Remember that 7.27-acre parcel of vacant land, a half-mile east of the Wabasso Causeway bridge, that Vero Beach businessman Ken Puttick wanted to sell to Publix?
Turns out, you won’t see a supermarket, or any other commercial development, built there.
That’s because the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club purchased the property for $2.3 million in December, 18 months after Puttick’s death in May 2019.
“The membership determined that it was in the club’s best interests to buy it, so we could expand our facilities,” Orchid Island General Manager Rob Tench said. “No decision has been made as to what, exactly, we’ll do with the property.
“Our board of governors has been discussing our options the past few months, but we’re still early in the planning process,” he added. “There’s no rush to do anything. We’ll take our time and make the best decision for everyone.”
Tench said no decision is expected before the fall, when board members return from their summer homes.
Among the options being considered are building additional pickleball courts, installing croquet lawns or creating a park. Even when a plan is approved, the club probably won’t develop the entire parcel.
“There’s no reason to use all of it now,” Tench said. “We can leave some of the land for future boards that might want to do something there.”
The property, which runs along the north side of State Road 510, is bordered by Jungle Trail on the east, the club’s tennis complex on the west and the 14th hole of the Orchid Island golf course on the north. There are homes abutting the parcel’s northwest corner.
The land is zoned for commercial use. Tench didn’t know if the club would seek a rezoning from the Town Council.
After purchasing the parcel for $3.5 million in May 2006, Puttick proceeded to propose four projects over a period of 15 years – one residential, one commercial and two that best could be described as a combination of both – all of which town officials rejected.
In 2007, Puttick submitted a plan to build golf cottages on the northern half of the property and use the southern half for commercial development, a proposal he claimed was in accordance with the mixed-use plan town residents favored when Windsor owned the land.
“I didn’t request a zoning change before I bought it, because my plan was an exact duplicate of Windsor’s plan,” he would say later. “I didn’t think there’d be any problem. Then, when I went through the approval process, they turned me down. I was mystified.”
Puttick tried again in 2011, proposing a development of 40 two-story, courtyard townhomes with two-car garages, but the town refused his request to rezone the property from commercial to residential.
“They told me they wanted commercial development on that property,” he said.
Four years later, Puttick returned with a proposal to build an upscale, 120-bed, assisted-living facility that would employ 60 people. He argued the plan met the town’s requirements for commercial zoning, which includes a “Medical Services” category, and Orchid’s Local Planning Agency voted 4-1 to approve it.
However, the town manager told Puttick the code didn’t specifically list adult assisted-living facilities as a permitted – or even conditional – use in the commercial zoning district and the Town Council rejected his proposal, ruling that such a facility was primarily residential.
That third refusal prompted Puttick to file an unsuccessful lawsuit against the town.
“The town made the wrong decision, but they did it in a legal manner,” Puttick said. “I still don’t know how they could say an assisted-living facility isn’t a commercial venture.”
In 2018, Publix signed a contract to buy Puttick’s parcel – a purchase contingent on the company getting the town’s approval to build a 31,000-square-foot supermarket and 6,000-square-foot, five-store retail building.
The proposal, though, never had a chance: Shortly after Publix representatives made their initial presentation to the Town Council, residents in neighboring communities began expressing fierce opposition.
Then, after Publix representatives made an updated presentation to Orchid residents, the Orchid Island Community Association conducted a digital survey that revealed 87 percent of the town’s homeowners opposed the company’s plan.
Faced with overwhelming opposition, Publix canceled the contract and Puttick openly declared the town’s building code too restrictive for any commercial venture to be viable.
“No business can survive with how the code is written,” Puttick told Vero Beach 32963, adding that he had more than $6 million invested in the property – an amount that included the purchase price; costs of engineers, architects and attorneys; and money paid in interest, taxes and for insurance.
He was 71 when he succumbed to multiple illnesses.
Tench said the Publix proposal contributed to the members’ decision to initiate negotiations with Puttick’s heirs to buy the property.
“People realized it made sense to acquire property contiguous to the club,” he said, “especially property zoned for commercial use.”