‘What were they thinking?:’ Cocoa residents fighting to stop propane distribution center
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‘What were they thinking?:’ Cocoa residents fighting to stop propane distribution center

Aug 21, 2023

Mike Holfeld, Investigative Reporter

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Residents near 512 Cross Road in Cocoa are convinced officials want to pretend they do not exist so a liquid propane distribution center proposed by the Ideal Gas company of St. Augustine can be built across from their homes.

Melinda Smith, a retired NASA employee, told News 6 she has lived in the Vanguard Estates neighborhood for 10 years and cannot believe the huge propane tanks will be a few hundred feet from her front door.

“This was supposed to be my retirement home,” she said. “And now I have a time bomb right next door.”

According to Brevard County records, the land, about 1.5 acres, has been zoned for “light industrial” use since Sept. 4, 1958. Construction of the manufactured homes started between 1979 and 1980.

“It’s in a residential area for crying out loud,” 7-year resident Rick Niewoehner said. “I don’t know what they were thinking.”

Homeowners told News 6 they were never told about the plans to build a liquid propane center on Cross Road.

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Robert Cunningham, the head of the Stop Ideal Gas group, told News 6 the county is “hiding the truth” by not acknowledging that liquid propane, a hazardous and flammable material, cannot be stored on land zoned for light industrial use. Cunningham has argued for months that the site would have to be rezoned for heavy industrial use to allow construction.

Ideal Gas Company’s St. Augustine location is built on an area zoned for light manufacturing by St. Johns County.

News 6 confirmed the zoning code standards are the same as light industrial with one major difference: The St. Augustine center is in an industrial park not a neighborhood.

“No one wants to sleep next to that monster,” Cunningham told News 6. “There are thresholds and guidelines that need to look at the human population but none of those reports (county or EPA) are in the records anywhere.”

News 6 asked Brevard County Zoning and Planning manager Jeffrey Ball why public hearings were never conducted for a plan that had been approved in March 2021.

In an email to News 6, Ball replied, “The use does not require a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). Therefore, no public hearing was required.”

The preliminary construction was approved by associate planner Desiree Jackson, in March of this year. County records confirm a permit for the first above-ground 30,000 gallon liquid propane tank has NOT been approved.

News 6 reviewed the county’s light industrial ordinance and noted a potential conflict.

The ordinance in part reads: NO SHIPPING OR RECEIVING OF GOODS SHALL BE PERMITTED WITHIN 100 FEET OF RESIDENTIALLY ZONED PROPERTY.

The site plans show the propane trucks will be traveling a few feet in front of the manufactured homes along Cross Road to pick up and deliver liquid propane from the site.

County spokesman Don Walker, while not addressing the ordinance language, stressed that the residents’ safety concerns had been addressed.

Walker wrote in part, “Planning & Development and Fire Prevention investigated resident concerns and found the approved site plan and supporting documents are code compliant.”

Ideal Gas company co-owner Siegel told News 6 the site was already zoned for what the company needed so it “seemed to be the perfect fit.”

When News 6 advised him of the safety and economic concerns, Siegel said his company would do whatever it could to ease those concerns.

“Based on this discussion, we’re going to undertake a further safety review and provide action above what the code requires us to do,” Siegel said.

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BREVARD COUNTY, Fla.