By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- The City Commission is facing a decision about the old Administrative Office Building site at 160 North Causeway.
Earlier this year the commission voted to sell the land and opened it up to offers for development.
There were four responses to the call for bids. Of those four, one withdrew and the city Economic Development Advisory Board eliminated another that was not in keeping with the Community Redevelopment Agreement. The board examined the other two proposals and arranged for the developers to present them to the commission on Dec. 10, according to Tony Otte, Director of Economic Development.
The first proposal was for a housing development from Rex-Tibbs Construction and Development Co. of Maitland. The company wanted to buy the land and build eight houses with private docks along the river with another 11 houses on the interior of the island that would have a shared docking facility. The interior houses will be around 2,500 square feet and cost around $230,000 each while the waterfront houses would be in the $400,000s and be closer to 4,000 square feet. The center will be a landscaped green area to help with storm run-off.
The other proposal under consideration is from White Development Co. of Clearwater and is for a 30,000-square-foot grocery store with possibly a few small stores on each end. The plan also includes public access to the existing boat docks and accommodates the parking and access needs of the Marine Discovery Center.
"I envision a winding walkway with attractive lighting and maybe a few benches in alcoves along the way," said Jim White, company president.
The grocery store building would be thin and long and a single story with an architectural style similar to those in Key West.
Both plans presented were for purchase of the land at about one-third of the assessed worth. Steve Sather, a North Causeway area resident, asked the commission, "Does it make sense for us to accept offers that are that low?"
Several members of the public expressed their concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting. Some members of NSB Citizens for Smart Growth stated their approval for the housing development, which the builder intends to call "South Bay, an exclusive river front community" and concerns over increased traffic on North Causeway if a grocery store were to be added.
Other residents felt the grocery store was a better option and would benefit the most people. "I would hate to see the city lose such a beautiful piece of water front property," resident Robert Reece said. "The housing plan would benefit only those few who will live there while Mr. White's plan is more open to the community. With the other plan we are going to lose 100 percent of the view of the water."
Mr. Reece also asked the city to keep the residents informed as to what is going on in that area.
Dren Owenby said, "We need a grocery store in that area. People are already going out of the area to get groceries so the traffic is already there. I don't see how traffic would be any worse."
Mr. Owenby pointed out the housing development would bring in more people to the area and would likely have a greater impact on increasing traffic than the grocery plan.
Lisa Magee of the Marine Discovery Center said their main concern is the public access to the boat ramp. "It is the lifeblood of the MDC," Ms. Magee said, "We see people from all around the world. We not only take people out to see New Smyrna Beach attractions, but we encourage them to spend their money here in local shops and restaurants."
She said their tour guides and staff suggest local places to eat, shop and sleep. Each boat tour seats up to 40 people and they run 7 days a week. "That's a lot of people that we influence and we just ask you to please be sensitive to what happens around that estuary." She urged council members to take the issues of environmental impact on the river for each proposal into account when they make their decision.
Commissioner Jason McGuirk validated all the residents' concerns. "Right now our community (on the North Causeway) is forced to State Road 44 for their grocery needs," he said. "Whether it is on the beach or Winn Dixie or Publix, they are all on 44 and that creates a bottleneck. This has the ability of breaking this up."
Commissioner McGuirk said his preference is to lease the land rather than sell it and Mr. White said he would entertain the idea with certain precautions.
Randall L. Rex of Rex-Tibbs Construction said, "Our bid was to purchase the land. The housing design does not take a lease option into account."
"I agree about the lease," Commissioner Kirk Jones said. "I do like the public access (to the boat docks) on Mr. White's proposal. I know we are trying to get away from home owners for the tax base and have more commercial options."
Commissioner Judy Reiker pointed out, "I think we have three choices. We can leave the land alone or sell it or lease it."
Commissioner Reiker expressed concerns over the storm water run-off plan in both proposals. She also had concerns over additional traffic problems and public access to the boat docks. "I am not excited about the field of asphalt," she said about White Construction's plan.
The site is considered a brownfield site, which means the ground could contain contaminants from past manufacturing practices on that land when it was occupied by the Utilities Commission.
"I know what is in that ground," Commissioner Jack Grasty said. "It was cleaned up before the utilities left. My main concern is both these proposals are so much less than the appraised value of the land. I am not in favor of selling it at all."
Mayor Adam Barringer said, "In the past it was decided to sell the property.
This is the third time we have sought proposals for this site."
Mayor Barringer said the city has not had a lot of offers and does not have to go with one of these two offers either.
"My number one concern is for public access," he said. "We need to listen to the public, to their concerns. We don't have to make this tough decision tonight."
The commission decided to keep the subject open for further discussion at its next regular meeting in January.