Friday, December 16, 2016

Mosquito Control Board votes to sell property to St. Johns County

Posted December 16, 2016 05:28 am - Updated December 16, 2016 05:39 am
Anastasia Mosquito Control District to sell vacated island property to St. Johns County

The Anastasia Mosquito Control District’s Board of Commissioners on Thursday voted 3-1 in favor of selling its vacated property at 500 Old Beach Road to St. Johns County after months of discussion among local municipalities concerning the future of the piece of prime real estate. Commissioner Jeanne Moeller voted alone in dissent. Commissioner Janice Bequette was not in attendance due to a business commitment.

The 2.5-acre property on Anastasia Island includes four metal buildings built between 1973 and 2000 with about 17,775 square feet of space. The site had to be sold to a government agency and serve a public purpose or it would have reverted back to the city of St. Augustine, the former owner.

St. Johns County and the city of St. Augustine Beach were the only two entities to submit proposals, both of which met all the submission requirements outlined in the district’s request for proposals. No county or beach staff were present at Thursday’s meeting.

The county offered $10,000 and a plan to shuffle around some existing facilities while making way for possible expansion and construction of other facilities.

The city of St. Augustine Beach had offered $10,100 and a plan to use the property as “passive recreation,” including suggestions of environmental and educational classrooms, art studios, hiking trail, bike path and Anastasia Mosquito Control District history kiosk. The beach also wanted to lease both the office and garage space to governmental, nonprofit and/or charitable organizations.

Moeller said she was not as comfortable with the county’s plan.

‘They have a whole lot of mights and not a lot of anything that is absolutely concrete,” she said.

Commissioner Catherine Brandhorst begged to differ, saying she wasn’t sure what the beach had envisioned for the property.

“I didn’t see where they would be adding any great benefit,” she said. “They have some good ideas but they just didn’t seem sure what they wanted to do.”

Commissioner Vivian Browning voiced her support for the county plan while expressing some concerns about how those plans would come to fruition under a tight budget.

“It’s the difference between a need and a want,” she said.

Commission Chair Gary Howell said there’s always what-ifs with plans and that he believed the beach would still benefit from the sale to the county.

Included in the county’s proposal is a plan to move Parks and Recreation offices and warehouses from the Anastasia Island Wastewater Treatment Plant on Mizell Road to the Old Beach Road property to allow for future expansion of the plant.

The county also wants to construct a replacement fire station at Mizell Road on the freed-up space. Meanwhile, as outlined in the proposal, moving the existing fire station at the St. Johns County Ocean and Fishing Pier property would allow for non-critical office space or additional off-beach parking on the site.

Additionally, the county plans to move Beach Services and Marine Rescue from Ron Parker Park to the Old Beach Road to allow for expansion of the park.

According to the proposal, money to purchase the property would come from the county’s General Fund Reserves. Any funds for future property improvements would be transferred from reserve funds in the current fiscal year and included in budgets for subsequent fiscal years.

A five-member planning committee for the mosquito control district had unanimously recommended the county’s proposal. According to the minutes from the committee’s Nov. 29 meeting, members said there was “no reason” the district should allow the beach to lease the property when the district could just as easily do the same.

Moeller made a motion to go ahead and donate the property to the county rather than take the $10,000, citing the county’s backlog of capital projects and deferred maintenance. Brandhorst seconded the motion initially but soon withdrew her second, citing mixed feelings. Browning said the $10,000 was a “pittance” compared to what the property is worth and that the district could use the money for its applied research program.

The city of St. Augustine on Nov. 28 had requested a deadline extension to possibly submit a proposal of its own, citing canceled meetings and abbreviated agendas following Hurricane Matthew for the delay. However, city commissioners on Monday decided against submitting a proposal.

Moeller said she was in “absolute awe” the city chose not to participate.

The district paid the city of St. Augustine $6,250 for the Old Beach Road property in 1972. Original facilities, built shortly thereafter, were only intended to provide service coverage for Anastasia Island. Coverage has since expanded to the rest of St. Johns County, which district officials said created the need for a more centralized location. (In lieu of any action otherwise, the reverter clause on the property will carryover even after the property is deeded to the county.)

Commissioners, when they were making plans in 2014 to build the new 22,000-square-foot complex at 120 EOC Drive, said the Old Beach Road property could eventually be sold to help offset the $4.3 million cost of that endeavor. Among the board’s concerns with holding on to the property are ongoing costs, including liability insurance.

Commissioners on Thursday also voted 4-0 in favor of releasing a request for proposals for the design and building of an 8-acre applied research facility to be located adjacent to its new headquarters on EOC Drive. According to a draft RFP, the period for solicitations will start Jan. 2 and close Jan. 31, with commissioners considering bids at their Feb. 9 meeting.

Construction plans have already been developed. The district is requesting that a contractor develop a finished design, based on the plans and RFP specifications, and, once approved, build the facility.

In September, commissioners unanimously approved a millage rate hike that officials said would allow the district to expand its applied research resources and capabilities. A total budget of $4,644,800 for next year includes capital outlay projects totaling $1,403,590 to be funded largely by the rate increase.

Among the more noteworthy line items are $250,000 for an aerial landing/loading facility, $150,000 for a 1,500-square-foot student/guest house, $150,000 for pesticide and equipment storage, $100,000 for larvicide mixture equipment, $80,000 for an 800-square-foot sentinel chicken house and $80,000 for an 800-square-foot wind tunnel.

Commissioners defended the proposed expenditures, particularly the aerial landing/loading facility, citing difficulties and delays in getting an aerial response off the ground after Hurricane Matthew via a contract with an outside agency. Another expenditure previously identified as a “guest house” is now being referred to as “alternative housing.” Commissioners said scientists and interns would make use of the facility for working purposes — and pay for their stays — and that it could be used to house staff in emergency situations.

Thursday was the last meeting for Browning and Bequette. Gina LeBlanc will replace Browning in Seat 1 while Jackie Rock will replace Janice Bequette in Seat 3. Both LeBlanc and Rock were elected in November’s general election. Neither Browning nor Bequette sought re-election.

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