Vero Beach for sale (update)

COMMENTARY

Council members Laura Moss, Tony Young and Val Zudans.
Vice Mayor Lange Sykes and Mayor Harry Howle.

MILT THOMAS

It is ironic that on the eve of our celebrating its 100th birthday, Vero Beach is hosting its fight of the century. Hugely unpopular decisions by the current City Council were the lowlight of their most recent (August 21) meeting. Despite impassioned pleas by citizens, City Council approved the sale of the downtown post office building, one of the city’s most important anchors, to a developer. Then they approved a request for proposal to take over the City Marina and proceed with another developer’s bid to buy the Dodgertown Golf Course property. All of these decisions met with overwhelming disapproval by citizens attending the meeting. Council’s last decision, made at the end of the marathon meeting with no one left in the room to offer required public comment, was to move the hugely popular Beachside Farmer’s Market into a more confined space, potentially crippling the event that funds many beachside public activities. That decision was met with a petition on change.org that in a few days has garnered over 3,000 signatures. (see accompanying story, “Changes to Beachside Farmer’s Market provoke citizen reaction”).

Background

Over the years City Councils have debated issues, but in the end they have made decisions that moved the city forward. Every city starts out small, but as they grow they make decisions the impact of which may not become apparent until many years later. For instance, Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach were once like Vero Beach, small towns that became overcrowded and overbuilt, overly commercial, no longer possessing the charm that was once the reason people moved there.

Vero Beach was different. Each City Council made decisions that were built on the foundation laid by those who came before them. As the county grew, it followed the same pattern set by the trustee City Councils. As a result, people still move here today for the same reasons my family moved here 62 years ago. Now Indian River County is the same size as Ft. Lauderdale was back in the 1950s. But while Ft. Lauderdale became the kind of town people want to leave, Vero has remained true to our forefathers’ original intent.

But now we are in a battle for the very soul of our community. On one side stands the citizens of Vero Beach, many of them long time, multi-generational families who saw the town grow yet keep true to its roots. Newer residents and business owners moved because they fell in love with this city and everything it stands for. On the other side is a City Council majority who see Vero Beach as a business opportunity in need of exploitation.

Nowhere has that conflicting view of our community been exposed for all to see than at the last two City Council meetings. The unholy trinity of Mayor Harry Howle, Vice Mayor Lange Sykes and enforcer Val Zudans have acted as a wrecking crew, ripping apart the very fabric of our community by viewing every green space as an opportunity for development and tone deaf to the pleas of their constituents – the very people who elected them to “Keep Vero Vero.” The hostility they have shown in City Council meetings towards citizens, other council members and anyone who disagrees with them, is palpable.

Even Alma Lee Loy, a lifetime resident, community leader, former county commissioner and the only person with a bridge named after her while she is around to appreciate it, made an impassioned plea to simply slow down selling or leasing out Vero’s assets without a long term plan or any professional or citizen input. At the July 17 meeting, her words fell on empty chairs because two of the three-man wrecking crew making those decisions chose not to be present, nor did they reschedule the meeting for when they could attend. Then at the next Council meeting on August 21, she again stood before the full Council to plea for mercy. She politely asked Council to develop a specific plan for recreational areas, green spaces and developing waterfront properties based on citizen and professional input. In the meantime she said, “We need a moratorium until the results of the surveys are available with no changes until the desires of our constituents are in hand.” She ended by thanking Council for their “kind attention and thoughtful consideration.”

Instead and without any reference to Alma Lee’s pleas, City Council voted to move forward with the downtown post office building sale, an RFP to take over the City Marina, sale of the Dodgertown Golf Course property and restrictions on the Beachside Farmer’s Market without public input.

The unholy trinity does not limit their condescending treatment to Vero Beach citizens. Councilwoman Laura Moss has been similarly disrespected by those three as she has tried to actually represent the people who elected her. She apologized to the community for City Council’s behavior.

The next City Council meeting will be held on September 4. Council Chambers will surely be packed with upset citizens and happy developers, everyone holding their collective breath as Howle, Sykes and Zudans decide where to next attack our beautiful city’s institutions and its very soul.

Sidebar

Here is the plea to City Council from the City’s most distinguished and loved citizen, Alma Lee Loy:

Alma Lee Loy

“First, we need a specific plan for our recreation areas, green spaces and developing waterfront properties as they become available. The citizens of our city are anxious to help. We need backup materials by way of a survey as to their hopes for the future of Vero Beach. Now is the time to get a bonafide record of the citizens’ desires on which to make future decisions to save and protect this something special city. The initial survey should be conducted by a professional who will inventory all our parks to verify the accuracy of what we have and the areas they serve. This would be followed by a survey of our citizens with results coming to the City Council. Second, we need a moratorium until the results of the surveys are available with no changes until the desires of our constituents are in hand. With the thoughts of celebrating our city’s 100th anniversary each of you as elected officials have a golden opportunity based on the recommendation of these surveys as the blueprint for future developments of parks and waterfront development to keep Vero Beach a something special city. Thank you for your kind attention and thoughtful consideration.”

Not a single motion was made by City Council on any part of her request. In fact, Council proceeded as though she never spoke.

12 comments

  1. WHEN CITY COUNCILS GO ROGUE

    During the recent controversy regarding the inclusion of a commercial enterprise—Orchid Island Brewery to operate in MacWilliam Park, important issues that would affect our community, violate our city charter and negatively impact our quality of life were brought to light.

