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MY INVOLVEMENT

Many people are discouraged now with the rapid growth and changes.  They want to leave because the life they loved when they moved here is quickly vanishing. 

I totally understand.

But our wonderful unique neighborhoods are worth fighting for….I’ve been doing it for over 40 years…often going up against what people have told me was impossible.  

Years of involvement with Planning & Zoning, Historic Architectural Review, and City Commission Meetings give me an in-depth understanding of the kinds of decisions City Commissioners are faced with.   

Getting things done is HARD WORK and requires PARTICIPATION.

Being LIKABLE and well intended IS NOT ENOUGH. 

Getting results requires digging in, devoting your time, and staying the course. 

I didn’t just RECENTLY decide to get involved. 

For over 40 years I’ve been putting the time in on behalf of St. Augustine. 

MY RESUME

My History as a Voice for the Resident 

Because of my knowledge of the zoning code and the comp plan over the past 40 years, people have called me for help on issues threatening their neighborhood or city.  My countless hours, days, & years of working quietly behind the scenes are unseen by people who only see me for 3 minutes before the podium.  

  • I981- 1983   Less than a year after buying our dream house, FSDB started trying to expand into our neighborhood, with our house being the first eyed for demolition.  While I had no issue with the students or staff or their wonderful program, this was a zoning issue.  I found out that FSDB would have to get a zoning change to build anything in our neighborhood, and thus the beginning of learning all about zoning codes as a tool to protect residential property. 

It took almost two years to resolve, but that I never gave up, because I believed so much in protecting not only my home, but the old fashioned character of Nelmar Terrace.  From that experience, I realized that many of St. Augustine’s historic neighborhoods were not in the suburbs, but were surrounded by institutional and commercial zoning and could be threatened like we were by outside forces trying expand into neighborhoods.  

  • 1983 - 1986   Flagler College’s expansion into its surrounding neighborhoods was the next big fight.  At that time, it was ONLY going to be Lewis Hall, and most of the downtown residents didn’t understand the precedent they would be setting by allowing Flagler to get their foot in the door.  I was an adjunct teacher at Flagler and locals couldn’t believe I would take a stance against my employer.  My response was that I was being paid to teach, not to be their zoning advocate.   

I’ve always known that you must separate zoning from the applicant.  Otherwise you are not using the law fairly.  You should not change the zoning for an applicant or something that  you “like” and deny it later for something you “don’t like.”   Developers are always looking for examples of where precedent has been broken, so they can ask to have things changed for them.  

Thanks to efforts by people like myself, St. Augustine has rarely changed a zoning classification for an applicant, which has kept our zoning stable.  I always tell someone, be they a homeowner or business, to check the zoning before you buy and make sure your “use” is allowed in that zone.   While someone has the right to ASK for a zoning change, the City is not obligated to give it to them.   

