Monday, October 15, 2012

Palm Bay Residents Against Harris Troutman Deal

Opinion story:

It is now clear what happened.  Back in 2010, without even a courtesy notice to residents, the City gifted Troutman to Harris Corporation, a busy 4-lane connector road, causing neighbors to cry out to City Officials to reject the proposal and to plea to Harris Corporation to be a good neighbor.  Tired and dirty, they will not quit until this dirty deal is exposed for what it is.

Although impacted neighbors could have easily been brought in on the deal in 2010, City Officials and Harris chose not to include them.  Notices finally went out August 2012 followed by a public meeting on September 19th where City Manager, Sue Hann announced, ‘it was a done deal’.  Residents were outraged.  They quickly organized a Unified Citizens Group, hoping to stop the Vacate Troutman Ordinance’s preliminary vote which was on October 4th.   

In City Council Chambers a Sleepy Hollow representative demonstrated that while the building was a great idea, giving a road to Harris was unnecessary.  It was shown using Harris’ own diagram depicting their future campus plans that there were multiple other locations for the new 6-story 450,000 square foot building.   It became clear that the only reason Harris wanted Troutman closed was to unite the two parts of their campus in Palm Bay.  Impacted neighbors were not even considered until 2 ½ years after plans were made.

The reasons given by Harris as to why they needed to close a busy road and reroute the traffic to Clearmont, a dead-end street leading to a bike path and the ONLY access to the Sleepy Hollow’s ‘secret’ neighborhood, had flaws.  Harris spokesperson Sleighton Meyer said, “The High Technology Center can’t be moved to another section of the property there wasn’t any room for the building.”   This was proven inaccurate after Jeff Homberger, of Harris showed the full plans for their campus at the City Hall meeting.  Meyer also said, “The footprint of the new building is larger than the old building and includes more green space and storm water retention….”  Since when does a building footprint include retention ponds and grass?  These did not have to go on the road.  They could have gone across the street on Harris’ own property.   After all, Harris has 198 acres in Palm Bay scattered with old industrial-style buildings, many slated to be demolished.   So why not use its’ own property?  Why shut down a major 4-lane connector road?  Why impact the quiet neighbors of Sleepy Hollow? To put it simply: because they could.   They threatened to build the 6-story building in Virginia and the City Manager believed them, saying this would devastate Palm Bay.  

On 10/18/2010 Florida Today, Peter Peterson wrote: “The City is offering Harris more than kind words.” … really?  …without a vote?  Can they do that?  It actually takes 2 votes to ‘gift’ the road to Harris.  It’s called the Vacate Troutman Ordinance 2012-33.  The second vote has not even occurred.  But on September 19th, , City Manager, Sue Hann in front of about 45 people stated it’s a ‘done deal’.  So that’s how Palm Bay is run?  It’s no wonder the unemployment is 11.1%. 

So would Harris build in Virginia if the City didn’t ‘gift’ them Troutman to connect their west and east properties?  Probably not; not even Mayor Mazziotti in his final comments before voting to gift it to Harris, thought so.  So only Sue Hann did?  It seems so.  Capote in his final remarks just before voting against the people nervously scrambled to get in an ‘on the record’ statement that he personally was not threatened by Harris.  No one said he was but now I’m sure we’re convinced he had NOTHING to do with it.  A simply analysis by the resident representative showed that it would cost Harris about 1 billion dollars more over 13 years to pay employees in just that one building if it was located in Virginia.  Harris would also have other issues including higher construction costs, state taxes, and weather delays.

While the residents agree that the new building is a wonderful addition to the landscape, they oppose Harris constructing it on top of a public road and pushing the traffic to Clearmont, the only access to the Sleepy Hollow subdivision.  It was why many families bought homes here.   Clearmont ends at a bike path.   It provided low crime, safety for children, connection to the bike path without having to go on a major road, privacy, quiet, and appeal and value of this ‘secret’ neighborhood.  Florida Today reported that Michelle McCarthy’s 12-year-old daughter started calling her Sleepy Hollow subdivision a “secret neighborhood” after deducing that no one goes trick-or-treating there because no one knows it exists.

The City entered into a secret agreement with Harris without any notification to the affected residents and even jeopardized $1.5 million in City taxpayer dollars which were contingent on the project going forward.   Additionally the City spent more than $700,000 in federal stimulus money and nearly $135,000 in city funds to completely repave Troutman, while Clearmont was in dire need, knowing that they would give Troutman to Harris. The workers were not even from Florida.  

City Manager, Sue Hann and Public Works Director Elia Twigg tried to spin it as a gift to Sleepy Hollow – they would finally get Clearmont paved!   Let’s see.  It is a good thing to have fresh tar instead of privacy, no traffic, safety, quiet, neighborhood appeal, and low crime.  The City could have paved Clearmont had it not decided to use it to tie a bow on Troutman with that 700k before presenting it to Harris.

The residents were given their 1st notice in August 2012, when the City plans were presented to them at a City organized meeting.  The residents quickly reacted by organizing themselves, signed petitions, and researched what had happened.  On October 4th the residents of Sleepy Hollow showed up with a formal presentation in the Palm Bay City Council Chambers to ask that this ordinance be rejected until an investigation was conducted and neighbors were considered.

Residents were shocked and dismayed when City Officials (except for Council Member Ken Greene) voted for Vacating Troutman claiming:

Vacate Troutman has been in the news for a long time now and residents should have known”

Mayor Mazziotti, Michele Paccione, William Capote, and Kristine Isnardi blamed residents for not being aware that this ‘secret’ deal had been made.   If that’s not adding insult to injury, after their outrageous comments residents were told it was Council Members turn to speak and were not able to refute the false remarks.

Not all was dark that night.  In a bold move, Council Member, Ken Greene rejected the proposal to reroute the Troutman traffic to Clearmont St based on analysis and facts presented by the residents at the meeting.  

While the building project was publicized and even welcome, the important component, closing Troutman was kept quiet.  In 2010, a one line statement saying the City was applying for road project money came out in a Monday Florida Today article.  Gee I don’t know how we missed that!  After that article, we couldn’t find another in the archives that mentioned both Troutman and Clearmont.  Was this an oversight by reporters in the 9 subsequent articles about the building or was this a secret deal upon which the entire building design rested.  

Well Sleepy Hollow residents are NOT afraid to shake this building off its corrupt foundation.  They demand that Harris use their own 198 acres.  

Ken Greene is our hero.  He served on the council from 2002 to 2005.  In 2010, when asked why he was running again he said, "I was constantly being told that the people of Palm Bay felt they were losing their voice as far as what happened in our city; they felt no one was truly listening, and they needed someone they could trust to be their voice." 

He’s a man of his word.  

VACATE TROUTMAN:  Who gets what

What Harris gets:
Troutman Blvd: to consolidate east and west properties
Millions in grants and tax incentives by federal and state governments, and city of Palm Bay
100’s of millions in savings due to lower salaries in Florida over Virginia

What the City gets:
7.2 million in road project money
Only up to 1.2 million comes from Harris and only for utility relocation
6 million from EDA and ECO grants

What residents get:
Reduced safety for children
Exposure to higher crime neighborhoods
Order magnitude increase in traffic
End of lifestyle that generations have enjoyed
Loss of neighborhood appeal
Difficulty getting in and out of subdivision due to traffic
Dangerous access to bike path
Loss of privacy and quiet

Sleepy Hollow United Citizens Group Rep


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