ST. MARYS — The Camden County Joint Development Authority is expected to reject a tentative agreement to purchase a 290-acre site off Interstate 95 near Exit 7 that was planned as an industrial site.
Authority chairman Charlie Smith said changes in the federal government’s criteria for wetlands make the site unsuitable to market, even though it’s zoned industrial.
In 2009, an environmental assessment determined 200 acres at the site was upland and the remaining 90 acres wetlands. Smith said the authority could have lived with that assessment and planned to build a park near the areas that could not be marketed to potential businesses looking to locate in the county.
But the Army Corps of Engineers has new criteria that has determined the tract only has 59 acres of upland that can be developed for industrial purposes, and it’s not all contiguous.
“This is untenable,” he said. “We thought it would be a high-profile place. Now, it’s useless.”
Smith said it’s disappointing because the tract, which the authority planned to buy for a little more than $1 million, is visible from the interstate and would have been very marketable.
The location was also appealing because the site of a proposed spaceport is off the same exit about 8 miles east of I-95.
“This was certainly our target,” Smith said. “We thought we could get if for about $5,000 an acre.”
Smith said the property is owned by a bank that acquired the land when the housing market crashed. The previous owner planned to build a residential community at the site.
Smith, a lawyer and former state representative, expressed frustration about the constant changes in the federal definition of wetlands, which has changed three times since 2009.
“If you’re going to change the rules of wetlands constantly, you are taking a risk buying anything,” he said.
The solution is for the same rule to apply to a piece of land for 15 to 20 years after the purchase to protect the property owner, Smith said.
The authority will hold a special called meeting 2 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the issue and its options. The good news is the property market is slow in Camden County, which means the authority is in a position to get a good price on other tracts that are available.
Smith said the authority has identified other possible tracts in different areas of the county that may be available.
“If anyone wants to sell, this is the time,” he said. “There’s not a market for land in Camden County at this time.”