Fishing around for a future in Marineland – If you think growth around here is bad, check out the town of Marineland on the Flagler County coast.
It plans to increase its population by more than 3,000 percent in only a couple of years.
“I expect we’re going to have to have a full-time employee now,” says Mayor Jim Netherton.
This is not to say people ever will outnumber the fish in Marineland because even at full build-out, it would have only about 200 full-time residents.
There are about six now. I can’t give an exact figure because they come and go.
Even these small numbers have drawn opposition from environmentalists. It is one of the quirkier skirmishes in the never-ending Florida battle over units per acre.
Marineland sits on a remarkably underpopulated strip of beach between St. Augustine and Flagler Beach. The entire town is 190 acres, including a salt marsh and a 90-acre nature preserve.
The City Commission fluctuates between three and seven members, depending on who is willing to serve.
Marineland may be a joke, but it’s an incorporated joke. It came into existence in 1940, when the state set up a small town around its namesake tourist attraction. This made Marineland eligible for a state road sign.
It was a popular place, the world’s first oceanarium. But time and Mickey Mouse took their toll. I went in 1999 to find a decaying sea tank, an obese seal named Chester and dolphins jumping under a rusting cherry picker.
Marineland went bankrupt soon thereafter, only to be bought by Atlanta developer Jim Jacoby. He is turning the attraction into a high-end dolphin-encounter exhibit. An exclusive hotel is going up.
Last year, the City Commission signed off on plans by Centex to build 240 homes and condos on 40 acres next to the Intracoastal Waterway. Many would be vacation or second homes. It was a bizarre vote.
Two of the four sitting commissioners had just moved out of town. A third worked for Jacoby, who brought in Centex, and had to declare a conflict of interest. This left Mayor Jim Netherton, who in his real job is a chemist at the University of Florida’s Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience. It is located in Marineland, and he sleeps there.
The “commission” swore in a new member and then approved the development in a 2-0 vote.
The Florida Wildlife Federation says this is ridiculous.
“They are not really a town,” says federation attorney Tom Reese. “They don’t have any services. They are a small-scale condo association.”
Reese says the condos run counter to state guidelines designed to limit development in “coastal high-hazard” areas. The federation hopes to block a new comprehensive land-use plan Marineland has submitted to state planners for approval.
“They want to put expensive housing on a sandbar and ask us –the state and federal government — to insure it,” Reese says. “How many hurricanes is it going to take?”
More than seven in two years.
Like officials in cities big and small, Netherton is enamored with the possibilities of growth.
“We want to be a center for research, education and entertainment,” he says. “We struggle to continue our existence until we can get redeveloped and act more like what people think of as a normal town.”
Mike Thomas can be reached at 407-420-5525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.