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Trash talk



At the edge of Sanford Central Park, a business park off St. Johns Parkway just a few miles from historic downtown Sanford, garbage-hauling giant Waste Pro wants to put a new "fleet maintenance facility." The company's proposal includes a corporate office, truck-repair shop, fuel tanks — and parking space for 70 garbage trucks and 120 roll-off trash bins.

From 1992 through 2008, emergency-vehicle manufacturer American LaFrance used the roughly 9.5-acre site at 3705 St. Johns Parkway as a vehicle-repair facility, according to city planning documents. Longwood-based Waste Pro bought the property in October 2009 for $3.7 million, says Tim Dolan, Waste Pro regional vice president.

Waste Pro will probably renovate the old American LaFrance buildings and add some parking, he says. The company has promised to surround the property, which is located not far from a residential development, with an 8-foot opaque fence. If all goes as planned, the company will be working out of the site within the next few months, according to Dolan.

Although the plan has been quietly percolating for months among Sanford city staff, some of Waste Pro's potential neighbors say they were stunned to find out about it a few weeks ago.

Public notices about the Waste Pro plan only went out to the landowners immediately surrounding the parcel, says Jim Dyson, who owns property adjacent to the site in question, so attendance was light at the city's May 6 planning meeting at which the project was discussed. At that meeting, nine people spoke in opposition of the proposed use for the site, but planning commissioners voted 3-1 to allow it. Now it's scheduled for review by Sanford's city commissioners on June 28.

"I would say 90 percent of the public has no idea of what's about to happen out there," says Dyson, a Virginia resident who eventually hopes to develop the land he owns in Sanford. In 2000, the city approached area landowners seeking donations of easements to build St. Johns Parkway. In exchange, Dyson says, the corridor was to be developed strictly with non-polluting, inoffensive businesses that would be attractive to residents.

"There was a lot of intense effort to ensure that," Dyson says. "We embraced this plan."

There's obviously a need for garbage trucks and their required facilities, but 3705 St. Johns Parkway just isn't the place, says Dyson. Placing a garbage-truck depot in Sanford Central Park will attract similar businesses, he contends, not the corporate offices and neighborhood businesses residents were promised. The Waste Pro site is also surrounded by houses, he says, whose residents would probably always have a whiff of someone else's garbage in their noses.

Dolan, however, dismisses fears of excessive smell or accumulating trash, and says neighbors' concerns are overblown.

"Those items were all addressed in the planning and zoning meeting," he says. "There's a lot of information being thrown about that's not necessarily based on anything."

The city development order says Waste Pro can't stack its roll-off trash bins, and prohibits storing trash there unless trucks can't be emptied during normal hours. Any vehicle "exhibiting offensive odors" must be put indoors or moved to another facility.

Dolan says he's personally talked to a number of property owners in the area, and after explaining Waste Pro's plans he didn't encounter continued resistance.

"The folks that I have spoken to seem to be OK with it," he says.

In fact, Dolan says, Waste Pro plans to make this office its showpiece for investors, and the company's exclusive contract to collect trash in Sanford is an incentive to keep things neat and inoffensive since the contract will eventually come up for renewal.

Those prospects don't reassure many of Waste Pro's potential neighbors. About 20 people gathered on June 10 at the TWC Services office, just across the canal from the proposed Waste Pro site. Most were owners of surrounding businesses, worried about their property values. Also there was Patty Mahany, running in the June 15 special election for the open seat on Sanford's city commission.

Mahany describes the May 6 planning commission meeting as "weird" — it's supposed to be a nine-member board, but one seat is vacant, and only half the current members showed up. That leaves her still wondering whether there was even a legal quorum for the approval of Waste Pro's plan, she says.

Mahany says Sanford officials are eager for any development, even projects that other communities don't want, because the town contains nine of 11 identified "poverty pockets" in Seminole County. She says that many major buildings in Sanford are owned by government or nonprofit groups, so they don't provide any tax revenue. City officials may also fear a lawsuit if Waste Pro isn't allowed to develop a site it's sunk so much money into, after being assured for months that there was no legal problem, Mahany says.

Jim Oakley, TWC vice president, ran down his list of concerns as well: Although Waste Pro says it will wash its trucks regularly, it isn't required to, and so far one prospective tenant of the business park has walked away after hearing of Waste Pro's arrival. He says there's also fear that the site's water-retention pond could be tainted by garbage goo and overflow in heavy rains into the adjacent Lockhart Smith Canal. He also worries that the promised fence won't hide the trucks and trash bins — he says he drove by Waste Pro's similar facility in New Smyrna Beach and could still see everything.

Jeff Brody, co-owner of Sanford Auto Dealers Exchange, says that in the last few months he's gotten several calls from realtors asking if he wanted to sell out, and predicting that property values would drop once Waste Pro arrived. That raises fears not just of dropping prices, but that Waste Pro might plan to expand by buying up adjacent land cheaply once the presence of garbage trucks makes neighbors desperate to sell.

Dolan says the American LaFrance site should be plenty for Waste Pro's current needs, but he doesn't entirely rule out the chance of buying more land there someday.

"I'm not going to say it's not possible," he says. "Geographically, we have a lot of business in this area. But I wouldn't say it's very likely."

A number of the businessmen take pains to say they've got nothing against Waste Pro itself — they are, obviously, pro-business. They just don't want it next to them.

The neighboring landowners say they're going to start a petition drive among surrounding residents, not just to gather signatures but to let hundreds more know about Waste Pro's plans in time to pack the June 28 city commission meeting. There's even talk of filing a lawsuit if commissioners don't respond to criticism.

Questions e-mailed to Sanford's planning department and a call to the city manager's office for comment on this story weren't returned.


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