A businessman with big plans for the long-shuttered home of The Printing House cleared a major hurdle at the Sept. 3 meeting of The Gadsden County Commission.
Jose Pons and other supporters described plans to put a new industry in the vacant building as a sign of budding economic activity.
Commissioner Sherrie Taylor, who represents District 5 where the facility is located, described it as a weed.
During a quasi-judicial public hearing related to a request for a change of use for the property, commissioners heard from community and government supporters of Jose Pons’ proposal to renovate the 100,000-square-foot building to house an operation that would manufacture car care products and similar items.
Jill Jeglie, Gadsden County’s interim planning and community development director, said at the commission’s request, residents in the area had been notified of the proposed changes, including hand-delivered notices to all the rental properties in the vicinity of the site as well as public notices.
Roughly 550 people live within 1,000 square feet of the property, according to Jeglie, including those in multi-family housing, a nursing home and an assisted living facility.
She said no residents in close proximity to the property raised objections at a meeting of the county’s planning and zoning board, though two residents farther away raised concerns. She said at the planning and zoning meeting, the project received support from Quincy’s city manager as well as the owner of a property adjacent to Pons’ 25-acre parcel zoned for industrial use.
Jeglie told commissioners The Printing House had stored tanks of chemicals when it was in operation, including an estimated 45,000-gallon tank of propane and tanks of alum. In order for Pons to proceed, Jeglie said his plans would have to be approved by a number of regulatory agencies including the county’s fire chief, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Labor and Northwest Florida Water Management District.
Pons told commissioners told commissioners the type of products that would be made at the facility would not be toxic, though chemicals in large amounts have to be controlled.
Matt Thro, a member of Havana’s city council, praised Pons for his willingness to invest in the community and create jobs.
“I wish this could be in Havana,” he said, “but I’m really thrilled that it can be in Gadsden County.”
Karen Bass of Havana said she had represented Pons through the application process and she supports the venture because Pons’ son should be here running the business. She noted that the company would start creating jobs almost immediately — as soon as the construction process begins.
Allen Harrod said he ran The Printing House for a number of years he had been involved when Pons purchased the property.
“I think they would be very good for this county,” he said. “I think the county needs the jobs.”
Quincy Mayor Keith Dowdell and Quincy City Manager Jack McLean spoke in favor of the project, as did Gadsden County and Quincy fire chief, Scott Hairs. He said Pons had no problem complying with fire safety regulations and he considered the chemicals that would be at the site a “manageable risk.”
“I have reached the point I am comfortable with the project,” Hairs said.
Ed Bass of Havana, who owns a Subway restaurant, urged commissioners to approve Pons’ request because he receives about six or seven applications each week from job-seekers as far afield as Chattahoochee and Bainbridge, Ga., all interested in applying for minimum-wage jobs.
“We need jobs in this county,” Bass said. “Please do not turn this man away.”
Taylor said despite meeting with Pons, she still has issues with his plans for the property because of its proximity to a retirement center and a school. She said she is concerned not about the minimum capacity for chemicals that could be stored at the facility but the maximums.
She said she would love to see Pons’ business in an industrial park.
“That’s where it belongs, in an industrial park,” she said, “not in the middle of the community where there are people who have problems with asthma, physical problems. That’s not where you put this type business and that concerns me.”
She also questioned: the safety of a business requiring such a large number of agencies monitoring it, whether or not the company would hire as many people as it expected, whether or not the payroll for the estimated 35 to 45 employees would really be a total of $1.5 million, and whether or not the business would be safe if it were to grow — because with a 100,000-square-foot facility on 25 acres, there is an opportunity to expand. And with the opportunity of expansion, Taylor warned of a greater opportunity for a mishap.
Pons said there was a contradiction in both complaining that the business would be so small that it would not be worthwhile and warning that it could grow too large to control.
He noted that any plans for growth would have to meet with the commission’s approval and follow building codes and other regulatory processes.
“If you have a bud coming out of the earth and you step on it, it’s not going to grow,” Pons said.
“No, and you stomp out weeds,” Taylor said. “You don’t let weeds grow.”
Commisioners voted 4-1 to approve the change of use for the property at 1066 Strong Road. Taylor cast the dissenting vote.
In other business, commissioners:
*Voted unanimously to approve the library’s long-range plan for FY 2013 to 2018.
*Voted unanimously to approve submitting an application to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for funding to build an Agriculture education and Promotions Facility.
*Voted unanimously to confirm the appointment of Curtis Young of Midway as the county’s new public works director.
*Voted unanimously to award a bid for the jail locks and hardware replacement project at the Gadsden County Jail to C.A. Owens & Associates Inc.
*Voted 3-2 to approve $9,000 for the Quincy CRA Labor Day Weekend Celebration and Concert. Commissioners Gene Morgan and Sherrie Taylor cast dissenting votes.