After more than two years of public input, design charrettes, committee meetings and several competing versions of the layout, Vero Beach’s Three Corners Master Concept Plan for the riverfront utility sites is scheduled for a City Council vote next Tuesday.
The latest iteration of the plan, tweaked in December by architect Andres Duany of DPZ CoDesign, made the rounds last week before the Vero Beach Planning and Zoning Board and the Three Corners Steering Committee, which was assembled for one purpose – to produce a plan that the council and city voters could support.
A 75-word referendum explaining the Master Concept Plan is expected to go on the November ballot. That referendum is needed because the power plant property is protected by the city charter and the voters’ OK is required to execute a 99-year land lease with a developer to construct an upscale hotel, restaurants and retail buildings.
The next step, should the Vero City Council approve the plan, is to market it to developers via a Request for Information process. City staff and consultants will research the responding developers and pre-qualify them based upon the success of past projects, resources and financial stability. Only pre-qualified developers will be eligible to submit formal proposals.
Though a developer will not be selected until after passage of the referendum, Planning and Development Director Jason Jeffries said, “the final design must be substantially consistent with Master Concept Plan.”
Even without a major push to market the plan, Jeffries said the city has some promising leads. “Between Monte and I we’ve spoken to over a dozen developers and there are three who would be a good fit for the project, who have good-quality development,” he said.
Certain key elements are not negotiable, like the “central park” with open, green space and a water feature, and the riverfront promenade. “We can be flexible in the design but we want to make sure that essential features are retained,” Jeffries said.
The city would prefer that the developer incorporate the Big Blue power plant structure into the new hotel, but that will depend upon the proposals the city receives. Big Blue is 65 feet high, and if the building stays in place, the developer can build up to 65 feet. “If not, the maximum elevation for that zoning is 50 feet,” Jeffries said.
The current plan includes a skate park, a chapel-like meeting space for weddings and events, day or overnight dock space, an outdoor amphitheater for concerts and festivals, and recreation areas such as a sand volleyball court.
During the Three Corners Steering Committee meeting last week, members of the public emerged who had not participated in the two-year process of fleshing out the Master Concept Plan. Perhaps the pandemic distracted local residents from the issue, or maybe a portion of the voters only engage when they feel an important decision is imminent.
But the next 10 months will be an opportunity for the city to educate people on the plan. Tax dollars cannot be used to promote a “yes” vote on the referendum, but city officials can give the plan exposure without advocating an outcome.
County Commissioner Laura Moss, a non-voting member of the steering committee and liaison with the county, wanted to make sure that any prospective developers know that the retail and restaurants should not directly compete with downtown and Ocean Drive businesses. She was also concerned about where people would park, and that whatever marine features were proposed would work in tandem with the city’s Marina Master Plan.
Several different areas are possible parking sites, including the Old Postal Annex parcel on the southwest corner of 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard, but using that land for parking would mean building an overpass for pedestrian safety. Other possible uses for the Old Postal Annex property include a grocery or other retail store.
One big question that remains is whether people will eventually live in any part of the riverfront development. “We’re still open to some residential component with the hotel,” Jeffries said, explaining that a developer might want to build a condo-tel similar to Kimpton’s Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, where individuals would own the units and then rent them to the traveling public.
Moss, who is a former Vero mayor, expressed her opposition to residential development on the site, saying, “Once people live there, it becomes theirs, and this is for everyone.” Vero Councilwoman Honey Minuse has previously opposed residential development in the riverfront development as well.
Jeffries told the Vero Planning and Zoning Board that there will be plenty of opportunities for local input into what is ultimately built on the riverfront. The city must update its comprehensive plan to include the new development, and re-zone the parcel for the proposed uses. The plans for each structure will also be thoroughly reviewed for adherence to city building code.
“After the RFP and the developer is chosen, the development would still go before the regular site plan process. Now that it’s going through this process this board is going to be very involved,” he said.
The Vero Beach City Council meets at 9 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall in council chambers. The meeting is televised on public access Channel 13 and available on live stream at www.covb.org.