One of the great things about living in a diverse city like ours, is having the ability to tap into the skillsets of our local residents. One source of information that has become paramount in combating the vast amounts of misinformation that is published online and through social media outlets, is history: plain, old, factual information. The process is grueling however; it takes active historians that are willing to keep shoveling history out of the depths of the internet, and continually place it back on top of the information pile.
Thankfully our City has one such historian, John Fergus. John, who has educated me on more than one occasion with the truth behind our great City, wanted to set the record straight on a few topics of misinformation that are being flung around the “interwebs”. John, was gracious enough to allow me to repost his account of our City here. Typically, when reposting something this long, I would add a TLDR blurb at the top; however, this information is too important to summarize. I encourage all of our readers to dive in and read it in its entirety. If you are still short on time, be sure to read the wrap up section.
Originally Posted by John Fergus on Nextdoor.com as “SATELLITE BEACH HAD A PLAN”
As I said I would earlier on NEXTDOOR, I am here posting a brief history of events surrounding Satellite Beach’s Hightower Beach Park, South Housing, and The Vue. It took longer than expected to coordinate with the one person who knows more than I do about these issues, to confirm – and correct based on documents in the public record – what I recalled, and to tie it into a coherent whole. It is long. For that I apologize. But there are a lot of moving parts that intermeshed. To accompany this material, I am attaching images of a few key supporting documents, including a couple that demonstrate that relevant government agencies have declined to agree with multiple allegations brought against the City regarding these issues. I expect there will be those who will declare parts of this “history” a fraud. I leave it to the reader to decide for themselves the validity of such claims. I hope you find this information helpful, and perhaps interesting. There is a lot of – legitimate – lever pulling going on behind the scenes to make a community like Satellite Beach a special place to live.
Hightower Beach Park and South Housing, and The Vue in particular, have been a topic of discussion on social media recently. Looking at this through the lens of history is helpful. A high percentage of current residents who did not live in the area during the time all this was accomplished are forced to base their opinions on comments posted on social media and other venues by those who, themselves, did not live this history. It is clear that many have formed their opinions based solely on the current Vue project without being aware of the strategic City initiative of which The Vue is the final phase. Two decades of visioning, goal setting, and follow-through have resulted in a substantial reduction in the overall density of the City; preservation of much of the City’s oceanfront; improvements to the A1A corridor; and annexation of the PAFB South Housing area and its subsequent redevelopment that will provide the tax dollars needed to continue funding City services as a result of oceanfront preservation’s impact on the City’s tax base.
Also, it is important to recognize that during the highly public process dealing with annexation and redevelopment of South Housing, there was overwhelming public support for creating a collection of quality neighborhoods that include the three 85-foot towers. Satellite Beach is known for its high level of public participation in making important decisions by its residents. One attachment is a chronology of public meetings and residents’ comments. This well developed plan is now in the final stage with the buildout of The Vue. Public concern would be understandable if The Vue were a standalone project. Instead, it is the final step in an organized effort spanning two decades of community achievement.
Since the Town of Satellite Beach (“the City”) was established in 1957, senior government leadership, both elected and staff, have strived to maintain the predominant character of Satellite Beach as a family-friendly, low density, single-family residential community served by a responsive government and local businesses, both of whom provide needed and desired products and services.
In the late 1990’s, the 90% built-out City was experiencing a stagnant tax base and lack of investment in the aging and increasingly antiquated properties in the City’s commercial corridors along A1A and South Patrick Drive. At the same time, residents were becoming increasingly concerned as condo towers and multi-story homes replaced vacant lots east of A1A, becoming a wall between the City and the ocean. They wanted the City to increase the 21% of oceanfront in the City under government protection beyond just 8.7-acre County-owned Pelican Beach Park, two state-owned conservation lots totaling 1.5 acres, 11 narrow paths and street-end dune crossovers to the beach, and six scattered parcels totaling 1.1 acres donated to the City by owners over the years. The first issues threatened the City’s ability to finance the levels of service residents had come to expect as well as the viability of the City’s commercial district. The last only exacerbated those problems.
