By Ebony News Reports
COCOA, FL – The Cocoa Planning and Zoning Board unanimously voted to deny Mod Wash applications for rezoning, a move that followed staff recommendation and supported citizens’ strong opposition to permanently sealing off the historic Stone Street from the railroad tracks to U.S. 1.
Mod Wash, based in Chattanooga, Tenn., proposed building an express car wash at the corner of U.S. 1 and State Road 520, a property that is valued at $2.5 million, and that would capitalize on heavy vehicular traffic at the busy intersection.
“I appreciate that Mod Wash wants to locate in Cocoa, and there are some good locations I’m sure that they can find,” said Board member Marilyn Green, who attended the meeting by phone. “But I believe it’s essential to look at the city’s vision for this location, basically, with the goal of supporting the quality of life for our neighbors in Diamond Square and the Heart of Cocoa.
“In other words, looking at the comprehensive plan and future land use. Simply, a car wash, a single-use commercial business, does not enrich these communities. A mixed-use center brings more value. In my humble opinion, there are better options for this property.”
Angela Essing, Cocoa’s Growth and Economic Development Director, shared a presentation representing the Cocoa staff’s recommendation to deny the developer’s request to change the future land use from mixed-use to commercial. Essing said the staff does not believe the property is adequate for a car wash based on a variety of reasons including inconsistency with all elements of the city’s comprehensive plan.
Damian Brink, Senior Planner/Senior Project Manager at Bowman Consulting in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale addressed the board with a presentation favoring the zoning change that allows an express car wash where customers have a membership or pay cash.
Board Member Alex Greenwood addressed Brink, suggesting that Mod Wash look for other properties within Cocoa as a comparison that would possibly accommodate the car wash.
“I must compliment you that the project is very attractive,” Greenwood said. “It’s very well laid out, very well designed. But it needs to make sense for it to be located there to me. That is, as you mentioned, a high traffic count. And that’s what makes this property unique.
“And I feel that it’s a matter of time for the right project to go there. I don’t think that this will fit there because of the information that was stated earlier of what the initial future outlooks that the city council looked for at these four different corners that both say, Welcome to Cocoa.”
Stone Street connects the African American community on the west side of U.S. 1 to the African American community on the east side and stretches into downtown Cocoa, now Cocoa Village. The Stone Street railroad crossing closure in 2007 has been strongly opposed by the community and business owners since the city of Cocoa petitioned the Florida East Coast Railroad to permanently close the crossing and slowly suffocate the African American communities that have lived in those areas for decades. Since that time, residents have experienced the negative impact of being boxed into Diamond Square with the street being closed. The future Michael C. Blake subdivision in Diamond Square will build new houses, yet increase traffic congestion as residents attempt to enter and exit onto an already congested Fiske Boulevard and State Road 520. Residents believe Stone Street should be reopened to accommodate traffic flow from future growth and to restore an additional avenue for ambulances, fire trucks, and first responders to quickly and efficiently enter Diamond Square for medical emergencies.
Once a thriving thoroughfare, Stone Street, is named after the late Richard Stone, founder of Stone Funeral Home, a civil rights activist, and inventor of the traffic signal. The popular street allowed families to easily walk to church and was known as the major business corridor thriving with black-owned restaurants, ice cream shops, barbershops, pharmacies, dry cleaners, beauty salons, grocery stores, and taxicab stands. Despite the railroad crossing closure, people continue to walk across the railroad tracks to downtown Cocoa Village to avoid six lanes of heavy traffic at the intersection of State Road 520 and U.S.1.
Cocoa Mayor Michael Blake, District 1 City Councilman Alex Goins, and City Manager Stockton Whitten attended the planning and zoning meeting. Citizens and business owners voiced their opposition to the Mod Wash development before the board took a vote.
Purvette Bryant, a property owner at 373 and 365 Stone Street, who wants Stone Street reopened, said the project does not fit the current mixed-use zoning and should be denied. The project would “turn its back” on African Americans in Diamond Square and would further alienate this community from downtown Cocoa Village, said Bryant, whose company Strategic Capital Consulting, a minority, woman-owned business, will be located at 373 Stone Street. Carol Butler, the owner of Walt’s Barbecue on Stone Street, also a minority, woman-owned business, and her daughter, Marlana Scholtens, said the Mod Wash project does not fit the current zoning and should be denied. A project at that location should benefit the community and its residents, Scholtens said.
Captain Nathaniel Hooks told the board the car wash would attract crime, transients, and prostitution, which would affect residents, businesses, and especially the youth and parishioners at three historic African American churches – Greater St. Paul Baptist Church, Mt. Moriah A.M.E. Church, and Metropolitan Baptist Church.
“I ask you to follow the direction of the staff who has denied this request,” said Hooks, a civil rights activist and the first African American Police Captain for the city of Cocoa. “I also want you to consider the impact that such a business would have on three churches that are located within 500 feet of that property. You’re going to have an increase in crime because people want to hang out around the car wash. And that’s going to endanger the young people that attend night services at those three churches within 500 to 600 feet.”
Pastor Oliver Wells, the senior pastor of Christ the King Church, told the planning board, that Mod Wash would be a good project in another area. The project adds “insult to injury” as the railroad crossing has been closed and now a project is being proposed to permanently seal off the street, said Wells who advocated denying the rezoning request. Terry Smith said a project that will benefit the community would be better than a car wash.
Oliver Muhammad, president of the Concerned Citizens Association, said he would be opposed to whatever business that goes at the location.
“The problem I have is how you acquired that property to start with,” Muhammad said. “That property is created by taking the main thoroughfare in our community away from us. Shutting off at a time when our community is supposed to be under development. The city of Cocoa Community Development Department was supposed to be in the motion of helping us develop our community. We even went to workshops on developing Stone Street as the business corridor for our community.
“But, while all of this was happening, the community development department was undermining our community, and planning and scheming with the railroad company, to close off that street to create the property that we’re talking about here tonight. As far as I’m concerned, you are dealing with a property that is ill-gotten. Take a property away from a low-income community and create a $2.5 million property that will do nothing for our community when we need all kinds of help. And one of the main situations is the property is on our side of U.S.1.
“But the way you have your CRAs set up, the downtown CRA gets all of that. It jumps over the black community that’s downtown. It jumps over U.S.1. And it gets revenue from all of those businesses. So, from a property that you have created by taking away from our community, you would take that revenue from that $2.5 million dollar property, and take it back downtown to the Cocoa CRA. And our community continues to get nothing . . . So, I don’t care what kind of business you try to put there. We have not accepted the closing of our street. We still want it open.”
Meredith Eitstone, a Cocoa resident, said “What I’m hearing from my fellow citizens is that they do not want this (Mod Wash), and I support them in that. I don’t want the gateway to Cocoa to be a used car lot . . . and a vape shop. I think you should be working towards putting in a gateway . . . I would like to see responsible, sustained growth that benefits all of us. Not just a few who think they’re doing us a favor. Because they are not. There’s a better use for this (the property).”