By Estella R. Fullmer
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- An increase in trucks hauling asphalt supplies down State Road 44 and unpleasant fumes may be in store for residents of New Smyrna Beach and Samsula if the Volusia County Commission grants a zoning special exception request to Barcel- Developments Inc.
Wearing bright yellow T-shirts with bold black letters, members of "Save Samsula" gathered Saturday, April 20, near the site of the proposed asphalt plant to protest its construction in their backyard. Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys was on-hand for the protest and spoke with residents about their concerns.
Chief among them was what the proposed plant will do to nearby property values. Some of the organizers claim research shows a steep decline in property values in areas surrounding other similar sites in Florida and across the country. Residents say even if they wanted to move, they would not be able to get out of their land what they have put into it once the plant is built.
At a "Save Samsula" meeting April 23, residents expressed their issues to their attorney James Stowers of Wright, Casey & Stowers. Attorney Stowers is working with Attorney Glen Storch of Storch & Harris to represent the citizens of Samsula in the dispute.
Other concerns residents expressed were about the air quality around the proposed plant and the effect that would have on their children, particularly while they are in school. Samsula Elementary School is located just a few miles from the proposed location. A couple of citizens cited they had moved to the area to avoid smog and bad air quality for health reasons and felt that the asphalt plant is going to create a breathing problem for them.
One resident of New Smyrna Beach present at the April 23 meeting is trying to make residents aware of the situation. She discovered that several wells that are sources of New Smyrna's water are near the proposed asphalt plant, which could result in a change in water quality for the city. Many residents of Samsula are also concerned the run-off from the asphalt will contaminate drinking water sources for themselves and their livestock.
Another issue of concern for the residents is the likely increase of dump trucks hauling materials to the plant from New Smyrna Beach to the plant and the routes the dump trucks would be taking from the plant to various road projects around the county. Residents say there will be an increase in the noise from the trucks and deterioration of the road surfaces, which may cause an increase in county taxes to pay for repairs and urged Attorney Stowers to make sure the council is aware of their views.
They also say the proposed plant is in direct violation with the intended land use established by the county and if a special exception is granted for this purpose, it is going to open the door for other heavy industries in Samsula.
"This plant is in opposition to all of those values the county voted on," said Glenda Vansickle, after reading documents submitted to the county by the developer and other county ordinances. The area in question is zoned for agriculture and part of the land falls under the protected wetlands zoning. Barcel- Developments says it will not disturb the wetlands and its building plan clearly states those areas to be open land.
Barcel- plans to build the asphalt plant on 3.7 of the 16.3 acres it purchased east of State Road 415 in Samsula. County records indicate the company chose the site because of its central location in the county and easy access to S.R. 415 and S.R. 44. Material used to supply the batching facility will be transported from a rail yard on U.S. 1 in New Smyrna Beach.
According to county records, "the applicant proposes to limit the special exception use to the westerly portion of the overall 16.29-acre parcel. The intended batching facility and ancillary improvements will occupy a project area of about 3.7 acres. Per the applicant, the proposed plant operational schedule is 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday."
County officials state in documents that "pursuant to the zoning code, a detailed review of this development will take place during a Final Site Plan review process to assure compliance with applicable sections of Chapter 72 of the Code of Ordinances, including, but not limited to, landscaping, off-street parking and stormwater management prior to construction of the facility." However, a County Council meeting in February, staff commented the proposed plan has the facility too close to S.R. 415 and the building heights exceed the 70 foot maximum building height according to section 72-293 (9). They also stated "an appropriate landscaped buffer is needed to screen the use from adjoining properties. Some open-air special exception uses, such as an air curtain incinerator, construction and demolition debris disposal facility, and an excavation, are required to provide a 50-foot buffer adjacent to all property boundaries." Staff's final concern was a need for an upland buffer of 25 feet from the wetland areas.
County council members may deny the special exception request for any of the following reasons; it is inconsistent with the purpose or intent of the ordinance; it is inconsistent with any element of the comprehensive plan; it will adversely affect the public interest; it does not meet the expressed requirements of the applicable special exception; the applicant will not be able to meet all requirements imposed by federal, state or local governments, or by the council; it will generate undue traffic congestion; it will create a hazard or a public nuisance, or be dangerous to individuals or to the public; it will materially alter the character of surrounding neighborhoods or adversely affect the value of surrounding land, structures or buildings or it will adversely affect the natural environment, natural resources or scenic beauty, or cause excessive pollution.
Before the issue goes before the County Council, it must go through the Volusia Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission. The commission continued the item for 60 days at the request of Barcel- Developments and will be reviewing the application during its May 14 meeting.
Members of "Save Samsula" plan to attend to state their opposition to the proposed plant.
Attorney Stowers advised the residents to pick 8-10 people to speak at the council meeting and for each one to clearly state their concerns without repeating the same items over and over. "Always presenting facts and evidence impactful to your interests as residents is the way to go," he said.
Michael Smith urged residents of Samsula and New Smyrna Beach to write to the County Council members and express their concerns. "Signing a petition is not enough, your individual letters carry a lot of weight," Mr. Smith said.
Residents plan another meeting at the SPNJ Lodge, 421 N. Samsula Drive, just prior to the May 14 commission meeting.