Let’s Listen to our Starving Manatees, Dying Fish, and Disappearing Birds about their concerns for the Graves Brothers Annexation and Sebastian Land Use Amendment

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
January 2023

Unfortunately, our St. Sebastian River, Indian River Lagoon, our forests and wetlands, our starving manatees, and dying fishes, and disappearing birds can’t speak or are represented at the Sebastian City Council meetings where they discuss the Graves Bros. 2,000-acre annexation and Land Use Amendment.  So far, the Council is not very friendly to them. In fact, we are killing or stopping them living here.  

The Grave Brothers annexation is a great opportunity to make amends for our lack of supporting their presence. Agriculture and development destroyed our forest and wetlands.  We need to restore them. The Sebastian City Council  has a great opportunity show the world how to save our Earth!

We need to stop putting in so much turfgrass on our lawns that use 64% of our disappearing drinking water, which raises to 88% in the summer.  We apply chemicals fertilizers, and pesticides that produce algae that kill our seagrasses and starve our Manatee and reduce oxygen that our fishes need to breath.   Mowers and  blowers  spell out tons of CO2 causing Global Warming and wake us up in the morning.

Let’s pass new tree and landscape  ordinances to protect our trees, manatees, fishes, and birds.  

The City of Sebastian has scheduled for February 8, 2023, the final hearings on the annexation and land use change for the 2,000-acre Graves Brothers’ Property on County Road 510. In certain annexation agreement drafts provided by the city Sebastian would increase the number of residences allowed on the property from 400 to over 6,400 (and maybe as much as 9,000 units).  This is an addition to hundreds of acres for commercial and industrial development. 

The Pelican Island Audubon Society successfully sued the city three years ago to stop the annexation when the city failed to adequality plan for its future development. While our intent is to always work with local governments to make development plans better, we keep all options on the table. 

The slough comprising the south prong of the St. Sebastian River runs through this property, and with the future regulatory requirements known as BMAPs come online, this area will require environmental improvements to help clean the Indian River Lagoon. That is why we are working so hard to get the city to require certain conditions on the annexation and land use change to improve our existing endowment. 

Besides Pelican Island Audubon, the Clean Water Coalition, Friends of the St. Sebastian River and Indian river Neighborhood Association have voiced their concerns in a letter to the Sebastian City Council. They recommend: 

Obtain the services of a planning consultant with expertise in biological, ecological and stormwater management systems

Develop a site-specific master plan for the Subject Property, which could have been accomplished with a site-specific land use classification and map overlay.

Create more stringent open space and conservation requirements than what was required in the City’s general Mixed Use Land Use Classification.

Create a significant but reasonably sized buffer for the slough which forms the South Prong of the St. Sebastian River. We provided a map depicting this buffer which would have amounted to 115 acres, some of which is already preserved as right-of-way for the Sebastian River Improvement District.

Increased stormwater retention capacity which should also be designed to clean water from the surrounding area and provide wildlife habitat. The city should mandate that the development comply with the requirements for direct discharge to an Outstanding Florida Water.

Execute a meaningful and enforceable annexation agreement with the landowner, to be recorded in the public records, which would bind future developers to these rules.

Require minimum native plantings and reduced turf sod from future developments. 

The City of Sebastian rejected outright the hiring, or requiring the applicant to hire, an outside planning consultant to formulate a master plan for the Subject Property.  At an absolute minimum that the ~115-acre buffer for the St. Sebastian River  South Prong Slough identified in previous communications be included in any annexation agreement. 

The above four organizations strongly request that the city delay this process, provide an additional workshop on the yet to be disclosed latest version of an annexation agreement, use the input provided by the various agencies and concerned groups and come up with a plan that we can agree upon. The draft annexation agreement provided to County Officials indicated progress towards implementing provisions addressing some of our concerns. Working together will result in an outcome that can accomplish the parties’ goals.

At the December 14, 2022 Sebastian City Council, the issue was supposed to be discussed under Public Hearings, but no meaningful opportunity was given to the public to express their concerns.  

At one of the only two workshops provided by the city on this important issue, when no plan or agreement was available for review, city officials assured concerned groups they would hold a workshop on the annexation agreement. We plan on holding the city to that promise, and should they fail, we will hold our own workshop before the February 8, 2023 meeting. 

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