Local residents packed the Judicial Annex Building Tuesday night to express their objections to the medical waste incinerator company and the decision made by the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners to allow businesses to locate at the catalyst site “by right.” Lori McCraney, a local resident and leader for the “No Bio in Suwannee County” group, asked the board to rescind their vote and change the land development regulations for the catalyst site immediately.
“That needs to be done immediately,” McCraney said. “And you need to start working to change the land development regulations.”
“We’ve been told by the commissioners and by people that know how these things work, that removing these protections, via the land use regulations, has left the county vulnerable to very aggressive businesses and companies that may want to come here,” she said. “We do want economic growth, and we do want jobs. But we have a very unique opportunity to actually control that type of growth by choosing good industries to come here.”
McCraney said by restoring the land development regulations that will require businesses to hold two public hearings, it will protect the county from unwanted businesses.
“Basically, what we’re requesting is that we protect the county and we protect the citizens and the agriculture through land use regulations changes. We do not need something like a medical waste incinerator in this county,” she said.
She continued, “The citizens do feel like, and it’s a plain fact, that it will remove public comment and public hearing from that process. I do not understand who or why anyone thought that was a good idea when that was voted on.”
McCraney asked the board if they would consider temporarily taking the catalyst site off the market until the land development regulations could be changed.
“I have no desire to take it off the market,” said Chairman Wesley Wainwright. “I don’t know how the rest of the board feels, but that’s my thinking.”
“Wouldn’t it make you more vulnerable to lawsuits?” McCraney asked. “It’s been told to me that if you have real estate on the market, and a company comes with any financial reasonable offer, and you refuse just based on the fact that you don’t like them, they can sue you.”
Commissioner Ricky Gamble said the board has never officially put the catalyst site on the market.
“It’s not listed,” Gamble said. “It’s owned by the county and the county has been very clear that we intend to sell it. But we’ve never listed it in the open market.”
“It’s great news to know it’s not on the market,” McCraney said. “We appreciate that you want to create jobs here. But we want good jobs.”
Wainwright noted although the commissioners haven’t listed the site, the Department of Economic Opportunity has been marketing the site.
“We want you to rescind the ‘rights’ so that you can work on getting the land use regulations done like you want to do them for the property,” local resident Debra Johnson said.
“I’m not prepared to take any kind of action on the ‘by right’,” Wainwright said. “I don’t want to change it.”
Wainwright added, “I’m satisfied with how that it (by right) is set up. The public is not eliminated from the discussion process. Anybody that wants to come out to the catalyst site, they have to come into an agreement with the county, which would require advertised public meetings, so the public is not denied an opportunity to come. The public has not been omitted, and would not be omitted from any discussion or to discuss any entity wanting to locate at the catalyst site. I don’t agree that nobody would have an opportunity to speak.”
Wainwright said Thursday he is OK with reevaluating the "by right" clause.
“Keep in mind if we own the property, we have to have two public hearings to sell them the property,” Commissioner Jason Bashaw said. “If we do a development agreement with the company, we have to have two public hearings on that. So, to say that there’s not public hearings or things that could go in there, that’s not true.”
Commissioner Phil Oxendine said he was interested in modifying the current “by right” policy.
“I would like to check into ‘by right’ and see if we could somehow modify and incorporate some kind of wording that would secure the voice of this board in which companies could locate here and which couldn’t,” Oxendine said. “I would like to see if we could modify it (by-right) to protect the county.”
The comments by Oxendine were welcomed with loud cheers and applause.
Commissioner Clyde Fleming said he, too, would like to see changes to the land development regulations for the catalyst site.
“I realize that the people of Suwannee County have spoken. I realize that you are speaking well. Those concerns are very important to all of the residents of this county,” Fleming said.
“On this ‘by right’ a lot of people have asked us why we did it. I’ll tell you why I did it,” Commissioner Ricky Gamble said.
“I aggressively want jobs here. To be honest, when you have six people coming to a meeting, and two of them speak out against it, I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. Call it in-experience
of a politician, elected official or whatever you want, but that was my thinking on it. I wasn’t doing it to be under-handing or trying to take anybody’s voice away. I know we want jobs here,” said Gamble.
He continued, “I don’t think we need to do away with it completely, but we need to come together as a community and decide what we want to develop and grow as...I think we might have overreached by completely removing it, but I still think some things need to fall under it.”
Gamble said he would like to see a moratorium in place for 90-120 days to redevelop the land uses for the catalyst site, with the exception of Klausner Lumber One’s land.
“If you don’t like the current uses of the site, then that’s what we should be changing, not taking the ‘by right’ back,” Commissioner Jason Bashaw said. Bashaw said by totally removing the “by right” regulation, it would be removing the board’s ability to develop the property as desired.
In July of this year, the commissioners voted 4-0 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 Northwestern Suwannee County without having to obtain a special permit. Bashaw did not arrive at the meeting in time to vote. The vote then left many residents dismayed.
Gamble asked County Attorney Jimmy Prevatt if the board could put a moratorium on the permitting process during Tuesday night’s meeting, but Prevatt said it would have to be advertised at least 10 days in advance before the board could take action.
Gamble said he wouldn’t be asking to rescind the “by right” regulations, however, but to put a moratorium on it to provide the board with time to adopt changes.
The board plans to take action at the next meeting on Nov. 5.