On March 24th, and March 28th I took a total of 5 hours each day of personal leave from my job, not to sit on the beach in the beautiful Florida sun, but to sit in County Commission meetings to hear the latest plans for the Santa Rosa County Judicial Center. As a citizen I thought I was supposed to get involved with county government, other concerned citizens must have thought the same because they were in attendance at these meetings also. The Santa Rosa Tea Party Patriots members had been encouraged to get involved by Commissioner Cole when he spoke to our group a couple of months ago, he told us that if more people would get involved that he would see that the East Milton property was put back on the table.
However, our involvement appeared not to be well received by some of the commissioners. In fact we were chastised for “confusing” the issue with our objections to purchasing more land. One commissioner even remarked that he didn’t know what we wanted anymore... maybe that is because they haven’t been listening or haven’t adequately provided a venue so people who work would have the opportunity to express more clearly what they want. Numerous requests have been made for some evening meetings, and those requests have mostly been ignored. I was made to feel that I was interfering because I was exercising my right as a citizen to express my thoughts about this important issue. I reminded the commissioners that they work for We the People and that is why we were there.
Before the people got involved there was only one piece of land that was being considered for the Judicial Center, which was a 22 acre parcel on Hwy 90 in Pea Ridge. Everything else was off the consideration list, which originally contained…county owned property such as the old Courthouse and East Milton property, even 15 acres to be donated by Cotton Byrum with a location about 2 miles east of the current courthouse was no longer being considered. Only one piece of property was left, and that was the Hwy 90/Pea Ridge property at a cost of $3.6 million dollars which includes the property and the infrastructure. When you add the $32 million estimated cost for the building you are looking at close to $40 million for the Judicial Center. We are being asked to pay for this project, I think we should have a say before it goes on the ballot.
For some reason the commissioners are adamant about the Hwy 90 property, (other than Comm. Jim Melvin who has been against the Hwy 90 property from the beginning). There are SRC citizens who have concerns about the paper trail for this property (including myself). We are all familiar with bad land deals, and time has not erased one certain one from our memory. It also had a bad paper trail, and two commissioners on this BOCC were on the board when that deal was approved. But I digress…sorry, back to the current land deal.
In case you don’t know the particulars of the history on the Hwy 90 (Pea Ridge) property, let me share them with you. Please note that everything I am sharing is documented, and so you will know I’m not stating untruths or trying to be part of a “rumor mill” you can find the documentation at this link… http://santarosa.fl.gov/bocc/judicialcenter.cfm
July 31, 2013 - The Hwy 90 property was foreclosed on, at that time the owner was Southern Ventures of Okaloosa County, Lowell Larson of Okaloosa County, and Synovus Bank. August 2013 - Charter Bank paid $10,000 for the foreclosed property. It was put on the market by Coldwell Banker for $2,590,000. Jan. 23, 2014 -The commission selected moving forward with the evaluation process of the Coldwell Banker site on U.S. Hwy. 90 and the JDL of Santa Rosa LLC site on Avalon Boulevard. Feb. 13, 2014 -The board selected moving forward on the Coldwell Banker Realtor site on U.S. Hwy. 90 eliminating Avalon. Feb. 27, 2014 - The commission voted to move forward with negotiating a contract with Coldwell Banker for the purchase of 22. 46 acres to include the U.S. Hwy. 90 - front property, the cost for the site development and property would be approx. $3.6 million, adding to the estimated $32 million cost of constructing the new judicial center. March 10 & 13, 2014- The commission addressed concerns that the new judicial facility was not to be located on property that the county already owned. The board agreed to add a location preference option to the proposed judicial center ballot. In addition to selecting if they support a local option sales tax to fund a new judicial center, voters will have the option of voicing their preference for the U.S. Hwy. 90 property or property already owned by the county in East Milton. The contractor will now look at county owned property to select the most appropriate 22 acres and develop a second design plan and cost estimates. March 17, 2014 the county received formal documentation that the property owned by Charter Bank was under contract with Milton Crossing, LLC. Charter Bank entered into a contract with Brian DeMaria, who later formed Milton Crossings, LLC (by the way this LLC was created March 5, 2014) to purchase the entire 45 acre parcel of which the county had selected 22.56 acres as a potential judicial center location. The developer has assumed the RFP terms submitted to the county by Charter Bank with the purpose of developing the remainder of the property not sold to the county. March 24 & 27, 2014 - staff presented similar sized county owned property in East Milton to the board. The commission directed staff to bring research on available utilities to those properties, impacts of moving the sheriff's shooting range, impact of the future Hwy. 87 bypass, and offers of donated or reduced cost land in East Milton to the April 7 and 10 meetings. At both the committee and regular meeting, the board discussed the potential change in property owner of the U.S. Hwy. 90 property. March 27, 2014 - A motion was passed to approve entering into a contract with Milton Crossings, LLC to purchase the U.S. Hwy. 90 property.
I don’t know about you, but something just doesn’t seem right to me and others felt the same in the March 27th meeting and objected to this contract being signed even though it was stated by staff that the county could get out of it without penalty. My question is…why would we enter into something that is questionable to begin with? You can watch the video’s of all meetings at the link I have provided in this letter so you can review some of the objections.
If you want to see and hear more about this issue, you are invited to attend the Santa Rosa Tea Party Patriots meeting on Monday, April 14 at 6 p.m. at the Pace Community Center on Chumuckla Hwy, 7/10 of a mile past the Berryhill/Chumuckla Hwy red light, brick building on the right. We the People will present facts and concerns about this property. We will share “citizen” created ideas for an East Milton Judicial Center, and some thoughts about the use of the old courthouse in downtown Milton. There will also be a brief presentation on the plans for the Hwy 87 Corridor by Jim DeVries with the Florida Department of Transportation, and Mary Beth Washnock - TPO Coordinator - Florida-Alabama TPO.
Sharon Glass, Pace