Troubling signals from first meeting of new City Council

COMMENTARY

March 5th City Council meeting.

MILT THOMAS

For the most part, last Tuesday’s City Council meeting ran quite smoothly under the direction of new Mayor Val Zudans. But towards the end of the meeting, it took a more serious turn.  Mayor Zudans wanted to speed up a decision on what to do with the three City-owned properties at 17th Street (power plant, water treatment plant, former postal annex).

If people have grown suspicious of Zudans’ motives based on Council’s unpopular efforts last year to sell or lease public lands to private commercial interests, they should certainly take note of what happened at this meeting on March 5th.

First, Mayor Zudans asked for an update on a planned public charrette to discuss the fate of those three 17th Street properties, noting that he was “anxious to get going” on a decision. He then asked Director of Water and Sewer, Rob Bolton, about progress on his comparison of costs maintaining the water treatment plant in its current location against the cost of constructing a new facility west of town.

When Bolton explained the next logical step would be to present his findings to the Utilities Commission, Zudans said he wanted the report to come directly to City Council instead. None of the other Councilmen agreed with him. Zudans then explained why he was so anxious to get going on the charrette and water treatment plant decisions – to have them completed in time for the November election “in case Council decides on a zoning change for those properties.”

But can Council simply approve a zoning change?  The answer is no, because nothing can happen with these properties other than continued public use unless voters decide to remove them from the City Charter in a public referendum. The earliest date for a referendum would be this coming November’s City Council election.

And what zoning change would the public want for those properties? They would be ideal for commercial development, the last and most valuable waterfront land in the City of Vero Beach. But the public sees it as the last remaining recreation-related open space.

This same situation arose in 2014, when another City Council intent on selling or leasing public land to private commercial interests (Crestlawn Cemetery) was soundly rebuked with a voter referendum protecting a number of public properties under the City Charter, including Crestlawn – and the 17th Street parcels.

How have circumstances changed so radically that five years after you protected these properties, you are being asked to remove them from that protection?

The answer is they have now become available with the Vero Electric sale and efforts to remove the water treatment plant as soon as possible. (The postal annex property is vacant.)

So don’t let anyone on City Council create a false deadline to force a decision that is clearly opposed to the public’s will.

 

 

 

9 comments

  1. Oh, dear…..and so it begins. Maybe we should insist on lie-detector tests from from all City Council members. Better yet, be connected to those detectors during meetings and get a jolt when a lie is detected. Oh well……..I do hope our City isn’t being thrown to the alligators.

  2. During his campaign for City Council, Zudans dismissed as “fake news” reports of his intentions to sell off public assets. Zudans will now also likely deny that he has a clear idea of why the Council might seek to change the zoning designation of the the City’s properties at 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard. Most likely, Zudans is already in communication with commercial developers who have their eyes on that land. To be sure, some sought the sale of Vero Electric precisely because they are salivating over the profits to be made by converting public lands to commercial use.

  3. So let me get this straight…. The Council needs to spend $70,000 on hiring a firm because they don’t know what to do with beachside parking (when everyone with a half a brain knows they need to build a parking garage on the mini-mart property) but want to rush through the last of VB’s available public land… Little did I think the next Council could be worse than the last one, but yet, here we are… totally incompetent clueless clowns run by mayor Bozo….

  4. All of us must be very mindful of the new mayor’s motives when it comes to public lands. Once and for all he should be open and above board with his plans for the properties in question. His heavy handed disregard of protocol is out of step and must be challenged. Just when we thought he might change his “bull in he china shop approach, ” he has not only maintained it ,but increased his bullying behavior.

  5. “But can Council simply approve a zoning change? The answer is no, because nothing can happen with these properties other than continued public use unless voters decide to remove them from the City Charter in a public referendum.” Right on, Milt. The public is not aware of this.

  6. NOT TRUE! A specific use or uses can be approved via referendum – no need to remove the property(ies) from the Charter

  7. The entire reason for placing those properties in the City Charter was to protect them from commercial development. What specific use or uses are you referring to?

  8. Milt – your history is lacking. Those two properties have been in the Charter since Vitunac

    I have no specific uses in mind – that’s the consultant’s job.

    You’re missing the point – I’m simply pointing out that you (and Tom) are misstating the facts.

  9. No Mark, you are missing the point. The only fact that matters to citizens of Vero Beach is this: City Council made a number of hugely unpopular decisions in 2018 attempting to sell off or lease City’s assets and it appears our new mayor is zeroing in on the 17th Street properties for 2019. You can nitpick minor points but you are ignoring the most serious concern among Vero’s citizens — that an elected body could ignore or abandon the legacy of our unique community that was shaped over the past 100 years. It is one thing being tone deaf to the wishes of the people Council serves; it is another to willingly disrespect their wishes. They hoped the recently completed election would bring the will of voters back to government.

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