At that time, there were available to the City three potential means to address the identified issues. In January 1997 City leaders decided to aggressively pursue grants to leverage City funds with outside funds to complete projects. In July 1998 City leaders decided to try to add to the City’s tax base the results of a US Defense Department decision to privatize military family housing at a number of military bases, including those in Patrick Air Force Base’s South Housing Area just north of the City. And in June 2002, after more than a year of preparation, City leaders established a redevelopment district as a means to redirect both City and County property taxes collected within the commercial district into projects improving conditions within that district.
The easiest and first action was to pursue Florida Preservation-2000 grants to attempt to purchase all the vacant parcels of oceanfront land in the City for passive recreation and conservation. The first application was submitted in 1998. It included all eight privately owned vacant parcels and one developed parcel between the Monaco Condos in unincorporated South Patrick Shores and Jackson Avenue. The result was that the City obtained in 1999 from a willing seller title to 15.3 acres in two parcels abutting both sides of Brevard County’s 1.79-acre Hightower Beach Park (consisting of a small parking area and a dune crossover) to preserve 0.5 mile of natural oceanfront using about $3.8 million in State funds and less than $7,000 match on the part of the City. If that purchase had not been made, there was an approved permit to build a 91-unit timeshare complex on the south parcel similar to Lantana just south of the City. The northern parcel and the County park, located in unincorporated South Patrick Shores, were annexed into the City in 2002.
A second P-2000 grant in 1999 for 13 parcels (12 vacant parcels and one developed parcel) from Jackson Avenue to the south end of the strip mall south of Palmetto Avenue (where Pappagalio’s and Balsa Bill’s are located) procured for the City in 2001 from the one willing seller a 1.8-acre tract to increase the shoreline of Pelican Beach Park to 0.3 mile. A third grant in 2000 was for all eight privately owned parcels south of Palmetto Avenue and east of A1A. Although the state approved the project for funding, there were no willing sellers. With state funds, the City in three years of effort to obtain title to every vacant parcel along the beach had added over 0.25 mile to its oceanfront boundary, and 0.33 mile and over 17 acres of preserved oceanfront land to its holdings (increasing the protected oceanfront area by 142%) at a cost to the City of less than $120,000.
In June 2005 the City added 1.1 acres of oceanfront land south of Sunrise Avenue (that a previous owner was not willing to sell, but now is Michael P. Crotty Park) at a cost of $2.25 million in response to vigorous urging by a large number of residents who did not want the City’s last visual link to the ocean from A1A blocked by a six-story condominium for which a developer was seeking a permit. The money came from a redevelopment district the City implemented in June 2002 that included both of the City’s commercial corridors and all the City’s oceanfront properties. That district diverted about 25% of the City’s property tax revenue from helping pay for City-wide services such as law enforcement and fire/emergency medical services to improvement projects solely within the district. Those projects included about $1 million to completely renovate Pelican Beach Park and a $200,000 contribution to an $800,000 project to create the Hightower Beach Park people now enjoy. The County recognized the City’s strong dedication to the parks within the City by deeding Hightower and Pelican Beach Parks to the City in 2012 in exchange for all individuals being treated the same with regard to access to the parks.
The Sunrise purchase ended the City’s formal good faith effort to preserve as much oceanfront as it could. However, the expansion of City-owned oceanfront land involves significant long term financial consequences. Oceanfront land is the most valuable in the City. In 2020 the Property Appraiser assigned a market value of $3.1 million to that portion of Hightower Beach Park in the City at the time it was acquired and $1.5 million to the added land in Pelican Beach Park for a total value of $4.6 million, worth more than $36,000 in annual tax revenue in 2020 based on land value alone. The taxes on the acquired parcels, if they had been developed, using one Lantana tower in 2020 as an example, would be offsetting by about $1 million annually (12%) what all current property owners pay. As such, this open land is a significant contributor to the City’s higher than average tax rate for Brevard County.
Back-to-back Hurricanes Francis and Jeanne in 2004 severely damaged the 20-year old Ramada Inn with 105 rooms (and a permit for an additional 48 rooms) across from Atlantic Plaza. The developer who purchased the property eventually decided after a series of plan changes to construct new condo towers instead of renovating the damaged structure and reopening as a hotel.
