Commissioners vote 5-0 to pay $862,950 purchase price

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. – Port Canaveral commissioners agreed Wednesday to a deal to buy land owned by Brevard County at the port’s Jetty Park, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

The decision ends a stalemate that has extended for more than two years, and caused a rift between the Canaveral Port Authority and the Brevard County Commission.

Some port commissioners weren’t thrilled with how the process transpired. But they voted 5-0 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.

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 it did not get an offer from the port 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, fishing pier, a restaurant and other facilities. Jetty Park also is a popular viewing spot for rocket launches.

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 buy the land from the county.

Harvey also noted that members of the public “have spoken loud and clear this evening” that this was the approach they wanted port commissioners to take.

Fifteen members of the public addressed port commissioners prior to Wednesday night’s vote in support of the port buying the land from the county.

Among the speakers was former Port Canaveral Commissioner Sue Ford, who said the county’s asking price for the land was a good deal for the port.

“I really believe it’s worth at least three times what the county is asking,” Ford said.

Maurice Boudreau, 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.”

McLouth is a Republican candidate for Canaveral Port Authority commissioner in District 5.

During discussion of the issue at Wednesday’s meeting, Port Commissioner Jerry Allender said “there are developers that are drooling” about the prospect of buying the land from the county if Port Canaveral did not. Allender said the fear is that developers could use the property as the site of a multiple-story hotel or condominium.

Weinberg, the Port Authority’s secretary/treasurer, said the land purchase will help protect the property from the “whims” of current and future politicians.

Quoting Mark Twain, Weinberg said: “Buy land. They’re not making it anymore.”

Port Authority Chairman Wayne 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.

Port Canaveral Chief Executive Officer John Murray said after the meeting that he looks forward to “put this issue in the rear-view mirror and move on.”

He said he would be contacting Brevard County Manager Frank 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 storm water 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.

By Dave Berman of Florida Today.

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