“While it is true the sale of the property would have improved the City’s cash flow by approximately $300,000 a year, the larger question has to do with what, if any, vision the community and its leaders have for this property, and for other public lands.”
After hearing more than an hour of public comment, the Vero Beach City Council yesterday rejected a $2.7 million offer for 35 acres of land that was formerly a nine-hole golf course owned and operated by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In a 4-0 vote, with Councilman Harry Howle having left the meeting early, the Council turned back a proposed 280-unit development. The Council also decided to not renew the listing agreement on the property when it expires in early April. The Council plans to not take any further action on selling the property until after a series of visions meetings are held, and until after the 2017-2018 budget is established.
In 2005, the City bought the land for $10 million. At the time, the property was appraised at $9.9 million. Currently, the 35 acres, which is located immediately southeast of 43rd Avenue and Aviation Boulevard, is valued at $3.5 million. The City still owes $5.5 million on the land, and is making debt service payments of $600,000 a year.
Basing on financial considerations, the Finance Commission recommended selling the property. The move would have freed up some $300,000 now going to debt service. That money, the Commission reasoned, could then be put to other uses, such as stormwater projects designed to reduce pollutants flowing into the Indian River Lagoon. The Finance Commission also reasoned that a 280-home development would also yield the City million and increased revenue for its electric and water and sewer utility, in addition to some $1 million in impact fees.
While it is true the sale of the property would have improved the City’s cash flow by approximately $300,000 a year, the larger question has to do with what, if any, vision the community and its leaders have for this property, and for other public lands.
“What we really need to do with this parcel of land, and with the Aviation Boulevard corridor, is to determine what the community wants that land to look like in 40 years,” said Councilman Richard Winger.
During its afternoon session, the Council discussed an agenda for next week’s visioning meeting, which is to be held Monday, March 13 at 2 p.m. at City Hall. Councilmen Winger and Tony Young had previously submitted proposed agenda items, all of which were relevant to the process of planning for future development.
Many of councilwoman Laura Moss’s proposed agenda items, for what she said she hopes will be a series of visioning meetings, have nothing to do with a visioning process. For example, Moss wants to use the meetings to discuss how the City Council can exercise better leadership “given the constraints of the Sunshine Laws.” The Sunshine Laws are, of course, Florida open government laws. These laws are designed to prevent elected and appointed officials from conducting the public’s business in secret. Moss seems to find these laws “constraining.”
Moss claims she cannot “talk to other Council members.” That is not true. Moss is free to talk with her fellow Council members all she wants about public business, so long as those conversations are held in the open, and during properly noticed public meetings.
Perhaps more telling, and more concerning than Moss’ desire to take the coming discussions in directions that have nothing to do with visioning, is the fact that Councilmen Harry Howle and Lange Sykes failed to submit so much as a single proposed point of discussion for next week’s meeting.
Moss’ idea of a vision for the City’s future is to find a way around Florida open government laws, and to micro manage City Staff. For their part, Howle and Sykes appear to have no interest in planning for the City’s future.
Decisions need to be made about how much public open space the people of Vero Beach want and are willing to support. With a view to the future, what would be the best use of the 35 acres adjacent to Historic Dodgertown? What do the people of Vero Beach want for the land currently occupied by the power plant and the wastewater treatment plant along the Indian River Lagoon? Will this land eventually be sold for residential and commercial development? Would it be better preserved for public use?
It is time for all five Council members, and the broader community, to take visioning seriously, for the consequences will impact the community for decades to come.