While the City was negotiating with the developer, a member of City staff noted that the same developer had an approved permit to build the 24-unit Gemini condo complex on a 2.2-acre oceanfront parcel at the end of Ellwood Avenue. This was one of the parcels in the 1999 P-2000 grant the former owner was not willing to sell, and City leaders took advantage of this unexpected development. Mindful of public interest in preserving oceanfront open space, City staff proposed the developer consider giving the City the Gemini parcel (with an approved permit across from a single-family residential neighborhood) in exchange for the City approving additional units on the Ramada parcel across from the City’s commercial hub at Atlantic plaza. After an extended period of negotiations, including multiple public meetings, the developer agreed to donate the Gemini lot to the City if he could add to the 56 units permitted on the Ramada site: 24 units from the Gemini site, 15 units from the Sunrise site, plus 13 units made available by reducing maximum densities along the City’s oceanfront and on Lansing Island. The City agreed to allow the buildings to exceed the 65-foot height limit to accommodate all the units.
After a great deal of input by both residents who approved and those who objected to the arrangement, City Council approved a new zoning district applying only to the single site to accommodate the increased density and height. To reduce the visual impact of the height, the two buildings comprising the Oceana condo complex have a 40-foot front setback instead of the 25 feet specified in other districts. In exchange, in 2007 the City received title to the 2.2 acres (with a 2020 Property Appraiser market value of $1.2 million), now known as Gemini Park. In this case, the City did not lose tax base, since the Gemini and Crotty Park units are part of Oceana, which will add several hundred thousand dollars annually to the City’s budget when brought onto the tax rolls starting 1 October 2020. As a byproduct of the vigorous public discussion, the City Charter was amended by public referendum to require a referendum before increasing building heights or reducing building breezeway requirements outside the parameters existing on the date of the 2006 referendum.
In 1957 the Air Force purchased approximately 300 acres from private owners and began building 999 desperately needed housing units (almost exclusively modest duplexes) for military families as the booming local economy attracted families from around the country to support the missile program being conducted at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and supported at Patrick Air Force Base. Occupancy was several thousand due to young families with multiple children being the predominate occupants, eventually contributing a large proportion of children in local schools (including one on base) when they were built in the 1960s. Water was supplied by cocoa and sewage was pumped to the base and then to Cocoa Beach to the north, since the area to the south was on wells and septic systems. For scale, Satellite Beach consisted of about 50 homes and two businesses at that time.
In the latter 1990s, even before the City obtained title to Hightower Beach Park, the US Defense Department announced an aggressive military housing privatization initiative at a number of military bases. This included Patrick Air Force Base’s South Housing Area. By that time those units had outlived their useful operational life. They were substandard by current standards, with many units riddled with termites and plagued by leaking roofs.
The privatization involved the Air Force ceding ownership of land in South Housing to a private developer in exchange for that developer using their resources and nimble contracting processes to replace the existing units with new ones in a timely manner and manage them as rentals for military families (and civilians if space allowed) for a period of 50 years.
By default, a privatized South Housing would be annexed into Brevard County. However, the City’s leadership’s interest in having that redevelopment occur within the City so the City could exert influence on the character and quality of the new neighborhoods and gain tax base resulted in the City in November 1999 holding a referendum on whether to annex South Housing. This was done to meet a charter requirement to gain citizen approval before annexing land (established as a result of residents’ reaction to a dispute involving whether to annex Tortoise Island in the 1970s). The results were positive by more than three to one. Based on that result, the City entered into discussions with the Air Force about such an option and adopted Ordinance 788 in August 2000 establishing a Planned Unit Development zoning district to become effective if South Housing was eventually annexed. That document lists as the first two of six purposes to: “(1) Promote innovative and creative design of residential and nonresidential areas” and “(2) Promote efficient use of land by facilitating a more economic arrangement of buildings, infrastructure, circulation systems, land use and facilities”. In addition, it increased the amount of open space the developers had to provide by 50% above the City’s baseline value. The City also made sure potential bidders for the privatization contract knew of the City’s interest and the services available through the City. In the end, the Air Force decided it was desirable for the land to be annexed into the City prior to being privatized. This became official in October 2003.
