By Lisa ZahnerFELLSMERE — With the help of world-class planners, designers and a cadre of engineers, city officals are determined not to turn the nearly 17,000 acres of land annexed into Fellsmere in 2007 into urban sprawl. During a three-day Your Town workshop sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Florida Redevelopment Association, more than 70 people from across the county dug into maps and drawings to plot out the future of the city, and especially for the planned development to be called the Villages of Fellsmere, which may eventually have tens of thousands of homes. The three-day event was held at the historic Marsh Landing restaurant on Broadway Street.Keynote speaker Jeff Speck, who led the Citizens Institute on Rural Design, has worked on planned communities across Florida, the southeast, Viriginia and Washington D.C. He presented a vision of Fellsmere as a potential model of “New Urbanism,” which involves creating mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods with high levels of connectivity to the rest of the community.”Because you are developing the city later, you have an opportunity to do things differently and not make all the same mistakes as other cities,” Speck said.Speck showed the attendees slideshows of the kinds of mistakes cities and towns have made by isolating cookie-cutter subdivisions with winding roads and cul-de-sacs and having them pour into a main entrance-exit which hooks onto a major road, therefore increasing traffic and discouraging pedestrians. He offered instead photos of mixed-use neighborhoods laid out in traditional one-block grids with shops, churches, schools and restaurants sprinkled in with the homes. This is the way downtown Fellsmere is laid out now, a very walkable old-fashioned main street with ballfields, a school, library, restaurant, gas station, City Hall and even a tavern within a short stroll. The plan is to replicate that flavor throughout the part of the annexed property slated for development, build it out slowly – over 20 or 25 years – and make sure it’s all connected well and can be served by an efficient public transit system.
“We just plan to expand the grid that we already have downtown,” said City Manager Jason Nunemaker. “There were concerns about the cost of developing the way Jeff Speck discussed it, but it sounded like it netted out at the end of the day.”Nunemaker said the major developers of the annexed property – Fellsmere Joint Ventures (Sun Ag) which is west, north and south of the downtown and the Ro-Ed project to the east of the city – are signed on to this different approach of developing.Moving forward, the City Council chose approved a palette of colors for new city construction on June 25 at its regular meeting. “This thing is not going to just evolve on its own, we have to work it,” said. Vice Mayor Joel Tyson, who has been dealing with growth, development and annexation issues during his eight years on the city council, including a term as mayor.
Tyson said one important thing that came out of the workshop was that it instilled confidence in the many Vero Beach and Sebastian residents and Indian River County officials who attended the workshop, including Community Development Director Bob Keating and Phil Matson, project manager for the Metropolitan Planning Organization. This effort to coalesce, he said, is welcome after the annexations over the past few years being hotly contested by folks all over the county and especially in the City of Sebastian and by the Indian River Neighborhood Association (IRNA).”Honey Minuse (of the IRNA) was very excited and Phil Matson was thrilled, I think it was a real eye-opener for them,” Tyson said. “I think they realized that we’re not going to wake up tomorrow morning and there will be 40,000 houses out there.”