It takes a village to raise a rocket — or at least it does in South Texas, where SpaceX has built an experimental spaceport around a small community of residents.
Now, according to interviews with residents and a proprietary offer letter obtained by Business Insider, SpaceX is trying to buy as much of that town as it can and move the people out. But many of them say they may not accept the company's offer.
SpaceX got approval in July 2014 to build a commercial spaceport and launch orbital-class rockets from the area. It soon abandoned that plan after a number of setbacks and a push by Elon Musk, the company's founder, to develop a new, fully reusable, and Mars-capable rocket system called Starship.
Since then, SpaceX has built and launched a crude rocket-powered prototype called Starhopper as high as 500 feet in the air. The company lifted the vehicle off a concrete pad it built near Boca Chica Beach, just 1 1/2 miles east of the nearest residence in the village.
But following an accidental brush fire, public safety notices warning of possible explosions, and a push to have the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approve orbital-class launches with larger rockets, SpaceX is trying to buy out Boca Chica entirely.
Why SpaceX is trying to buy a Texas retiree village
Residents both in-state and out-of-state told Business Insider they began receiving buyout offer letters by express mail on Monday. Though a commercial real-estate company called JLL appears to be handling the offers, SpaceX had the offers printed on its company letterhead. (Read the full cover letter at the end of this story.)
At least 10 residents who own about one-third of the homes in the area have received letters so far, though ostensibly all property owners in the vicinity of SpaceX's facilities were approached by the company about a buyout.
"When SpaceX first identified Cameron County as a potential spaceport location, we did not anticipate that local residents would experience significant disruption from our presence," the letter states. "However, it has become clear that expansion of spaceflight activities as well as compliance with Federal Aviation Administration and other public safety regulations will make it increasingly more challenging to minimize disruption to residents of the Village."
Given that increased disruption to Boca Chica residents, it says, and a need to comply with public health and safety rules, "SpaceX would like to acquire the properties located in Boca Chica Village."
The letter added that SpaceX is "committed to a fair and equitable process for acquiring this real estate" and, to that end, the company hired an independent firm to appraise each property.
"SpaceX is offering you three times the independently appraised fair market value of your property," the letter said. "The offer is good through two weeks from the date of this letter."
The note is dated September 12, indicating the cutoff date for the offer is September 26 — just two days before Musk is due to deliver a presentation on the Starship development program.
"The amount of this offer is not negotiable," the letter continues. "SpaceX believes that it is very important to offer the
same deal to all residents using a consistent approach for determining the amount offered for each property. This is the fairest approach."
For those who commit to a sale, SpaceX said it will cover closing and other real estate costs.
It also comes packaged with an additional perk:
"SpaceX recognizes that your close proximity to its operations has offered a unique opportunity to experience at close-hand the development of what will be the world's most advanced rocket. In appreciation of your support, we will offer all residents of the Village who accept the purchase offer the opportunity to continue their connection with the development of Starship by extending an invitation to attend future private VIP launch viewing events that are unavailable to the public."
Many villagers may not take SpaceX's deal, though
Although SpaceX seems to want to buy out the entire village, approximately 10 property owners plan not to accept the deal, and for a variety of reasons, residents told Business Insider.
Maria Pointer, who lives in Boca Chica and helps run a Facebook group that follows and generally supports SpaceX's activities, said her paperwork was "turned to mush" because it blew into a puddle and got soaked to the point of illegibility.
But she said if the replacement offer she is mailed is three times the appraised value of her and her husband Ray's property, then the couple will likely not accept the deal.
"I really do want to get out of SpaceX's way, and I want them to succeed and do what they're supposed to do," said Pointer, who lives in the area year-round and plans to retire there. "But I also want them to support me also, and it's also not going to be at an eminent domain price."
Celia Johnson is another resident who plans not to accept the offer. Johnson was born and raised in nearby Brownsville, has lived part-time in her Boca Chica home since 1997, and has two sisters who also own homes there. She said the offer — and what she fears is a possible forced removal in the future if she declines it — makes it feel like her "dream home" is being taken away through a "hostile takeover."
"They determined what they are going to pay us for our homes and they give us a 2-week deadline to decide," Johnson said. "I am not going to be bullied into selling under their conditions."
Pointer said the offers do not account for the unique wilderness and view of Boca Chica, which sits less than two miles from a public beach, was peaceful and quiet before SpaceX arrived, and is surrounded by thousands of acres of coastal, bird-filled wildlife refuge. She also claims a handful of families do not have the financial means, even with a three-times-appraised-value offer, to buy equivalent properties elsewhere.
"They need to understand that most of this community has very limited income," she said. "We want to move on, just give us what we need to move on. I'm not going to go to a trailer or an apartment. I gave my life to this property. I gave it everything I had. Nobody else wanted to tame it."
Business Insider contacted SpaceX for comment, but the company did not immediately provide a statement.