To financially help a developer build affordable housing in Inverness and hopefully attract more business, the Inverness city council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to designate the project site a potential environmental problem despite evidence the location is clean of pollution.
At issue was whether to designate the apartment complex site being built by Fort Lauderdale developer Green Mills Group a Brownfield location.
The majority of the city council members during their regularly scheduled public meeting said that what stigma the Brownfield designation might leave is worth the money the developer will save, the economic impact the project will deliver, and show the city is willing to work with businesses considering Inverness.
The developer asked for the designation which will, with final state approval, save it about $200,000 in sales tax rebates. Tests thus far show no environmental problems.
But council members Linda Bega and council president Ken Hinkle said the designation would forever leave the message that the site could be polluted.
The three other council members, as well as Mayor Bob Plaisted, disagreed.
“I’m not sure people are going to care that much,” Plaisted said.
Plaisted, who owns and leases several properties, said that the designation won’t affect the salability of the property, nor matter with the public.
The only place the designation matters “is right here” in the council chambers, he said.
Plaisted cited that Inverness’ Liberty Park was once home to a cement plant, Wallace Brooks was once a wastewater treatment plant, and Cooter Pond once suffered from road runoff, but no one is wary about visiting those locations.
The debate about Brownfield was “much to do about government and nothing,” he said.
The state offers a return of sales tax revenues to developers of affordable housing if they build on a Brownsfield location. The developer here is building a 106–unit affordable housing complex in Inverness on Colonade Street near Forest Drive.
Brownfields are defined by Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection as “abandoned, idled, or underused industrial and commercial facilities where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.”
The goal, FDLE explains on its website, is to encourage those sites to be developed and/or cleaned up.
Councilman Cabot McBride said the vote for the designation would signal that the council was business friendly and willing to help financially when it could.
But Bega warned that tests showed no pollution. And regardless of the city council’s vote, the developer would build his project.
“We’re not voting to stop this project,” she said.
And since no pollution was found there, “it should not be a perceived a possible site,” she said.
The council also considered at the developer’s urging to name the designation something other than Brownfield.
City Attorney Larry Haag warned that “you can put lipstick on the thing,” but the state would still record it as a Brownfield site. The council agreed and added that renaming the site locally would be misleading.
In other city business, the council:
• Voted unanimously to approve a $193,560 annual contract to landscape and maintain the newly constructed depot district and adjacent Liberty and Wallace Brooks parks.
Two weeks ago some council members balked at the original $205,000 price to maintain the $10.5 million project. City Manager Frank DiGiovanni negotiated the price down by Tuesday when the council met.
The project, including landscaping and complex irrigation systems, has a two-year warranty, but only if the depot district and refurbished parks are maintained in the meantime.
The contract is with Clermont-based Smithwell Inc., the company that created the landscaping and installed the irrigation system. The city budgeted $230,000 for landscaping and maintenance of the project.
Councilman Cabot McBride said the city “needs to get started on the right foot” in maintaining the newly opened facilities.
• Also agreed to conduct a workshop Dec. 10 and discuss changing how it charges and collects for residential waste collection. Currently, the city council does not charge for residential waste collection, but rather takes the money from collected property taxes.
The problem is that there are too many property owners who pay little by way of property taxes after implementing their two homestead exemptions, DiGiovanni said.
DiGiovanni said Wednesday the workshop was “fact finding” and that no fees amounts are being suggested by staff.
The workshop is to discuss two new monetary collection options: a monthly fee or a separate waste collection bill on property owners’ annual tax bill.
The Dec. 10 workshop will begin at 5:30 p.m. at 212 W. Main St., Inverness.