FELLSMERE – The City of Fellsmere is moving forward with a plan to designate the better part of the community an “economic enhancement district.”
That designation, better known as a “brownfield” would allow property owners to tap into government incentives to attract new businesses to the area, as well as assistance to clean up contamination or get the site certified as clean. Fellsmere officials held the first of two public hearings on the matter Thursday evening, drawing a small audience of property owners who asked questions but did not voice their support or opposition to the designation.
City Manager Jason Nunemaker said after the meeting that he was pleased with the owners’ conduct and added that staff has worked with the owners prior to the hearing to address their concerns.
“I’m not completely sold on it,” Mayor Susan Adams told the council after the public hearing. She supported the motion to set the second and final public hearing for next month but said she still has several questions that need answers.
That second hearing will be held on May 5 at 7 p.m.
The city has mapped out more than 25,000 acres of non-residential property to be included in the Fellsmere Economic Enhancement District. The majority of the property is currently undeveloped agricultural land and along County Road 512. Other targeted sites include the Interstate 95/CR 512 interchange and some properties on the north edge of the city.
“It’s a really critical tool for us,” Nunemaker said, adding that the city doesn’t have “deep pockets” to entice businesses to locate to Fellsmere.
George Houston, the area Brownfields coordinator for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told the council and audience about the benefits such a designation could have.
Businesses that move into such a zone because that zone exists can receive up to $2,500 for each job the business creates. The amount of money paid out per job depends on the salary, benefits and number of positions created.
Businesses can also receive a short-term “bridge”-type loan, if needed to get bank funding to purchase property.
It is considered a “loan of last resort,” Houston said.
If the City of Fellsmere were to approve the designation, the site would listed on Florida’s Brownfield GeoViewer website, where developers and corporations go to see what properties are in such zones.
Houston told the council that savvy developers seek out locations in brownfield areas for a number of reasons – two being the economic incentives available and the existence of infrastructure.
“You want to recycle that anyway,” Houston said of properties that are vacant but have infrastructure in place. Doing so reduces the need for new development and what some categorize as urban sprawl.
“It’s an economic tool in the toolbox,” he said, adding that property owners can opt out of the program.
The City of Fellsmere has posted Houston’s presentation and other information about the proposed Fellsmere Economic Enhancement District to its website, www.CityOfFellsmere.org.