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Proposed Sebastian annexation is opposed by county officials, environmentalists and IRNA


County officials, environmentalists and the Indian River Neighborhood Association are up in arms over proposed annexation of a 1,118-acre property to the city of Sebastian where more than 3,500 homes could ultimately be built, along with commercial and industrial development.  

Opponents say the proposed development amounts to urban sprawl and would have a negative impact on area waterways and roads, increasing traffic and pollution. But development review documents produced for the City of Sebastian say the proposed site is a “very advantageous location which supports urban development.”

Much of the controversy revolves around whether the thousands of new homes will be tied into county sewer lines or have septic systems.

“We’re very concerned because our water issues are very, very critical,” said IRNA board chairwoman Honey Minuse. “We’re not sure where they’re headed as far as planning for water and sewer. That is a really big deal. Are they going to be able to be supplied through the county? That doesn’t look really very optimistic at this point in time.

“If they’re going to go septic, that’s a huge concern – a really big one,” Minuse added. “We’re trying to get rid of septic systems; we don’t want to add more. We need to have a very comprehensive look at what’s being planned and have a voice in the process.”

“The city of Sebastian shouldn’t be in the business of annexing large property holdings simply because the landowner doesn’t want to commit to responsible development under county regulations,” said Richard Baker, president of the Pelican Island Audubon Society. “This annexation, as presented, will adversely affect surrounding lands and waters and create negative impacts on county residents, including those that reside inside the City of Sebastian.”

“The county and state are spending millions of dollars on water quality projects to protect waters near Sebastian and it is irresponsible for the City of Sebastian to allow annexation and development of this particular property in a manner that will negate the benefits from those water quality projects.”

Graves Brothers Companies, a locally-based citrus grower, made the request for voluntary annexation of the nearly 2-square-mile tract located north of 69th Street, west of 74th Avenue and east of 82nd Avenue in the county.

Graves Brothers proposes to keep the land’s current agricultural zoning until plans for the development are complete, according to city documents. Preliminary plans show the mostly residential development would consist of up to eight homes per acre, along with some commercial and industrial property. Representatives of the company could not be reached for comment.

Annexation of the property is projected to ultimately generate nearly $7 million annually in property tax revenue, utility taxes and stormwater fees for Sebastian. The developer would also make a one-time $3.7 million payment to the city for recreational impact fees, according to city documents.

The Sebastian City Council set a public hearing and reading of an ordinance approving the annexation for Aug. 28.

Pelican Island Audubon Society, Friends of the St. Sebastian River and the Indian River County’s Clean Water Coalition are calling for a reduction in the project’s density and examination of environmental effects, fearing that runoff could contaminate nearby wetlands and the St. Sebastian River.

The huge tract is located outside of the county’s Urban Service Area, so there are no provisions in the county’s comprehensive plan to provide water and sewer services there, according to County Administrator Jason Brown.

“Adequate water/wastewater capacity does not exist ... for this area,” Brown wrote Sebastian City Manager Paul Carlisle.

But development evaluation documents presented to the Sebastian City Council contradict claims of project opponents.

“The site is the benefactor of existing and planned thoroughfare roads, existing water and sewer utilities and existing Sebastian River Improvement drainage facilities, which can support the future urban development of the site,” the documents state.

At a June 26 meeting, Sebastian City council members promised the public that the board would act in the best interests of the city and environment and deal with the county’s concerns.

“It’s very valid to not want more septic tanks,” Councilman Ed Dodd said. “It’s very valid to want to protect the wetlands. I will assure you ... the council is not going to allow something to happen to those wetlands and not going to allow someone to put a subdivision in that’s on septic tanks.”