Last year, the Pelican Island Audubon Society sued the City of Sebastian over the annexation of property near 510.
The Special City Council meeting Tuesday was to vote on whether or not the City of Sebastian should appeal the recent case, after the Pelican Island Audubon Society won, due to a technicality.
At the start of the meeting, Mayor Ed Dodd did not think the council should be discussing the lawsuit with the public as it is still in litigation. The council hasn’t even had an opportunity to speak with the city attorney in an executive meeting to determine what to do next, as Gilliams called the special meeting so abruptly.
If the city council voted not to seek an appeal, then the City of Sebastian would be responsible for all court and legal costs of the Audubon Society without the city speaking with their own attorneys. Mayor Dodd tried to remind the council of their executive meeting scheduled for the following day to go over this decision.
At the meeting, some residents accused Gilliams and Parris of helping the Audubon Society by rushing with the vote.
“This is not an item we can discuss. We can listen to the public, but we cannot in anyway discuss with the public what they comment on,” Mayor Dodd told the council.
Following Dodd’s statement, Gilliams immediately made a motion not to appeal to the Audubon Society case. Councilwoman Pamela Parris then jumped in and said, “I’ll second that.”
“Ok, you can proceed Mr. Mayor,” Gilliams said.
Dodd then asked for public comment.
“Go back and reevaluate what you’re doing with this city. We like it small; we want to keep it that way. We don’t need to look for extra dollars,” Sebastian resident Rene Boisvert told the council.
Another resident told the council that they should not appeal and start over with a new plan on the annexation.
“I would ask you to consider not appealing the ruling. Go forward with the 164 and do what we said we were going to do last year, and that’s to involve the public, involve the St. John’s Water District, and the other various agencies. Let’s show we can do this by example,” John Christino said.
“We do this right, we don’t have the uprising when the next one comes along,” Christino added.
Another resident reminded the council that people don’t want it, and it’s been proven by the Sebastian Daily annexation poll that was published last year.
“This annexation was overwhelmingly rejected by the citizens of Sebastian last year. Sebastian Daily did a poll to their subscribers. The community rejected, and they’ll reject it now. I am not against any sort of growth that makes sense and sustainable and is good for the environment,” John Reilly said.
“The way this plan is designed is a terrible deal for the city. It’s a terrible deal for the environment; it’s a terrible deal for the residents of Sebastian, please reconsider,” Reilly added.
However, others supported the annexation.
“It would be nice if we stopped growing 36 years ago when I moved here. What do we do? We shut the door as each person moves here and then not allow anymore? Three-quarters of the people in this audience wouldn’t be here if we closed the door 36 years ago,” former Sebastian Police Chief Michelle Morris told the council.
“The city has done an amazing job at how they’ve annexed and how they’ve grown our community. When I moved here, there were like 8,000 people. Where are we at now today? I still hear everyday people say Sebastian is a small beautiful town. Yes, it is,” Morris added.
Morris says that the city has done a great job controlling the growth during the past 36 years.
“If we stop this annexation, and those people are still going to build there, they’re still going to drive our roads, still going to shop at our grocery stores, they’re still going to come to our churches, they’re still going to be using our services, Vera Render told the council.
“And we’re going to be dealing with all of that without a single penny coming in from that property,” Render added.
Jeff Bass, who represents the Graves Brothers Company, addressed the council. Bass said Sebastian has a Plan Development, and they planned to keep the land for agriculture until there was a demand for a zoning change.
“This is about control. There is no plan with this annexation. There’s been a picture that was distributed of what it could look like when we make a land-use change. Annexation is about control. This land is going to develop; you got major roads going right through the middle of the property,” Bass told the council.
“The question is, is Sebastian going to control it, is Indian River County going to control it, or is Fellsmere going to control it? I think the council made the right decision; they wanted Sebastian to control it. I think that a lot of misconceptions, a lot of misunderstandings about the process. Annexation is not asking for services, it’s not asking to build houses, and it’s not asking anything other than being annexed to your municipality, so that municipality controls what happens there,” Bass added.
Bass said Graves Brothers did create a picture of what the property would look like if there was a zoning change, but there was no plan at this time, and it does not mean approving for one. That all comes in at a time when there’s an application for a zoning change. The annexation is the first step and is voluntary. Bass said he could pull out anytime, and if he does, he’s not sure if he’s coming back to the table.
“This was a very expensive process for us. We want to be part of Sebastian, but we also want to be part of somebody that wants us. Our company used to own all the land that encompasses Sebastian. It would not have been here if we didn’t logged it during the 1920s and 1930s. So every piece of land used to be something else. We would like this to be part of Sebastian and be part of the community,” Bass added.
The special meeting did address a lot of concerns that residents have about the annexation.
Bass is a third-generation Indian River County resident and a fourth-generation Floridian. He told the council he’s not going anywhere and is not trying to do the annexation in secret.
Bass encouraged the council to appeal to have the property under Sebastian’s control.
Councilman Jim Hill said that City Attorney Manny Anon has been very clear about the discussion while the case is still in litigation. Hill was worried about more pending lawsuits if the conversation moved forward.
“I’m very concerned about opening this up for discussion. I am not discussing the Graves Brothers annexation or the legal case at all because our attorney said it’s not appropriate, and I also believe it’s not appropriate,” Hill said.
Damien Gilliams then spoke and said he was elected by the environmentalists along with Charles Mauti and Pamela Parris to listen to due process that was not done properly.
“We already lost the first round, $35,000 in legal fees to an outside firm, we’re going to have to pay for Audubon Society’s legal fees, and guess what? You appeal this; you’re going to lose again,” Gilliams said.
We checked with some attorneys, and they disagree with what Gilliams said. If the city does appeal, it does not have to pay the Audubon Society’s legal fees unless it loses the second round.
Also, the Audubon Society only won the case based on a “tiny technicality” that can probably be resolved. They did not win the complaint in the lawsuit.
During the meeting, Mayor Dodd stated that Gilliams has been lying about the annexation since last August.
“This man has been lying about this annexation since last August, and he continues to lie tonight. I’m fed up with his lies,” Dodd said.
Dodd then said Gilliams used the annexation last year to spread misinformation about the annexation to get elected.
“He used the annexation, he used misinformation about the annexation, and he used lies about the annexation in order to get something he couldn’t get in fourteen years. He got elected, and he hasn’t acted like an adult since he got elected,” Dodd said.
Dodd then called for the vote on Gilliams’ motion not to appeal the annexation case. The vote failed 3-2, with only Gilliams and Parris voting yes.
The City of Sebastian will now speak with its attorneys on how to move forward and decide if they will appeal.
There’s another City Council meeting tonight at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall.