County takes closer look at FEC leases

What first began as an observation by the Hobe Sound Neighborhood Advisory Committee Chairman Mike Ennis has turned into a full-fledged investigation of the county’s lease agreements with the FEC railroad.

Ennis noticed that the majority of the parking spaces along A1A in “downtown” Hobe Sound actually fell outside of the FEC lease, into the county’s own right-of-way. The lease renewal would require payment of more than $7,000 from the NAC budget with a 5% annual increase tacked on in perpetuity.
“What if we just don’t pay it,” Ennis suggested. “Are they going to come in there and tear up the sidewalk?”

The sidewalk alongside the parking area–a project paid for by the Hobe Sound beautification committee–lies fully within the FEC right-of-way.
The NAC’s vote, however, instructed Development Director Kevin Freeman to approach the FEC again about dropping the annual increase at a minimum, and if FEC was unwilling to do so, then the NAC would consider non-payment.

“We want to be careful here, though,” Ennis said at the time. “We don’t want to step on FEC’s toes regarding any other county lease, or mess up anything the Chamber of Commerce in Hobe Sound might want to do on that FEC right-of-way.”

After the Community Development Agency investigated, staff member Bonnie Landry reported to the county’s Community Redevelopment Agency at its June meeting that another county lease with FEC overlapped nearly all the parking spaces and the sidewalk, and yet another, separate county lease for the signalization at the Bridge Road/A1A intersection overlapped the remaining pieces of parking space.

“My recommendation to the CRA is that this lease for the parking spaces (along A1A) not be paid,” Landry said, adding that a letter would be sent from the CRA to the FEC attorney and to the county’s engineering department to confirm that action.

The staff recommendation was approved by the CRA members unanimously.

John Hennessee, chair of the CRA, remarked that he wondered how much other “double-dipping” by FEC was taking place in the county with overlapping leases.
Landry said that discovery of the issue in Hobe Sound has led to an initiative to research all FEC leases with the county, which will be undertaken by the county engineering department.