The owner of vacant gas station at the north end of Longboat Key ended a relationship with a developer who's been working with town officials and residents for months.
The owner of a vacant gas station on the north end of Longboat Key has parted ways with a developer who for months pursued renovation of the site.
Local developer Jorge Fernandez has been ousted from a deal with JH Williams Oil Co. because he “wasn’t following through on much,” said John Ferrell, chief financial officer for the Tampa-based petroleum company.
Fernandez has worked with the town for months on a project to reopen the north end gas station at the corner of Broadway Street and Gulf of Mexico Drive, assessed by Manatee County at $300,024. He met with residents in April to discuss his plans. The town approved site plans for the project in May.
But JH Williams Oil Co., which purchased the property in 2005 for $512,100, is pursuing a contract with another developer, a local individual who Ferrell declined to name. Fernandez said he had no knowledge of this change and said he has not been notified whether his contact had been dissolved.
“[Fernandez] is not under contact with us and will not be under contact with us,” Ferrell said.
The dispute revolves around potential pollution on the site.
Commissioner Ed Zunz said he was surprised that Fernandez was able to do as much as he had with the town and residents without this information being disclosed to him. Site plans for the proposed station were approved earlier this year.
"It’s amazing to me that it could have gotten this far without that issue being thoroughly examined and resolved a long time ago," Zunz said. "It's disappointing that were back to square one with this property."
Fernandez said he last spoke with a representative from JH Williams about this last month when he asked about ground contamination at the site.
Fernandez said he contacted the company soon after he’d spoken with a representative for Applied Sciences, a Tampa-based civil engineering company that tested some soil on the property in 2011, who told him that there had been untested areas at the site that could have soil and groundwater contamination.
“(Applied Science) advised me there is suspected good amount of soil contamination and groundwater contamination on the property,” Fernandez wrote in a August email to town staff.
Of the 11 soil samples and five groundwater samples analyzed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection through a contract with Applied Science, one of each exceeded safety standards, state records show.
Soil and groundwater contamination under a canopy where gas pumps once stood could infiltrate nearby ground water, records show.
"It’ll stay on our list and we’ll come back to it when it comes to funding range," said Michael Storino, petroleum restoration program site manager for Sarasota County. "We really don’t know the total extent of it, we can’t conclusively say that based on the data we have here."
Ferrell said in an interview that the amount of contamination at the site is one of the lowest in the state when compared to the 19,000 other sites cataloged with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“There isn't a gas station in Florida that doesn’t have a little bit of contamination in it,” Ferrell said.
But Fernandez said it’s the unknown that gives him pause. He wants to know what’s in the soil before he purchases the property.
“I cannot go forward until we test this and we know what kind of contamination is there,” Fernandez said.
Ferrell said it’s likely that microbes in the soil beneath the property have broken down the pollutants, although when development begins the dirt is scheduled to be treated.
“There is nothing, from our standpoint, to be done,” Ferrell said.
Fernandez said he stands ready to go to settlement with JH Williams as long as they test garage bay and behind the building for soil and groundwater contamination.
"Lets make sure the ground soil is clean and the proper building of a new state of the art station is built on LBK that is much needed after having this station shut for over ten years," Fernandez said in an email.