Live Oak —
In July 2013, the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance that would amend the Land Development Regulations that will permit various types of industries to locate on the catalyst site in Western Suwannee County without having to obtain a special permit from the county.
Since then, the “by right” amendment has caused concerns regarding the public’s right to say which industries locate in their county. Concerned citizens have often asked how this ordinance affects them and the catalyst site. The Democrat has answers to these questions.
How big is the catalyst site?
The catalyst site is approximately 500 acres in size.
What zones are located on the catalyst site?
According to Planning and Zoning Director Ron Meeks, only two zoning districts exist within the catalyst site. One hundred acres located on the southwestern side first purchased by the county is zoned as industrial. The industrial zone is divided by a county maintained dirt road with property zoned industrial on both sides. The remaining property, approximately 400 acres in size, is zoned Agricultural 1.
Which zones are affected by the “by right” ordinance?
The “by right” policy applies to both Industrial and agricultural zoned districts. The ordinance also included commercial highway zone to accommodate existing property adjacent to the catalyst site, should the state decide to expand the catalyst site. The property is located in the direction of the US 90/I-10 interchange. Should the state expand the catalyst site, it would also be covered under the “by right” ordinance.
The “by right” ordinance is limited to the catalyst site only.
Which industries are accepted without obtaining a special permit or exception?
There are different types of businesses that could open their doors at the catalyst site without having to receive a special permit from the county. Under LDR-13-16, these businesses include, but not limited to: all agricultural activities, single family dwellings, churches and other houses of worship, cemeteries, public schools or private schools, automotive service and self-service stations, automotive rental services, restaurants, hotels and motels and light manufacturing, assembling, processing, packaging or fabricating in a completely enclosed building. Different types of businesses that would now be permitted without obtaining a special permit included race tracks and industries that could submit hazardous chemicals into the environment.
Did the “by right” ordinance take public hearings away?
Yes, but not all of them. Currently, if a company sought a piece of property at the catalyst site, no public hearings would be necessary since the board of county commissioners voted unanimously to allow businesses to locate at the catalyst site “by right,” which would waive certain requirements companies would have to adhere to, including obtaining county permits.
If a company purchases county-owned property on the catalyst site, two public hearings are required for the county to enter into a development agreement with the proposed company, as required by the Florida Statutes.
At a county commission meeting on Jan. 21, the Suwannee County Planning and Zoning Board of Adjustments will recommend a resolution that will require two public hearings before the commissioners prior to a company seeking to locate at the catalyst site. However, the recommendation will have to pass two public hearings before the county commissioners before it becomes law.
If the recommendation passes, the two public hearings would be in addition to the required hearings, should a company seek to enter into a development agreement with the county.
Can the commissioners deny selling the property to a company?
If the company has met both state and federal standards and regulations and qualifies under the broad scope of allowable uses, with “by right” in place, the commissioners have no right to deny or approve a company’s rights to the site, despite having public hearings. Should the county refuse to sell the property to a company who meets all requirements, the county could face a lawsuit by the company.
How can the “by right” ordinance be amended?
In order for the commissioners to have a say in which companies locate here, the board would have to vote and approve a text amendment to the land development regulations for the catalyst site. This would require deleting the language under the permitted principal uses and structure portion of the land regulations. The commissioners would then send that change to the planning and zoning board, which will generate a recommendation and then go back before the county commissioners for two public hearings.
By deleting the permitted principal uses and structure text, companies would then be subject to the special exceptions and special permit process and would restore public hearings with the power to approve or deny.