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.