By J.M. Copeland
For Hometown News
Resident after resident stood before the Holly Hill City Commission on Dec. 10, speaking against the building of a retention pond that would displace 80 residents in the Riverside Community Mobile Home Park.
Emotions were high and, in voices struggling not to become too emotional, residents of the mobile home park spoke of finally owning their homes only to find them taken away. Most took nearly all of their five-minute allotted time pleading for consideration.
But the $1.5 million dollar purchase of the parcels on Riverside Drive to build the storm water retention pond was derailed by a 1953 gas station and the possibility that there may be buried fuel tanks contaminating the property.
On Dec. 13, the contract was canceled when the sellers, Clyde and Anita Wilson and Susan Williams, declined to allow an environmental study to be performed on the land.
"Not only will the current owners not do an environmental study, they refused to allow the city to have one done," said City Manager Jim McCroskey. "And I am not going to buy a piece of contaminated property because that could add a couple hundred thousands dollars to this."
The problem began in 2009 when the city lost ownership of the property around Third Street.
"In 2009 the State of Florida and the City of Holly Hill gave away a major sewer water retention pond line that goes into the river through the Marina Grande property," Mr. McCroskey said. "Third Street and Second Street are where U.S. 1 drains into the river."
So now no public entity owns Third Street.
In 2009) "Marina Grande wanted to build over Third Street and told the state and the city, 'sell us Third Street and we will give you land for a park," Mr. McCroskey said. "The governor and the cabinet voted to give away Third Street. The City Commission at the time gave away easement, right of way, gas lines -- everything."
Some might wonder why the line isn't simply redirected to flow into the river at another location, but the St. Johns River District prevents that option.
"Can't take it down the street and dump it into the river," Mr. McCroskey said. "St. Johns Water Management District says no one can dump water back into the river at will. We have to treat the water."
The mobile home park at the center of the conflict was considered an optimum location because of its two acres and the proximity to the drainage problems and the fact it was owned by individuals.
Now that the purchase of the property is off the table, many may wonder what the commission's next move will be and what will become of the property.
"I don't know what the property owner is going to do with it," Mr. McCroskey said. "At the next City Commission meeting I'll have to bring the commission up to speed with the whole process and what the options are," Mr. McCroskey said. "The options are very limited. We have to find vacant land and find one at a fair market value."
Other business in the Dec. 10 meeting included selling property along Riverside Drive. The property would give the corresponding homes riparian rights. The sale prices will be determined after appraisals are completed.
Also, the commission voted unanimously for a resolution supporting the East Coast Greenway and establishing a designated trail that would connect Holly Hill to the trails in Daytona and Ormond Beach.