By Erika Webb
Areas designated as brownfields elicit varying perceptions.
At its Jan. 15 meeting, the DeBary City Council leaned toward the perspective of opportunity, voting 4-1 to designate the city's Transit Oriented Overlay District around the SunRail station a brownfield. Also included are the Springview Commerce and Benson Junction industrial areas.
DeBary businessman Kenny Patterson, who owns American Auto Salvage and Benson Junction Trading Depot, sees potential in the opposite direction -- loss in property value and resale ability resulting from the designation.
"It's like a black eye on that property in that area that you're already condemning it to be dirty, nasty, black eyed and it's not true," Mr. Patterson said, his voice shaking.
He said government should not get involved in business and that he will be negatively impacted if he tries to sell his property in the brownfield area.
"If somebody wants to buy some of that land down there, (the bank's) not gonna approve it, either because, 'oh, it's dirty'," Mr. Patterson said. "We would have to spend thousands of dollars to prove it's not, which I had to do when I bought it in '96."
"If it does come up contaminated, nobody's gonna fix it for us," he added.
DeBary Planning Administrator Rebecca Hammock explained property owners may choose to keep their properties excluded from the brownfield area.
After two workshops on Sept. 11, another impacted property owner, Hardwick LLC, opted out of the proposed brownfield area, according to the council agenda item prepared by Ms. Hammock.
Brownfield designations are not an identification of contaminated sites, she said.
They are "a tool for promoting and enhancing redevelopment as well as a tool that provides the community with access to state funds that allow environmental assessments, possible cleanup of properties and incentive programs, such as job bonus refunds for qualified target industries, voluntary cleanup tax credits, environmental cleanup grants, low interest loans and loan guarantees," Ms. Hammock noted in the agenda item.
"One of the things I'm concerned about is when you say contamination," Mayor Bob Garcia told Ms. Hammock after Mr. Patterson spoke to the council.
"We don't know whether there's contamination on any particular site," Ms. Hammock replied.
If prospective buyers, in the course of due diligence, discover contamination there, the property owner would be eligible to receive state funds for cleanup, she explained.
George Houston, the central district brownfields coordinator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection regularly provides the following example to concerned citizens when he describes brownfield benefits:
A dismayed Apopka developer found 88,000 tires on his property. The state provided financial assistance and the tires were removed. That vacant property, worth $210,000 in 2002 is now an upscale commercial development worth more than $1.5 million.
"Brownfields are abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial properties where expansion, reuse or development may be complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination, Ms. Hammock said. "A brownfield area means a contiguous area of one or more sites, some of which may or may not be contaminated, and which has been designated by a local government by resolution."
Councilman Dan Hunt wanted DeBary residents to understand brownfield status would not lead to properties being taken by eminent domain.
"This is a benefit to the seller," Mr. Hunt said. "I believe it's an advantage."
New councilmember Rick Dwyer took his seat at the dais for the first time Jan. 15. Mr. Dwyer unseated former Councilman Nick Koval in November's election.
And Mr. Dwyer cast the only vote against the brownfield designation.
He too was concerned about public perception.
Psychologically, Mr. Dwyer said, the idea of declaring an area a brownfield "does plant the seed in one's mind that it may be contaminated."
He expressed concerns about taking actions "against" property owners and acting too soon.
"We have been talking about this for some time," Councilman Hunt said. "This is not a new topic ... We've been briefed, re-briefed, debriefed and all the briefs that you can get."
City Manager Dan Parrott said there are many benefits which become shrouded in negative perception.
"The very name they've given this program is unfortunate," Mr. Parrott said.
The biggest benefit is job tax credits for employers, he explained, adding the properties' proximity to the SunRail station could lure developers interested in creating affordable housing communities. Those developers would be eligible for sales tax rebates on building materials, he said.
The TOD allows denser development, he noted.
Those scenarios would make properties within the brownfield more valuable to the seller, he concluded.
Mr. Patterson also offered his thoughts on the SunRail station which the brownfield area surrounds.
"In my opinion, the train station is a dead end anyway. It's not gonna work," Mr. Patterson said.
Individually, he said, council members may understand business but collectively, he asserted, not so much.
"When y'all get in a group, things change, get stupid," Mr. Patterson said.