Property inside Port Canaveral’s Jetty Park will continue to be free of five-story hotels and condos, as part of a land deal port commissioners approved Wednesday night.
Additionally, parking spaces won’t be reduced, and the entrance to the recreation area and campground won’t be moved.
And a rift between the Canaveral Port Authority and the Brevard County Commission that has extended more than two years is ending.
Those are some of the impacts of a deal Port Canaveral commissioners unanimously approved to buy land owned by Brevard County at the port’s Jetty Park for $862,950.
Some port commissioners weren’t thrilled with how the process transpired. But they voted 5-0 on Wednesday night to pay the $862,950 purchase price sought by the County Commission as a way to guard against the county selling the 9.61 acres to a private developer.
Jetty Park was never threatened with closing, since the port already owns the other 35.4 acres of the recreation area and campground, and the port operates the facility.
What could’ve happened
But, if port commissioners didn’t accept the county’s offer and the port no longer had access to the 9.61 acres the county owns, Port Canaveral would have lost parking spaces and would have had to establish a different public entrance to Jetty Park.
Since 1995, the county had leased the 9.61 acres to the port for $1 a year. But the port’s 20-year lease of the county land expired on Dec. 31, 2015. Since then, the county and the port had not been able to reach a new agreement to either extend the lease or for the port to buy the land from the county.
So county commissioners voted 5-0 last week to direct county staff to put the property out to bid if the port did not agree by June 9 to buy the land from the county for $862,950. That was the county’s original purchase price for the parcels that now make up that land.
The land in question includes the main entrance road into Jetty Park and a parking lot.
The port-owned 35.4 acres at Jetty Park includes a campground, a fishing pier, a restaurant and other facilities. Jetty Park also is a popular viewing spot for rocket launches.
The land sale, however, is not quite a done deal.
Brevard County Manager Frank Abbate said, based on research by the county attorney’s office, the deal will have to come back to the County Commission for final approval in July.
County Commissioner John Tobia on Thursday said he is not satisfied with the $862,950 sale price, and would be voting against the deal because he believes it is below the fair market value for the property.
During Wednesday’s Canaveral Port Authority discussion, Port Commissioner Bob Harvey said he didn’t like the fact that the County Commission gave the Canaveral Port Authority an ultimatum. But he added that it would be the public that loses if port commissioners did not vote to buy the land from the county and “the county sells that land to someone else.”
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Harvey also noted that members of the public “have spoken loud and clear this evening” that they wanted the port to buy the land from the county.
The price: Not enough or just right
Fifteen members of the public addressed port commissioners prior to Wednesday night’s vote in support of that approach.
Among the speakers was Merritt Island resident Sue Ford, a former Canaveral Port Authority commissioner, who said the county’s asking price for the land was “a good buy” for the port.
“I really believe it’s worth at least three times what the county is asking,” said Ford, a former real estate agent.
Maurice Boudreau of Merritt Island, a real estate broker and president of the East Merritt Island Homeowners Association, told port commissioners a decision to buy the property amounts to the decision that’s best for the community.
Boudreau is a Democratic candidate for Canaveral Port Authority commissioner in District 5, where incumbent Tom Weinberg is not seeking re-election.
Former Port Canaveral chief executive officer and former Port Commissioner Malcolm “Mac” McLouth did not address the commission on Wednesday night. But he issued a statement calling the port buying the land from the county for $862,950 an “obvious win/win solution.”
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McLouth, a resident of Cocoa Beach, is a Republican candidate for Canaveral Port Authority commissioner in District 5.
Developers ‘drooling’ to buy?
During discussion of the issue at Wednesday’s meeting, Port Commissioner Jerry Allender said: “I think that there are developers out there that are drooling, hoping that we don’t buy it because they want to buy it.”
Allender said the fear is that, if the port did not buy the land, “in two to three years, we would have a five-story condominium or we would have a five-story hotel and who knows what else” on the property.
Weinberg, the Port Authority’s secretary/treasurer, said the land purchase will help protect the property from the “political whims” of current and future politicians “threatening to sell it.” Weinberg said he finds it “alarming” that the county would consider selling the land for private development.
In encouraging the Port Authority to approve buying the land, Weinberg quoted Mark Twain, who said: “Buy land. They’re not making it anymore.”
Port Authority Chairman Wayne Justice said it was “unconscionable” that the county would threaten to sell the land to a developer.
Justice said, with the port owning the land, “we’re only going to make it nicer” at Jetty Park.
“I think we’re making the right decision,” said Port Authority vice Chair Micah Loyd, who put the land purchase on Wednesday’s Port Authority agenda.
Loyd was an early supporter of negotiating a deal with the county for the port to buy the land.
End to a 2-year dispute
Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said after the meeting that he looks forward to “put this issue in the rearview mirror and move on.”
He said he would be contacting Abbate to move forward with finalizing the deal.
Brevard County Commissioner Jim Barfield, whose district includes the Port Canaveral area, said he is pleased with the outcome.
“I’m glad to see that the port has made the right decision on the county property at the port,” Barfield said. “The property now will stay with Jetty Park. The price the port will pay is what the taxpayers originally paid many years ago. This is a fair deal.”
Murray said money for the land purchase will come from the port’s operating budget.
In a previous presentation to port commissioners, Murray said the port has invested $1.3 million on improvements to the 9.61-acre site, including for roads, a bicycle path, a stormwater pond, sidewalks, utilities and a parking area. Murray said the port also has spent about $80,000 a year on maintenance of the property, including for grass mowing and tree trimming.
Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY.
Contact Berman at 321-242-3649 or email@example.com.