LABELLE - At the Jan. 26 Hendry County Commission meeting, a somewhat heated discussion occurred regarding an industrial project that had been approved to move forward during a public Hearing on Jan. 12.
During the old business portion of the Jan. 26 meeting, Commissioner Karson Turner asked Commissioners Emma Byrd and Ramon Iglesias to reconsider their previous votes in support of the project.
The property, owned by RJ 77 Enterprises, LLC., is located on CR 833 approximately three miles south of US 27. The site is near the FPL Blue Heron solar project and Southern Gardens Citrus processing facility; the remainder of the surrounding area is primarily agriculture and homesteads.
The applicant, BHT Properties Group, LLC., had requested a rezone of their property from General Agriculture (A-2) to PUD. The applicant’s agent, Johnson-Prewitt & Associates, Inc., proposed two phases of development. The first phase includes outdoor storage for an auto salvage/junkyard operation. The second phase would be an industrial park for warehouses and heavy industrial use.
“I would just like to formally ask you all to take in to consideration to reconsider the vote that we had with regards to the property on 833. I still stand by the fact that I don’t think it’s the proper place for that project,” said Turner. “I just want to encourage you all to really look far out, to think from a standpoint of how this impacts our county moving forward.”
Iglesias responded, “So, I too have done a lot of work on this. I want to bring up the minutes from the Dec. 17, 2019 meeting, where I wasn’t here. I was not an elected official. The same board voted, made a motion by Commissioner Swindle, seconded by Commissioner Byrd, called unanimously to and carried approve the ordinance to amend the Hendry County future land use map to include this specific parcel in question, as industrial.” He went on, “So let me ask you a question, if you didn’t intend this part to be a junk yard or anything industrial, why did the board unanimously vote back in December of 2019 to do so?”
“Great question, and I appreciate you asking it, Commissoner Iglesias,” responded Turner, “Industrial and the types of uses that are permitted within it, are all on a case by case scenario. You know, I look at every decision we make sitting in these seats on a case by case scenario. Many times I look at them from a standpoint of, how much would they impact and would I be comfortable living next to that.”
Turner explained the negative impacts of those who lived in the area of the Air Glades International project, himself included. He said he understood while some projects are largely impactful, they can also bring numerous benefits.
“We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars generated on the ad valorem revnues,” he said.
“Let me give you another one, that still to this day haunts me: The vote on McDaniels Ranch, to go from virgin cypress, some of the largest and oldest trees arguably on the peninsula, and they’re going to be saddled up right next to, what was it? Eventually nine smokestacks that were going to be created. And not secondary panther habitat, primary panther habitat- that still haunts me to this day.” He added, “but that just one phase generated $18 million ad valorem revenues...” Turner went on, “I weighed the pros and cons, and I said, I can support this wholeheartedly.”
“This project as it relates to the board, to the job that we’re set to do in the county, I look at what those two projects are south of my office and I’m sorry you all, I can’t call it anything more than an eyesore. I don’t say that to be melodramatic. I don’t say that to be critical of those projects. But they are, they are they are the definition of a temporary junkyard,” Turner said.
“We are in a location there where that is prime for growth for our county.” Turner added, “I would just challenge you to look at, even at build out, how many jobs are actually being created. What they’re guaranteeing us.”
“I missed the last meeting, but I did voice my opinion. I was not allowed to vote,” said Chair Mitchell Wills. “I wholeheartedly agree this is not the place where we want this project to be. I really don’t believe that’s the case.” He also said, “Visiting the other two properties, they’ve created no jobs. Those sites are an eyesore.
“I have a problem with the whole thing as well. I wished I had been there. I wasn’t. I would have definitely voted against it. “I hear the money coming into the county, but at what point are we going to stop selling the only thing we have and make a better living environment for our children and our grandchildren?”
“For me, I think it was a smoke and mirrors presentation that we were given,” said Turner. “I think that if you look at what this project is for our county- it’s wrong. And I would just ask you or Commissioner Byrd to reconsider so that we can engage this more.”
“No, I stand by my original decision,” replied Commissioner Iglesias.
The decision to reopen a conversation regarding BHT Properties Group, LLC. proposal was denied.
The commission’s regular meetings are on the second Tuesday of each month at 5 p.m. in the Clewiston City Hall, Commission Chambers, 115 West Ventura Ave, Clewiston, Florida and each fourth Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. in the Hendry County Courthouse, Commission Chambers, 25 E. Hickpochee Avenue, LaBelle.