The single issue that attracted the most attention as the City negotiated with the Air Force and, eventually, the privatization contractor, was density. In an era when the state did not allow increases of density on the barrier island due to hurricane evacuation concerns, the City reduced allowed densities on waterfront land both east of A1A (from 15 to 11 units per acre, netting 248 units) and on Lansing Island (from 4 to 1 unit per acre, netting 181 units). Those 429 units, minus the 13 used for Oceana, left 50 unused after compensating for the 366 units added to the 999 then present in South Housing so the Air Force could have its desired 545 single-family units south of Patrick (now Shearwater) Drive for rental as military housing and the developers to the north the 820 units they desired for development and sale. As of January 2013 the military housing contractor had built only 156 units south of Shearwater, all the Air Force appears to need at this time. The Vue, when complete, will build out the private portion of the redevelopment north of Shearwater with fewer than its allotted share of units.
The formal process of annexing South Housing and establishing its character involved 14 meetings open to public participation between June 2000 and April 2004. A total of 29 individuals spoke during those meetings, of whom 14 were City residents. Minutes record only one of those individuals mentioning the 85-foot height. At one meeting Council discussed “Limiting the number of seven-story buildings to 3”. Council did make a point that the “minimum setback from Highway A1A right-of-way for the condominiums shall be 100 feet”. That is the extent of the public record of the 85 feet.
Page 4-12 of an Environmental Assessment prepared for the Air Force and published in February 2001 states that “Examples of compatible uses and incompatible uses of the non-Air Force portion of the site are: Compatible Uses:… Hotel or Resort…”. The approved site plan for The Vue replaces three lower height condo towers along A1A near Shearwater with a hotel. That hotel will replace the oceanfront Ramada Inn lost in Since the loss of the Ramada, there has been a persistent undercurrent of desire among residents to have a single replacement venue within the City for visitors’ accommodations and social functions, not to become a competitor with Cocoa Beach with its hotels, Ron John Surf Shop, pier, and tourists.
To wrap up… The leadership of Satellite Beach has accomplished much in two decades and now has in place the means to finish what they set out to do in the late 1990s. The City now owns Hightower Beach Park and conservation area protecting more than 0.5 mile of natural oceanfront (the longest protected beach in the 24 miles between Port Canaveral and Brevard County’s Spessard Holland South Beach Park just south of Melbourne Beach), an expanded Pelican Beach Park protecting more than 0.3 mile of oceanfront, Gemini Park east of Ellwood Avenue serving the City’s central neighborhoods, and Michael P. Crotty Park at Sunrise Avenue serving the City’s southernmost neighborhoods. All told, City-owned land and three small conservation parcels owned by the state and managed by the City protect 39% of the City’s 2.8 miles of oceanfront. These new parks contribute significantly to the 7% of the City’s land area (equal to its commercial area) preserved as public open space since its founding. The new state-funded parks, along with density units not used for South Housing, reduced the City’s density by 161 units. Since incorporation, the City has converted the equivalent of more than 900 living units (more than 1/6 of its tax base properties) into public open space. The Oceana condo redevelopment, starting on 1 October 2020, will provide several hundred thousand dollars annually towards the City’s operating expenses. And, when completed, the approved plans for The Vue will provide the City, again, with a single hotel/meeting venue as well as an estimated $1.6 annually towards the City’s operating expenses. And all of this was done by multiple City Councils going back decades sharing a vision responsive to constructive public opinion within the legal framework within which the City must operate under the careful oversight of the City Attorney, including the stringent constraints of Florida’s “Sunshine Law” mandating open meetings.
To my knowledge, there have been no formal complaints or legal actions threatened or filed against the City by state or federal organizations involving the topics discussed, and to my knowledge those who criticize the City have not made any such definitive documents available to the public. However, I do have multiple documents from such organizations that decline to agree with those who allege inappropriate actions on the part of the City. Relevant portions are attached. Also, one can see on a video at https://www.satellitebeach.org/government/meetings_and_documents.php of the 16 September 2020 Satellite Beach City Council meeting starting at 35:20 to the 57:00 minute times the City Manager’s refutation of multiple false allegations against the City. From then until 1:17:40 there is extensive additional history provided by Council members who were involved in the events described.