Story by Palm Bay Live
Edited by Cathy Oasheim
On Thursday, October 29, 2020, Palm Bay City Council held a Special Council Meeting to vote on a request by MLEF 2-1, LLC (also known as MAS Development Corp.) related to 21.83 acres of property, known as “Harbor Pointe,” located in the between Kingswood Drive and Robert J. Conlan Boulevard. The proposal presented by MLEF was:
1.To amend the City’s Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map to change the designated use of the property from Industrial Use and Commercial Use to Bayfront Mixed-Use, and,
2.To rezone the property from Highway Commercial District and HI (Heaving Industrial District) to Bayfront Mixed Use District (BMU).
The property in question has been the focal point of controversy, as far as development and zoning, for the last several months, and this hearing was no different.
MLEF is embroiled in litigation with FAR Chemical, who occupies the adjacent property, and has been for quite a while. FAR Chemical is a bulk chemical manufacturer that opposes MLEF’s proposed changes, which contradict the land’s original intended use. They also stated that since the FAR plot of land is industrial and utilizes chemicals, it would not be appropriate to have mixed-use (commercial and residential) units within such proximity.
To their point, in the past, FAR Chemical’s plant has had not one but two explosions, with the most recent one being in September 2020. However, Palm Bay firefighters concluded that the explosions were due to the chemical storage FAR method. FAR is now prohibited from storing chemicals at their location.
To support their proposal, MLEF argued that their plans for development, zoning, and land use are consistent with the Bayfront Community Redevelopment District (BCRD) plan. The BCRD is the City of Palm Bay’s comprehensive plan for development in the area through 2024. MLEF further asserted that because FAR can no longer store chemicals, the potential risk is reduced by proximity.
Additionally, MLEF mapped out a separation plan for the area to minimize the risk of contact with FAR. First, they detailed a 100-foot buffer installation, primarily landscaping, between the FAR plot and all residential units. They also noted that they had previously offered to build a 12-foot concrete wall split the cost with FAR to delineate the areas further and delineate the spaces. At the time of the hearing, FAR had not taken them up on this offer.
MLEF continued to highlight the benefits of allowing development. They claimed that “much high profile” companies, like Lockheed Martin, are interested in leasing space, which would result in many new jobs in the area. Also, they noted that the project would bring an estimated $65 million in privately funded real estate value to Palm Bay, for which MLEF is not receiving, nor have they requested subsidies.
After FAR and MLEF concluded their presentations, Councilman Bailey asked for further clarification on buffering. After some discussion about the most appropriate amount of buffer, FAR claimed at least 1000 feet while MLEF held firm at 100 feet. MLEF offered to pay for the entire cost of the 12-foot wall rather than split it with FAR. FAR did not respond to the offer to cease all further litigation and challenges on the development, nor did FAR show agreement.
Before voting, a few Councilmembers provided comments. Councilman Anderson stated that MLEF’s development “fits our vision for the area.” Mayor Capote said, “I support this project; the City is evolving, and areas that were once Industrial can become something else. What’s going on here is no different from any municipality in the United States.” However, Councilman Bailey stated that he was “of a split mind on the development plan and that MLEF arguments in support were unconvincing…and that more buffering is needed.”
In the end, the amendment passed 4-1, with Councilman Bailey dissenting.
The Council then moved on to the second item on the agenda, the property’s rezoning to mixed-use. In the interest of time, both FAR and MLEF asked the Councilmembers to consider all the evidence presented earlier in the evening as applicable to this issue. Both sides provided minimal additional comments on the subject. However, FAR did mention that the site plan by MLEF was insufficient and that they did not utilize any public participation in developing a plan appropriate for the community. MLEF reiterated that the “plan is consistent with the BRCD and mixed-use criteria.”
Councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the rezoning request. Mayor Capote concluded the meeting by saying, “hopefully, this [development] is painless, and Palm Bay can move into the future.”