ZEPHYRHILLS — A divided City Council shot down plans to seek brownfield status for about 1,100 acres near the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, siding with landowners who worried about the stigma such a designation could bring.
The aim of the designation is to pave the way for current and future businesses to take advantage of special tax breaks and financial incentives, such as job creation rebates, said Melanie Kendrick, a senior county planner who specializes in economic development and redevelopment.
At the council meeting Monday evening, council president Kenneth Compton joined members Charles Proctor and Ken Burgess in the 3-2 vote killing the proposal.
Proctor and Burgess said that while they favor economic incentives, they could not go along with putting the brownfield designation on any property not owned by the city. Individuals and businesses can apply for the designation on their own, Proctor noted, adding that he was contacted by at least one property owner who was against it.
Such a designation is historically connected to contaminated land, but since 1997 the Department of Environmental Protection has offered the brownfield designation as a voluntary program for those who "want to come forward to be good stewards of the land," Kendrick explained after the meeting. The incentives can go to properties that face a range of development challenges, even if they're not actually polluted.
"We're not claiming anyone's property is contaminated," City Planner Todd Vande Berg told the council. "This is just a designation that will bring financial and economic incentives."
One land owner, Harold Hinsz, was the only person to speak against the designation at the meeting.
When he said he did not want his property included in the area, Vande Berg and Kendrick said it would be removed from the proposal. Businessman Kevin Barr, representing the Zephyrhills Alliance, said the majority of its members supported the designation.
"If this helps economic development, we are 100 percent for it," he said.
Mayor Steve Van Gorden said he supported the designation and after its defeat, suggested he would like the issue readdressed. City Manager Jim Drumm said the only way that can happen is for one of the council members who defeated the proposal to request putting it back on the agenda.