PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB)–Suzuki Motors of America is one step closer to opening their Marine Technical Institute on Frankford Avenue by Robinson Bayou. On Monday, the Panama City Planning Board approved the development order which has garnered a lot of opposition from residents. Both sides went back and forth for almost three hours.
Dozens of concerned residents gathered at the Bay County Government Center to voice their opposition to Suzuki’s plan. The motor company intends to build a large dock on Robinson Bayou to be used for marine testing. Most residents wore matching shirts that said “Save Robinson Bayou”.
“We’re talking about 40 boat slips, boats coming and going for testing. I think that’s going to be to the detriment of our enjoyment of our homes,” said a concerned resident.
The opposing side is lead by Robinson Bayou resident David Chapman. He and his legal counsel testified and explained why they believe the project is not compatible with their neighborhood.
Most of the residents who spoke said they’re worried about safety, environmental impacts, noise, and property value. Suzuki’s legal council said noise should not be an issue.
“They’re quieter than any engine that’s ever been made, you literally don’t know when they’re running. Especially when they’re idling out of a bayou,” said Gary Hunter with Hopping Green & Sams who is representing Suzuki.
Last year, Suzuki said they plan to work in collaboration with U.S.-based boat and accessory manufacturers to develop and improve its products using the resources the Marine Technical Center will provide like a launch ramp, a large basin area for running and testing boats/motors, and a protected harbor.
Hunter added their proposal meets the city’s codes and they have received a letter of intent from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
“We will not be providing activity in the bayou, testing activity in the bayou, conducting testing activity in the bayou. We will idle our boats into the channel and out to the bay,” Hunter said.
Residents say they’re all for Suzuki setting up a facility in their neighborhood but not the dock that comes along with it.
“We just feel the marina is not compatible with the bayou. It takes up a lot of the bayou. People go out there and ski wakeboard, all kinds of things,” said Marie Clemo, another concerned resident.
After hours of debate, the Planning Board ultimately approved Suzuki’s request contingent on four things. The Florida D.E.P must approve their permit, the developer must remove a part of the dock from their plans, their boats must operate at a no-wake zone speed, and if they ever attempt to use the property for commercial or private use, they must come back before the board.
Local leaders in the economic sector say Suzuki will bring great benefits to the area.
“The fact that they chose Bay County and specifically Panama City to locate this state-of-the-art center, we’re very excited about moving this project forward,” said Becca Hardin, the Bay Economic Development Alliance President.
The opposing side has the option to come back before the planning board and refute their decision.