  • 1993 - 1995  I organized Nelmar Terrace to take stance against the Vilano replacement bridge being put at May Street.  I had learned from FDOT engineers that they were looking for another location to replace the old draw bridge to Vilano Beach at May Street.  As with many things, politics got involved and it wasn’t a simple decision to be made by the engineers.  The engineers wanted to put a new 4 lane bridge in that would connect with SR 16 and I-95 for easier evacuation and the growth that was starting to occur on the island.  Since this would place the bridge in another neighborhood, I did not support it going on Park either.  Both neighborhoods agreed not to push it in each others neighborhood and tried finding a solution that would line up the bridge with SR 16-A, but that put it too close to the airport.  Nelmar Terrace kept its word and I never spoke in favor of Park, but rather simply pointed out that May Street would never work long term because there was no straight shot to US 1 and even then traffic would hit a T intersection with the water and railroad tracks stopping it.  Although the FDOT engineers asked me to never stop coming and speaking, because I was the only one making any sense, the political powers won out.  In 2015 when complaints about the backed-up traffic on May Street occurred and people were demanding a solutions, the FDOT engineers looked it, and stated that the problem was the bridge never should have been built at May Street.  My predictions became true.   
  • 1994 -1996  The attempt to turn the strip of shops on the corner of May and San Marco into a nightclub was the next fight to preserve the residential quality of the area.  It was finally defeated, someone bought it with the idea of restoring the properties.  However, when it became cost prohibitive, HARB allowed demotion on the grounds that similar buildings would be rebuilt.  The owner of the property was killed in a motorcycle accident.  Devlin bought the property, with the idea of also developing it into a commercial strip with Starbucks as an anchor on the corner and his offices above.  However in 2002 when Devlin went ran into financial problems and the San Sebastián project failed, this project failed as well and the property sat vacant until 7 Eleven bought it.  
  • 2002 - 2004 FSDB made another attempt to expand into Nelmar Terrace. This time by taking the entire  Alfred & Genoply block, with the assumption that they could get the streets closed and simply make it part of their campus.  This was a replay of what I had gone through in the 1980s.  While I could not stop the purchasing of property, I worked hard on the State level with the department of Historic Resources to save the old houses.  While we saved them from demolition and they are now sitting over at the Old Jail, we were unable to save them as homes for people to live in. During my research in to the sales contracts, I uncovered that FSDB had charged the tax payer twice for the same house on two occasions.  This lead to an investigation in Tallahassee, in which I recreated reports to show the paper trail and went up to testify before committees.  While FSDB owns the block, residential zoning prevents them from building on it.  This was done all WITHOUT ATTORNEYS, but through my efforts with the help of other neighbors.
  • 2010 - 2012  The long battle against FSDB getting Eminent Domain went on. Again because of my work with fellow residents, Nelmar Terrace and Fullerwood did not have to raise money to hire an attorney.  I convinced the City Manager to stand firm and defend our neighborhoods and gave him the research and data to do it.  I worked with Doug Wiles, who was our State Representative at the time.  After hard persistent negotiations on a state level, I insisted that Nelmar Terrace and Fullerwood be excluded from Eminent Domain, and I went a step further by insisting that FSDB grant deed restrictions to any homeowner in these two neighborhoods that would prevent the taking of their home by Eminent Domain. 
  • 2012 - 2015  When it came to defeating the 7 Eleven, again it took years of research to use the Entry Corridor Design Standards, as a push back on their building permit. I worked with the City Manager and City Commissioners to figure out a way to prevent it being built.  I even got an ordinance passed that did not allow gas stations on San Marco. It went on for years and people told meet save my energy, because there was no way I was going to defeat a national corporation.  I would simply say, “Maybe not, but it isn’t there yet, and every day it isn’t there is a day that traffic flows better.”  When the day finally came to bring a case against the issuance of the building permit and hiring an attorney, we saved money because of the amount of ground work I had already done. 7 Eleven gave up and sold the property to the City, which was able to turn around and sell it to FDOT.  This enabled the new intersection to be put in, which is now moving traffic from Vilano much more smoothly, thanks to the defeat of the 7 Eleven.

No one has probably saved neighborhoods legal fees more than I have.

  • 2000-2022 Since I had already organized Nelmar Terrace into a neighborhood association in 1982, it was only natural for us to become one of the founding members of the Neighborhood Council of St. Augustine in 2000.  It was a volunteer organization formed to help residents have a voice.  In 2016 I was elected its President and I served as such until I had to step off of  The Council to run for City Commissioner.  
  • 2016 - Present My involvement with the Short Term Rental (STR) issue has not been recent. As President of the Neighborhood Council, I was aware of how they were impacting our various neighborhoods. I got appointed to the Short Term Rental Committee to listen to all sides of the issue.  I spent hours listening to both sides on the phone.  I read through several hundred replies to a survey I sent out.  There were times the public meetings became quite heated, as the community was divided on this issue. As a committee member, I made recommendations that STRs were registered and regulated to the fullest extent that Florida law would allow. 

I speak regularly at PZB meetings against the loophole of STRs being allowed to have parking permits in the City garage. 

I have spoken at length with Barry Fox on how frustrated the resident is on lack of enforcement.  

I’ve supported our City’s lobbying efforts by writing the Florida House, Senate, and Governor DeSantis to veto the STR bills that continue to plague us each year.  Fortunately we’ve been able to get the many of recent STR defeated or vetoed.  

 

 

Committee to Elect Melinda Rakoncay
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