Sunday, June 07, 2015

Preserving St. Augustine and Halting Privatization and Ruin of Historic Area

As noted in the June 7th Record, Flagler College's St. Augustine Foundation has walled off the Spanish Garden on Hypolita & St. George Streets since 2001. You can't enjoy the park and its statue of Queen Isabella, except for one day per year.

Local commercial landlords hounded street artists, musicians and supportive businesses out of our town, attacking the First Amendment, for decades, with our City spending our treasure and embarrassing us in the eyes of the world, repeatedly losing First Amendment lawsuits. Meanwhile, once-lively St. George Street has become "one big t-shirt shop," says PZB member Cathy Brown.A new lawsuit is likely because City Hall still deprecates tourism worker rights.

In 2010, City Commission voted for outsourcing the 450th celebration to "First America Foundation," handing over $275,000 to a brand-new group with no experience, intending to avoid Sunshine and Open Records laws. We stopped them, thanks to pro bono legal representation by Holland & Knight of eighteen of us (we also stopped an illegal five-commissioner Spain trip to "conduct business").

In 2012, our Colonial Quarter was "outsourced" to Pirate Museum proprietor Pat Croce. Result: fewer re-enactors and more merchandising.

In 2014, St. Johns County Commissioners transferred the St. Augustine Lighthouse to a non-profit group: signs warn neighbors not to walk their dogs on former parklands.

In 2015, St. Augustine Commissioners voted 4-1 (Mayor Shaver dissenting) for a no-bid lease of the former Salt Run Community Center to the St. Augustine Yacht Club for twenty years, at below market-rates.

Developers tried to take our City land at the south end of Riberia Street (Punta de Buena Esperanza, or Cape of Good Hope, since the early 1700s), call it "Riberia Pointe" and lease/sell it for a coral-growing scheme, an aquarium and children's museum. Lincolnville residents Nancy Shaver, Cash McVay, Blake Souder and Judith Seraphin stopped them -- it is now a passive park, and Nancy Shaver is now our Mayor.

In October 2014, Commissioners approved a Planned Unit development for the massive Shipyard development along our San Sebastian River, without sufficient protection for public rights to walk along the boardwalk.

Kenneth Worcester Dow gave a block of historic homes to the Daytona Museum of Arts and Sciences (MOAS) with the promise they would be protected forever. Our State of Florida paid some $2 million for home restoration and museum exhibits. MOAS has sold the homes to DAVID BARTON CORNEAL, who wants to turn the museum into a $500/night hotel in HP-1 historic district. We'll just see about that. (One home is already demolished).

There's hope for preserving authenticity, history and nature in our ancient City.

On January 15, 2015, Commissioners rejected a building permit for a 7-Eleven in our historic area on eleven legal grounds. Unanimous. 7-Eleven appealed and quickly settled, with our City Commissioners spending $1.4 million to buy the property at the congested corner of May & San Marco. Unanimous.

On January 27, 2015, Commissioners rejected two (2) 70 foot tall buildings on U.S. 1. Unanimous.

Commissioners are now making decisions without fear or favor, based upon the facts and law of record, with competent legal advice. It's about time.

Enough privatization, crass commercialism, conflict of interest, flummery, dupery and demolition derbies. Join the late Mayor Walter Fraser and Senator Claude Pepper, et a. who have since 1939 supported a St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore. Speak out to preserve and protect St. Augustine's history and nature forever, including Charter amendments. "It takes a village" to save "our village," as lawyer Henry Dean (former executive director of two Florida water management districts) referred to our smaller neighbor of St. Augustine Beach (where under his guidance, voters opted to put a ban on buildings taller than 35 feet in their Charter).

Ed Slavin
Box 3084
St. Augustine, Florida 32085-3084

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