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Vero may proceed with boat storage regardless of vote

Vero’s Planning & Zoning Board is scheduled to review the site plan for the controversial dry-storage boat facility at the city’s marina only five days before election-day voting on a controversial referendum that could restrict the size of the building.

If the marina plan gets a thumbs up from that board on Nov. 3, Vero Beach Mayor Robbie Brackett and Vice Mayor Rey Neville both say the city can and should move forward with the project right away – regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

“We, as the City Council, have already decided we want to do this,” Brackett said. “We’ve already voted to approve the site plan and sent it to the Planning & Zoning Board for review. So, if the board approves it, there’s no need for it to come back to us. We don’t usually review an approved site plan unless it requires a variance.

“And it’s my understanding that, once we have site-plan approval, we can legally move forward with the project and start seeking bids from developers,” he added. “If that’s the case, then that’s what we should do.

“We need a new dry-storage facility, and we need a bigger one.”

Neville agreed that an approved site plan shouldn’t come back to the City Council for review “unless there’s a major issue with P&Z.”

City Attorney John Turner confirmed Brackett’s premise, saying the city would be “legally entitled to proceed” with the dry-storage project once the P&Z Board has issued a development order, “notwithstanding the outcome of the referendum.”

He said the City Council could halt the project if it so desired.

Turner is preparing for an Oct. 25 trial at which he’ll present his challenge to the Vero Beach Preservation Alliance’s referendum, which, if adopted, would require the City Council to seek voter approval for all but the smallest structural improvements and additions at parks and other properties protected by the city charter.

Those properties would include the marina and the Three Corners parcels on the west end of the 17th Street Bridge, where the city hopes to develop a waterfront dining, retail and recreational hub.

In August, the city filed a lawsuit to void the referendum, claiming the ballot initiative’s language violated state law because it is “unclear and ambiguous” and “doesn’t fairly advise and inform the voters of the consequences if it is approved and adopted.”

St. Lucie County-based Circuit Judge Laurie Buchanan scheduled the trial after a preliminary hearing last week, when she acknowledged the need to expedite the proceedings, which will begin only two weeks before Election Day and one day after early voting begins in Indian River County.

The referendum is already included on the printed ballots, but results will not be tabulated if Buchanan rules in favor of the city.

Meanwhile, Vero Beach Planning Director Jason Jeffries said city staffers still hadn’t completed all the zoning, engineering, utility and fire-safety reviews necessary to put the plan on the P&Z Board’s meeting next week.

“For us to give the required 14-day notice to the public, the plan must be substantially in compliance with all the regulations, and that process hasn’t been completed yet,” Jeffries said.

“And to get the notice posted in the newspaper, we actually need to do it 17 days in advance.

“So to get it on the agenda for next week, we would have had to complete the reviews by Oct. 3,” he added. “We expect to have everything done by next Monday, the 17th.”

Both Jeffries and City Manager Monte Falls said the alliance’s referendum did not prompt the city to accelerate its site-plan review process.

“We were moving forward with that same time frame, anyway,” Falls said, adding that, if the P&Z Board issues a development order, the City Council could choose to wait for the outcome of the referendum.

If so, Brackett, who did not seek re-election and is heavily favored to win the District 34 seat in the Florida Legislature, would not be part of any future City Council decisions on the matter.

He made it clear, though, that he supports the marina expansion plan – especially building a new dry-storage facility to replace the, aged, dilapidated dry storage facility, which is too small to accommodate today’s larger boats.

“Boats have changed a lot in the past 30 years, and we need the new dry storage facility now,” Brackett said. “The rest is a long-term plan. People see the plan and think it’s all going to happen tomorrow. It’s really a 20-year plan, and we’ll only expand when it’s needed.”

Brackett then raised the possibility that, if the city does not proceed with the project and the voters approve the alliance’s referendum, the plan could be revisited – without the compromise the City Council adopted in June.

“If it came back to the council, knowing what we know now, I think we’d go back to the 210-foot-long dry storage facility,” Brackett said, referring to the City Council opting for a 180-foot-long structure in an attempt to appease opponents of the larger boat barn.

“We tried to work with people,” he added, “and it went from our compromise to nothing at all.”

Brackett said city residents need to understand that the city’s amenities, which include beaches, parks and the marina, serve the entire county.

“We want people to come into the city and support our businesses,” he said. “As Monte often says: There are only 17,000 people in the city, but there are 100,000 who have a Vero Beach address.”

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