Editor’s note: As of September 6, the fate of this property directly across from VBHS is still unknown. Citizens of Vero Beach and Indian River County do not want three-story apartments on land designated for recreational uses or future VBHS expansion. Here is the story from last June’s Inside Vero.
Indian River County commissioners on June 23 authorized the County Attorney to bring a lawsuit against Jimmy Graves Sports Complex, LLC, which they say is failing to honor a promise to restrict use of the 11.6 acres it owns to recreational and children’s activities. The property was sold in 2017 to Attorney Joe Graves, who named it after his late son, Jimmy. The County sold Graves the property with the understanding it would be limited to youth-oriented recreational activities or other charitable purposes. Many locals were concerned about residential or commercial development on the property since it is adjacent to the Vero Beach High School campus.
Recently, the County learned that Attorney Graves, who also sits on the Vero Beach City Council, planned on selling the property to real estate developers for more than $1 million and allegedly had discussed with the City changing its land use designation to allow multi-family housing. After the County attempted to negotiate with Graves, a lawsuit was approved 5-0 by County Commissioners.
Yesterday, June 25, Joe Graves posted a long response to media stories about his desire to sell the property. In his post, he disputes a number of points made in the TCPalm news story, especially regarding deed restrictions. Although it was clear to all five County Commissioners and County Attorney Rheingold that the property would only be used for recreation or charity, no deed restrictions appeared in the contract. While apparently true and clearly an error on the County’s part, if allegations about working with a developer and discussing a change to the land use designation are true, it calls into question a good faith understanding the County had before selling the property to Graves.
In his Facebook post, Graves concludes by stating, “Since we were central in obtaining this value for the land, all we want is input to how the money is used. I have been very upfront that I do not want to profit a penny from this sale. I want the money generated to be put back into the community for recreational use.”
From that point he goes on to apparently indicate he has no intention of selling the land for residential development. “There must be some miscommunication here. I will keep my word and I will do the right thing. I intend on working with the County, School District and VBHS and hopefully find a solution that works for everyone concerned. I truly love my community and want to do the best I can to honor Jimmy.”
“Apparently” is the operative word here.
Back when that property first became available and the County put it up for sale, the public was concerned that such an attractive parcel, almost within the school campus and close to town, would be ideal for development. Graves offered to purchase the parcel at a time when few others were interested. He won over the County with his sincere desire to keep it as part of the school his son attended before his untimely death.
The County, for its part, has stepped up in a major way to protect lands the public feels should not be developed. Most recently, when Vero’s prior City Council tried to sell the former Dodgertown Golf Course to commercial developers, the County purchased it and will retain it as open space.
The public is also aware that just last month, Graves announced his intention to resign from City Council in another lengthy Facebook post. Yet at the last minute, during what most thought was his resignation speech in Council chambers, he unexpectedly reversed course and decided to stay.
When Joe Graves first won his seat on City Council, he represented a refreshing change from the divisive and autocratic Council in office before him. He has certainly had his share of personal tragedy along with the pressure on all of us confronting the coronavirus pandemic, so we hope the County and Graves can settle their differences amicably and in the community’s best interests.