After watching Tuesday evening’s conversation between Larry Reisman and Andres Duany, I first want to thank Mr. Duany for all his efforts since July 21 to retool the Three Corners development plan based on our new post-coronavirus reality. But do we want to just go ahead and approve it? Whoa. Before jumping in with both feet, can we put our collective toe in the waterfront first?
We have come a long way from those first ideas of creating a huge, open public space devoted to recreation that symbolizes what Vero Beach stands for – a small, residential and vacation community where people can escape the hustle and bustle of big city life and raise their kids or retire to a quiet, peaceful life where nature is its biggest selling point. Three Corners is viewed as a potential showcase of all that is good about Vero Beach. A plan was developed through the thoughtful efforts of Andres Duany’s firm working with the steering committee and community. Many questions remained to implement this plan, among them who would develop it, how would it be paid for, who would own it, who would ensure that the end result would be as planned….
Then the coronavirus attacked.
We were forced to stop living as we always had, businesses closed, activities were curtailed, social gatherings discouraged, masks required to prevent sickness and so much more. The end result – and by the way, this has not ended – is it called for a major change to the approved plan for Three Corners developed over many months. In a matter of days, Duany and his people came up with a revised plan they said reflects the new, post-coronavirus world. That may well be true, but does it still reflect our vision for Three Corners?
Whatever route we follow from vision to reality, it will take years to accomplish. As long as Vero’s citizens retain control over the process, they can ensure that the final product, whichever version is finally approved, is consistent with the peoples’ vision. Of course, we already have control over the process because the Three Corners properties are protected under the City Charter. Any attempt to change the use designation of those properties can only be approved by voter referendum. Last year, City Council tried to preempt the approval process so a referendum could appear on the November 2019 ballot, before any effort was even made to determine a future for Three Corners (click here for background information). Many feared the ballot question then was simply an effort to remove Three Corners from City Charter protection and give that City Council a free hand working with developers.
Why would that be a problem? Without City Charter protection, the last City Council, with just three votes, had the ability to approve a plan without input from voters. Think of our experience over the last few years when City Council attempted to approve a brewery at River House, lease City Marina to a developer, sell the post office property to a developer (which was successful), and sell Dodgertown Golf Course to a developer, only to be rebuffed by citizen revolt against those moves.
What if a future City Council decides to simply sell the Three Corners properties to a developer and allow that developer to make changes to the plan we have now? Developers make changes all the time. If you ever built a house, you know that. As long as Three Corners is protected by our City Charter, no City Council can arbitrarily make changes to the plan that would entice a developer rather than fulfill the voters’ wishes.
This November we will again face a referendum question regarding Three Corners. The wording of that question may determine whether or not City Charter protection is maintained on those properties. Do we need to have a referendum on the November 2020 ballot? No, just like we didn’t need one on the November 2019 ballot. Development of Three Corners will take years to complete. It could take years to even start. We should take more than the three weeks since July 21 to decide on a plan before asking voters to give up control.