The first week of September, New Smyrna Beach will make its first land buy to help protect Turnbull Creek, the surrounding habitat and wildlife that call the area home.
Last November, 75 percent of the city voters casting ballots approved the Turnbull Creek water quality, wildlife habitat and natural areas protection referendum.
It granted the City Commission authority to issue up to $15 million in general obligation bonds to buy land along Turnbull Creek to shield it from future development and set it aside for environmental preservation.
The city will pay just under $9 million for the Turnbull Trace property, which totals about 150 acres.
The commission voted Aug. 13 to borrow $9.5 million from Center State Bank after reviewing five proposals received for financing. The loan will be paid back over 20 years at a fixed interest rate of 2.45 percent, with no penalty for prepayment.
Through a grant from the state, the city will be reimbursed $3.6 million about six months after the purchase. This will leave New Smyrna with about $4 million under that loan to be used to buy more properties.
There are at least 98 properties in the Turnbull Creek watershed on the table for possible purchase. A process was put in place to contact the landowners to determine whether there is an interest in selling, and then prioritizing the potential land buys based on environmental value, the size of the property, the property’s value and potential benefits.
City Commissioner Michael Kolody has been vocal about the need to move the process along.
“It’s been 10 months since the residents voted for this,” Commissioner Kolody stressed. “The first acquisition we’re going to complete in September was more of a shotgun wedding than anything else. Even though I had a slight reservation about the cost, it was approved. But the public approved $15 million knowing it was going to be about $9 million for that property. So we have to move ahead. We have to be a little more expedient.”
Commissioner Jake Sachs asked staff to look into both public and private entities who may be interested in partnering with the city on some of the purchases, to make the money go further. He suggested contacting the Nature Conservancy and the St. Johns River Water Management District.
City staff said the Center State Bank loan came in better than what was originally estimated. With the 20-year term and fixed 2.45 percent interest rate, the average household that can claim the basic homestead exemption will pay $26.42 annually towards the loan repayment. That is based on a $228,000 home, which is the average price of a home in New Smyrna.
Because the referendum approved up to $15 million, the city could decide at a later time to spend the remaining $5.5 million on more property. If that is the decision of the commission, they will need to determine what type of financing to use for those land purchases.
The documents for the Center State Bank loan will be placed on the Aug. 27 meeting agenda for formal approval by the commission. The actual closing for the property is tentatively set for Sept. 6.