County Chair: Rocket plant going to Brevard instead of Oak Hill despite vote tonight on land-use change at ex-city dump

Big question: Is Project Panther still in play or are citizens being played by their own government representatives and Daytona insiders?

Blue Origin not coming to Oak Hill / Headline Surfer®OAK HILL, Fla. -- Volusia County Chair Jason Davis said despite a second and final vote tonight by the Oak Hill City Commission on a land-use change from mixed use to manufacturing for a rocket-rebuilding plant shrouded in secrecy for weeks, tonight's expected final approval is all for naught.

That's because the project dubbed codename "Panther" that has been touted for location at the city' former dump, is headed to Brevard County's Cape Canaveral, home of NASA..

"That project is long gone," Davis reiterated to Headline Surfer this afternoon. "That ship sailed long ago to Brevard at NASA. t's a done deal." 

But is the vote really an exercise in futility? Not from the perspective of the property owner, Steve Unatin, or Daytona Beach insiders like Kent Sharples and Glenn Stoch, looking to get the land-use changed so they can market it for another aerospace client down the road without the legal entanglements they find themselves in. That's because the manufacturing designation is a non-conforming use.

Once the zoning designation is changed, the city could find itself in a far weaker situation with the courts should they not like what comes down the pike in terms of future projects there.

City Attorney Scott Simpson said as much on Feb. 23, even if he spoke in legalese. His point can't be stressed enough.

Oak Hill already is in a weak position regardless because it's the only municipality among Volusia County's 16 incorporated municipalities that lacks water and sewer, save for a portion of River Road.

Calls today by Headline Surfer® this afternoon to Mayor Douglas Gibson, City Administrator Kohn Evans and Sharples have gone unanswered.

The 6 p.m. meeting could match or exceed the 150 or so citizens who packed the commission chambers -- a crowd so large, speakers had to be set outside the entranceway in the parking lot to accommodate the overfill crowd. Tonight's meeting opens a host of potential moral, ethical, legal and even possible criminal wrongdoing by one or more municipal leaders.

Even the hint of reporting some of the behind the scenes activity early on resulted in death threats by phone against the internet newspaper's publisher and his wife.

As was made clear during a meeting of the Volusia County Growth Management Commission, which began at 6 and didn't end until nearly 1 a.m. Thursday at Daytona Bach City Hall, one thing came out of that meeting with the VGMC signing off on the land-use change that would pave the way for the proposed rocket-rebuilding plant, there' was concern about the sheer enormity of the plant -- as large as the Volusia County Mall on International Speedway in Daytona Beach.

And if built, would be, by far, the largest manufacturing site countywide in the smallest and southern-most society of Oak Hill -- with barely 1,900 residents that with the exception of one road, lacks water and sewer.

It's also the closest point to Brevard County and Cape Canaveral, home of NASA. And this project, on the east side of US 1 directly adjoins the Canaveral National Seashore and some of the most environmentally sensitive lands in the world.

The area is home to birds and other wildlife, including American bald eagles, gators, manatees and a whole host of aquatic and plant life in the sprawling Mosquito Lagoon.

Davis wouldn't tell Headline Surfer the source of his information because he said the information was provided to him by a person close to the operation on condition he not name the individual. Former CityCommissioner Ron Engele, who has led several community meetings fore Sharples to rally citizen support confirmed that the Blue Origin is the entity behind the "Panther" project.

And while Engele wouldn't say whether Davis' assessment is factual, he said he was "holding out hope" that Blue Origin would re-consider Oak Hill as its site.

Davis' claim that Brevard is the No. 1 destination is supported by an April 9 published report in the Florida Today newspaper that said the state's revised proposal would have Blue Origin set up a manufacturing site in Exploration Park, a planned research and industrial complex outside KSC's south gate, and launch from Launch Complex 36, a state-run pad on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Blue Origin was founded in 2000 by CEO Jeff Bezos, who could choose from among several states as soon as next month, according to the Florida Today story, pointing out that "Brevard County is a contender to win a rocket manufacturing site and up to 300 jobs in preparation for orbital launches in the next five years."

The Melbourne-based newspaper also stated Blue Origin's arrival would be a "boost for the Space Coast's future in the commercial space sector, not long after SpaceX chose Texas as a commercial launch site."

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.