Pensacola, Florida
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The Buzz 11/29/13

Pensacola’s Mud Island Eighteen months after the Vince J. Whibbs, Sr. Community Maritime Park opened, the city has a problem with the retention pond at the park. The liner has floated to the surface, forming a mud island.

Hatch Mott MacDonald, the engineering firm that was hired to be the Community Maritime Park Associates representative for the construction of the park is studying what caused the problem and assessing whether it is a design or construction issue.

Mark Taylor, a CMPA board member, said that it’s too early to conclude the cause, but it appears it could be one of two things. He said, “Simply the depth of the pond, elevation of the ground water, and elevation of the tidal plane are all wreaking havoc on the pond, or some kind of soil gasses are coming up that could be floating the liner.”

BCC Change of Command On Nov. 21, Escambia County Commissioner Gene Valentino handed over the chairmanship of the Board of County Commissioners to his fellow commissioner, Lumon May.

A standing room-only crowd packed the commission chambers to see the gavel passed. May took the opportunity to both honor and poke fun at the outgoing chairman.

May called up Maureen Valentino to stand with her husband while he presented the commissioner with a plaque. He also presented Gene with a tongue-in-cheek award for his service.

May told the audience, “If some of you have watched our meetings, they are quite entertaining—we’ve broken gavels, thrown tennis balls at Grover and we’ve made some comments that will go down in history.”

Holding a certificate in his hand, May read, “On behalf of the county commission, we are giving the first ‘Stand Down Commissioner, Changing of the Guard’ award presented to Commissioner Gene Valentino for your long diligence and outstanding performance during your tenure as chairman. Never failing to scrub out an item from the 10,000-ft. level even if you are in the weeds.”

In his remarks, Commissioner Valentino talked about the challenges of serving on the BCC.

“We cover a gamut of issues on a daily basis,” he said. “The one that you come into the office to lobby for—that is so important to you—sits on our agendas as one of 30 items. We try to vet through all of them, giving all the concern and passion to each of them that you give to your one.”

He also talked about the responsibility the commission has to future generations.

“We hand these seats over to our kids and the younger generation. We have to look the part and act the part,” Valentino said. “We have to do our best to set the right example and set the right image. I’ve been proud of the four commissioners up here, believe it or not, and to deliberate with them on the issues that are of great concern to you. Thank you very much.”

Commissioner May closed the meeting thanking Valentino for his leadership and guidance through May’s first year on the board.

He said, “I first want to thank God for this opportunity to serve my community, because without him I wouldn’t have this opportunity.”

May also thanked his wife and children, friends and supporters—calling out many in the audience by name. He had special words for his mother.

“I never went to a baseball game, never went to church, never went to school without my mom,” he said. “She is still here today and I thank my mom as well for being here.”

The new chairman promised to work with other government entities.

“I pledge the same thing I pledged when I ran for office,” said May. “I pledge that we will work together. We will work with the mayor of this city and the city council. We will work with ECUA. We will work with the superintendent and the school board.”

He said, “Good government is about everyone working together. I cannot be successful without the people who are sitting here.”

Before he hit the gavel to close the meeting, May added, “I will work every day to not only make my father proud, but also to make my family proud—and, most importantly, to make this entire community proud.”

Reining in Stallion The Escambia County Commission isn’t too pleased about the latest funding plan submitted by the city of Pensacola and the Greater Pensacola Chamber for Project Stallion, the Malaysian-based aerospace company that is considering a location at the Pensacola International Airport and bringing with it 350 jobs to the area.

Scott Luth, vice president for economic development at the chamber, asked the commissioners at their Nov. 19 Committee of the Whole meeting to consider a relocation of its Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) funds to provide $10 million for Project Stallion.

Interim County Administrator George Touart said that he was working with the city on ways to replenish the LOST funds, most of which were set to come out of road and drainage projects in District 1, Commissioner Wilson Robertson’s district.

Robertson wasn’t happy about this option. “When we first talked about this project, it was to be a joint effort between the city and county,” he said. “Now the county is being asked to put up all, or most of all, the cash.”

He wanted a commitment from the city on how it was going to repay the county.

“I won’t support Project Stallion without a commitment, and I want it in writing, that the $10 million will be replenished,” said Robertson.

Commissioner Stephen Barry echoed Robertson’s position, “I’m not going to support this type of funding, in any form or fashion, without an equitable asset (in return).”

Barry was willing to accept from the city a pledged revenue stream or “bricks and mortar” assets. He said, “For two parties, there has to be equity on both sides.”

Touart told the commissioners he would continue to negotiate with the city and would return with a plan approved by Mayor Ashton Hayward and the Pensacola City Council.

The Other Side of the Dollar General Story Billy Helms, Student Director at East Hill Baptist Church, visited the Independent News offices to talk about his church’s decision to sell a portion of its property at the corner of Spanish Trail and Summit Boulevard to Dollar General.

He said the decision was a tough one, but the $450,000 offered by Dollar General would give the historic church the opportunity to pay off its debts, renovate its facilities and put it on a more solid financial ground, something the church had not been able to achieve over the past 18 months.

Helms said the sale of the property was approved by a vote of the entire congregation. The decision was tough for a church with such a long history. East Hill Baptist Church is one of the oldest Baptist churches in Pensacola, constituted in 1899 by members of First Baptist Church.

Over the years, it moved between several locations on 10th Avenue and finally settled on Gadsden Street in 1933. The church relocated to Spanish Trail in the 1980s and quickly became an integral part of the Cordova area. The nearby Montessori school used the fellowship for plays and presentations. Homeowner associations held their meetings at the church. Nursing programs held their graduations there.

However, the recent recession hit East Hill Baptist hard. The church went without a pastor for 15 months until Rev. Ron Wilcoxson answered the call to be its senior minister. The congregation was told the only way to get full price for the out parcel would be to sell the land for retail use.

The sales contract had a catch. East Hill Baptist had to gain approval from the city of Pensacola to change the zoning from medium density to commercial. Don Neal, owner/broker of Neal & Company, was hired by the church to handle the transaction. According to Helms, Neal assured them that the rezoning would not be a problem.

The city’s Planning Board approved unanimously on Nov. 12 the church’s request. Then residents in the area learned that Dollar General might be coming to their neighborhood and, well, all hell broke loose.

Crowds packed the Vickery Center to register their displeasure with the sale and zoning change at a town hall meeting hosted on Nov. 18 by Mayor Ashton Hayward. The church’s explanations fell on deaf ears. Both Hayward and Councilman Andy Terhaar, who is also a part of Neal & Company, said they were against Dollar General building on Spanish Trail.

Helms felt the church really has not gotten to tell its side of the story. When the vote for the rezoning comes before the Pensacola City Council in January, he hopes that cooler heads will prevail.

He pointed out the sale will put the property on the tax roll. The design that he has seen showed a store that would blend into the community. Helms believed that there are people in the neighborhoods around East Hill Baptist Church who favor the retail store but were uncomfortable in speaking out.

The Pensacola City Council weighs in on the issue at its agenda review meeting on Jan. 20.