PALM BAY, Fla. – Back in February, disregarding warnings of danger, the Palm Bay City Council voted 5-0 to rezone land bordering FAR Chemical’s industrial plant for construction of up to 699 homes and 190,000 square feet of commercial space, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.
On Sept. 8, FAR Chemical was rocked by a series of window-rattling explosions, sparking large fireballs and shutting down U.S. 1 as police and firefighters converged on the scene.
Nine days later, a Brevard County circuit judge invalidated the results of the February City Council meeting, ruling that Palm Bay officials had failed to comply with mandatory notice requirements.
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Now, the City Council will re-hear the 22-acre multifamily housing-commercial construction proposal during a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The FAR Chemical blasts originated from an industrial storage area containing 30 to 40 50-gallon barrels of an isopropyl alcohol-based solution, Palm Bay spokeswoman Keely Leggett said. No injuries were reported.
“Nobody ever wants to see an accident happen. But it doesn’t matter how well-prepared you are: Accidents happen,” Joe Beatty, vice president and general manager of FAR Chemical, said Monday.
“I can’t imagine if there were 500 or 600 multifamily home units that close — and if they had already been built? God, it’d just be awful,” Beatty said.
The 22-acre adjacent property at Robert J. Conlan Boulevard and U.S. 1 is owned by MLEF2-1, LLC, a North Miami Beach development company.
The developer’s February 2019 conceptual plan on file at City Hall depicts five future four-story buildings containing 308 housing units with a 10,000-square-foot clubhouse, a five-story hotel with 122 rooms, a 15,000-square-foot retail building, a 10,800-square-foot pharmacy and a 4,000-square-foot restaurant.
Council members unanimously voted to rezone the property, even though FAR Chemical officials publicly warned that future residents could be exposed to hazardous air emissions — such as an acidic cloud spreading from a burst 1,000-gallon bromine tank.
[READ: FAR Chemical warned Palm Bay officials of hazards months before explosion | FAR Chemical, site of Palm Bay explosion, has history of safety violations]
FAR Chemical’s parent company filed a pair of lawsuits against the city in March, asking an appellate court to overturn the rezoning. And on Sept. 17, Brevard County Circuit Judge John Dean Moxley ruled that all action taken during the February meeting was of no legal effect.
Why? Moxley ruled that Palm Bay officials had failed to comply with mandatory notice requirements prior to the February meeting, per Florida Statutes. City officials had published advance notice in Trader Jake’s.
“What the developer was attempting to do was a comp plan amendment and a rezoning. Those types of actions have a heightened notice requirement. And the advertisement in Trader Jake’s did not satisfy those heightened requirements in the Florida Statutes,” said Samual Miller, an Orlando attorney representing FAR Chemical.
Messages were left Monday seeking comment from representatives of MLEF2-1, LLC.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Occupational Safety and Health Administration continue investigating the blasts. FAR Chemical has hired an environmental remediation firm, which continues site cleanup.
Beatty said the source of the explosions was a malfunctioning “reefer,” or refrigerated unit, that was stationed on a concrete pad behind the plant.
Students and staffers at Palm Bay High School, Palm Bay Elementary School, Stone Middle School, University Park Elementary School and Riviera Elementary School were ordered to shelter-in-place inside campus buildings shortly after last month’s explosions.
Miller said the FAR Chemical lawsuits argue that the City Council did not receive competent, substantial evidence before casting votes. He said the industrial plant — which started operations in 1983 — is incompatible with the housing proposal.
“We operate a chemical facility. And what we argued in our complaint is, putting residents within a couple hundred feet of a chemical plant is simply inconsistent and incompatible,” Miller said.
“We’re going to make that argument again to the City Council. And hopefully, they’ll listen this time,” he said.