this plan is not so much a specific this or that ... You’re not getting into the details because to do that is to really cross boundaries. That’s the work of the commission.”

The committee

The Visioning 2014 & Beyond steering committee has evolved since the process began. Some members dropped out and have been replaced. The point was to find people in the community who represented a variety of interests, including businesses and residents and institutions.

About eight people participated through the entire process, including Grant Misterly, a St. Augustine resident and former candidate for City Commission.

Misterly said one thing visioning accomplished was pulling together a group of about 20 people over time with different goals and concerns, and bringing forth from that a cohesive plan. He said solutions for traffic problems was one of his top priorities. St. Augustine should start taking a comprehensive approach to solving those problems instead of “playing Whac-A-Mole” by fixing problems here and there, he said.

He said he believes the plan did a good job of capturing people’s goals and concerns.

“It really kind of lays out a map for the future of St Augustine.”

Wolfgang Schau, a Davis Shores resident and member of the steering committee, said he believes the group needed a facilitator to accomplish its goals.

“My opinion is that without an outside facilitator we would have not gotten where we are today,” Schau said. “It’s a big milestone achieved now but we do not consider the work as completely (done).”

The document is not the end goal for the committee, Horvath said.

However, it does represent the finish line for the officially sanctioned process by the City Commission.

Horvath said she wants the city to move forward with task forces in keeping with the vision plan to move forward with the changes. But the most important is the comprehensive mobility plan.

As for the money, Horvath said she thinks $80,000 will have been well spent.

“It’s a plan, it’s the map, it’s the priorities that have come from the different input from community and the …committee, prioritizing and trying to spell out what we want to try to accomplish in the next few years,” Horvath said.

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