A proposed land use change on land bordering Alligator Harbor, which if granted would lead to the creation of a shellfish hatchery, was met Tuesday morning with a seawall of opposition from neighbors.
About two dozen Alligator Point residents, who live in and around the Harbor Circle neighborhood where the hatchery would be placed, stood up as a visual symbol of their thumbs down to the proposal by Tom McCrudden, a leader in the growing aquaculture industry, to lease one-acre of land on the westernmost edge of the former KOA Campground from owner Paul Parker, and place on it a pair of 1.500-square-foot buildings where oyster and clam seed would be spawned to feed the needs of the growing Panhandle aquaculture industry.
While many spoke out against Parker’s proposed use of the property, and the detrimental impact it would have on neighbors, a significant amount of them stressed it was the zoning change from C-3 Commercial Recreation to C-1 Commercial Fishing, which allows for an extensive life of possible seafood operations, that most bothered them.
"It’s the future use we’re worried about," said Bob Lamey. "It will impact our neighborhood and property values, which will be less if it becomes commercial.
"Maybe the detrimental things won’t happen under Paul’s plan. But you make it possible," he said.
"The placement of these structures are on the westernmost property, allowing further expansion to the east. Are we talking about a limited facility today with potential for growth tomorrow?" asked Ann Marsuzak, another opponent who spoke out.
In his request for the land use change, Parker, a well-established real estate broker in Alligator Point, said he and his wife Stephanie bought 2.5 acres of the former campground, and in purchasing the commercial portion of the South Shoal development, was approved to put in his real estate office and received site plan approval for a store.
"We always were going to develop it for cabins and RV sites," he said.
But when McCrudden, owner of Research Aquaculture Inc. in West Palm Beach, approached him with a plan to expand from his current locations in Stuart and Cedar Key, Parker thought it would be a good idea.
"He’s been in the shellfish hatchery business for 20 years, and I know there’s a great need for shellfish seeds to reseed and for developing aquaculture," he said, noting that watermen who operate the nearby aquaculture leases off Alligator Point "have told us there is a need for seed.
"And because they would be spawned in the same water, they would have a higher likelihood of survival," Parker said.
He said County Planner Mark Curenton advised him that in keeping with the oyster hatchery at Two-Mile that is zoned C-1, the property would have to be rezoned from its earlier campground zoning category.
"I would never do anything I thought would be detrimental to the harbor," Parker said. "There’s nothing that would reduce real estate values. We believe it’s a better use of the property.
"On one acre, we could put 10 RVs back," he said. "This would be a less intensive use. We’re actually devaluing our property, this is a down zoning."
He stressed that there would be no chemical discharges or semi trucks, and there would be no attempt to put a boat landing in.
No one other than Parker and McCrudden spoke in favor of the project, and there were plenty of people against it.
"When I bought the property Paul told me a small store would be there," said Mike Chiwalick. "Now we’re talking about tanks, and he’s just going to hand it over to this out-of=county business. It’s not worth two jobs and out-of-county profits.
"The bay is shallow there. This area is more likely to see paddleboards, and john boats. That’s just not what this area is for," he said. "I’m concerned not just about this project but about future use. ‘Not that bad’ is still bad.
"Just don’t do it," urged Chiwalick. "It’s a residential community, it should not have this type of activity. There no details here on light, sound, decibels, setbacks."
He wondered aloud what would happen if a batch of spat went bad and had to be dumped on the property. "Rodents and feral cats might like it, but not residents," he said.
Former Alligator Point fire chief Steve Fling, who lives within 300 feet of the property, urged a go-slow approach.
"I’m here to ask you to postpone any decision on this zoning change. We need to table it," he said. "C-1 allows too many unknowns. Let’s move slowly and carefully."
Tom Hines said buildings as high as 35 to 47 feet might be placed there under the new zoning. "RV parks don’t bother me. It’s not this project that bothers me," he said. "It’s the exposure of the next owner."
Victoria Schwatke said the hatchery "will irreparably change the residential nature of our community (with) increased noise and light pollution and pollution from the smell of the operation. If we lose power, as we do frequently, there will be noise of generators, and our property values undoubtedly will be hurt.
"This will permanently destroy the entire residential nature of Alligator Point," she said.
McCrudden said in the event of power loss, the oysters can be easily transported to other sites in other counties.
"I believe the benefits will outweigh (disadvantages)," he said. "We can soundproof things, there’ll be no noise, no lights, no smell. We don’t have to have generators."
He said the hatchlings, suitable for these waters, will benefit both Alligator Point fishermen as well as Apalachicola Bay, where aquaculture is expanding.
"We really hope to improve this bay to historic levels," he said.
Commissioner Bert Boldt urged his colleagues to allow for more study of the proposal. "I think we should table it and do more homework as a way of even customizing the proposed C1 zoning to meet many of the concerns residents have," he said.
County Attorney Michael Shuler said it could be possible for Parker to place a voluntary deed restriction that would limit the zoning use to a hatchery, but no comment was offered as to whether this would be done.
"We need to design it that makes it right for the people who are there," said Boldt.
Commissioner William Massey said he would be willing to wait until next month, and by unanimous consent, the commissioners agreed to resume their deliberations at the Dec. 17 meeting at 10:30 a.m.