    1,200 people who were interviewed signed a petition in opposition to commercal operations in our public parks, a policy that would bypass our city charter. Concerns about a radical departure from our traditional norms were grounded in fact, yet council member Zudans characterized them on public radio as “hyperbole.” Safety was chief among those concerns, yet Zudan’s children are safety tucked away at St. Edwards, so he need not worry about the negative safety factor for Beachland Elementary School. Mayor Howle stated on public radio that if residents who lived on “shady, flower-lined streets were concerned about additonal traffic, they should move to dead-end roads.”

    On July 17th the city council chamber was packed with over 100 concerned citizens. There was standing room only. The overflow of members from the public filled the chamber lobby. Citizens formed long lines to speak at the podium. The First Lady of Vero Beach, Alma Lee Loy delivered a passionate plea for a moratorium to halt any further policies that would violate our city charter and put our public park lands at risk. The Parks & Recreation Department spoke out in support of preserving River House community center, the proposed site for the brewery.

    Public input fell on deaf ears, save for council members Laura Moss and Tony Young who both voted against the brewery proposal. Appallingly, council members Sykes, Howle were conspicuously absent, unable or unwilling to face the public. Zudans though present remained tone deaf to the public.

    When publicly elected officals become so acutely de-sensitized and distanced from their constituents, it sets a dangerous precedent. Not only do we risk losing our city charter, but we stand to lose representative government. On a grander scale, when elected officials work hand-in-glove with mega corporations who form monopolies, and developers who consider traditional city charters obsolete, we stand to lose the fabric of our community and our voice to decide our future.

  2. Obviously these council members are not “life long ” residents of this city as Alma Lee Loy (and myself) are !! When “money ” takes precedence over community,there is no reasoning. We are fast becoming another Miami…..too sad !!

  3. I happened to be visiting my Mom in Vero Beach at the time this Council meeting regarding the Dodgertown property was being aired on TV. I watched it and felt compelled to write a personal email to the rogue members who ignored every citizen who offered heartfelt public comment. It was simply astonishing. I have been coming to Vero for decades and you are on the precipice of destroying the essence of this unique beachside community. And you can hold this City Council accountable. I was appreciative of the 2 members who voted against the proposal but sadly they were overruled. And the statements by Council members who said it would be too labor intensive and complicated to survey the residents of Vero Beach is utterly ridiculous. This Council works for you and when elected officials stop listening to their constituents, it is time to recall them. Stand up Vero Beach. It is not too late.

  4. My name is Casper Maier and my wife Kathryn and I raised our two sons CJ and Matthew. I was the Sales Manager at the local Buick Cadillac dealership for 37 years. I turned down several career opportunities because it meant moving from Vero Beach. A perfect community to raise a family. My wife retired from the Indian River County School system. Our son CJ lives in Ft Lauderdale and loves it. Matthew lives in South Carolina and misses Vero so much he is moving back! For those who love the Ft Lauderdale life style Please feel free to move there. After living in Vero Beach I promise, you will be back especially if you are raising a family. As elected officials, I sincerely hope you listen to your constituents, they should have a say in what happens in Vero Beach.

  5. In this day where most everyone has acces to email and the internet how hard/expensive would it be to have an online survey to ask the good people of Vero Beach to weigh in on this important matter? Imperative that this be done. City Council gone rogue and must be stopped!

  6. The important changes proposed should be researched and taxpayers and voters give their important valued opinions as to what public changes get modified, sold off, or leased before the complexion of Vero’s peaceful atmosphere is irrevocably changed in a negative way. Wake up and stop them!

  7. The whole Dodgertown deal was a scam from the beginning. Cities and other government entities do not belong in the sports business arena.
    So now we have a ten million plus purchased venue, owe over six million in bonds[collateralized loan] and the council wants to sell for two million, plus who’s going to pay the penalties on the bonds?
    Vero Beach residents need to be totally outraged about such an idiotic proposal. There’s not a single person who would be able to convince me that someone’s palm isn’t getting greased here.
    And believe me because I visited several county controlled “save our lands” parcels yesterday, no way the county could maintain the property if they purchased it.

  8. Victor, Thanks for your comments. Actually, Sykes and Howle have been here all their lives, as has Tony Young. Not sure I can post your comments on Peter O’Bryan. Otherwise, I would like to post your thoughts. OK?

  9. Several weeks ago, I had an email exchange with City Attorney Comment in which I questioned whether the City could enter into a 20+ year lease with a commercial marina company without an electorate referendum. He expressed the opinion that the section 505b allows a lease as long as it is “for a public or civic purpose which also serves a recreational, artistic, or cultural purpose, including incidental concessions.”

    The question is: what is the meaning of a “public or civic purpose?” Does it merely mean that the public has access to it? If so, a gas station would qualify as a public purpose. Surely this is not the spirit of Vero’s City Charter protections, because that would make them meaningless. This should scare all who value the magic that is Vero.

    Can anyone shed some light on this?

    Bob Jones

  10. A 20-year + marina lease? Have we learned nothing about the harm of long-term leases? Think Vero Electric.

    Thanks to all for your carefully considered comments. There is much at stake. We are losing our city charter to developers who do not care about Vero Beach tradition, quality of life or living preferences for low-density population neighborhoods. The Comprehensive Land Use 2035 Plan which I fought to halt, includes MIXED-USE zoning policies that allow for shops, bars, retail, restaurants, etc. on the ground floor and residences above. This type of higher density growth will fill the pockets of a handful of developers while the residents and taxpayers lose.

    The agenda to destroy our city charter so that developers can increase building heights is furthered by political fundraisers that are chock-a-block with developer friends and contributors with mutual interestes. With multi-multi millions to be made, the inexorable Progressive trend is advanced one pen stroke at a time in the Planning Department while the public has no representation.

    Tim McGarry, former head of P & Z made it quite clear on public record: “Developers are lined up at the door, chomping at the bit. The only thing standing in the way is the city charter.”

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