A New Year’s wish list for our community in 2024

[File photo: KAILA JONES]

The Vero Beach of yesteryear is gone, and it’s not coming back.

We might still enjoy the last vestige of small-town life on Florida’s Atlantic coast, but as we go about our every-day lives and see so much changing around us, we cannot deny reality as the calendar turns to 2024.

The once-folksy feel and Mayberry-by the-Sea charm that long defined our community continues to erode, washed away by an incoming tide of newcomers from more heavily populated regions in the Northeast, Midwest and Dade-Broward-Palm Beach megalopolis to the south.

And we can’t wish it away.

But we need to do more than helplessly shrug our shoulders and surrender to the surge of residential growth and commercial development that has infected so much of Florida since the arrival of COVID nearly four years ago.

We don’t need to succumb to the harsh tones, incivility and lack of consideration that has turned too many Sunshine State communities into the places many of their newcomers left.
We don’t need to become Port St. Vero.

We simply need to cling to the best of what Vero Beach offered 30, 20 and even 10 years ago – when we embraced our sense of community and treated each other as neighbors – and refuse to let go.

There’s no keeping Vero Vero. Maybe, though, if we set the right example by conducting ourselves in a way others will want to emulate, we can preserve what made Vero special.

That’s my No. 1 wish for the new year.

As for the rest of my wish list:

  • Can we all agree that running red lights has reached epidemic proportions in our community? At the very least, it happens far too often – I witness this dangerous and potentially deadly tactic several times each day. It has become obvious that we can’t rely on our fellow motorists to drive responsibly. We need local law enforcement agencies to crack down, and hard.
  • Our elected officials keep saying all the right things, but another year has passed and our community still has a serious affordable-housing problem. As the county continues to grow, we need more workers to provide services – especially new teachers, law-enforcement officers, fire-rescue personnel and even nurses. But in the current real-estate market, their entry-level paychecks aren’t nearly enough to rent decent accommodations. Similarly, many young families can’t afford to buy houses here. That needs to change.
  • As excited as I am about Vero Beach’s plan to create a dining, retail and recreational hub on the mainland’s waterfront, I can’t help but be concerned that current market conditions could limit the city’s choice of developers for the Three Corners site. Already, the deadline for investors to submit proposals has been pushed back from Dec. 15 to Feb. 1, because it appeared only two developers could meet it. This project is too important to the city’s future to not have at least three – and preferably four or five – proposals from which to select.
  • The Vero Beach City Council’s commitment to the revitalization of the downtown area reached another level this month, when the panel voted to spend $175,000 to hire DPZ CoDesign, which created the development concept for the Three Corners site, to produce a master plan for the 14th Avenue corridor. So it’s now fair to wonder: How will the lagoon-front project, optimistically scheduled to be completed in late 2028, impact this? Council members are starry-eyed about the future of Vero’s downtown, but they need to remain realistic.
  • It was wonderful to see our school district earn its first “A” grade since 2015, but we need to be concerned about our ability to keep Superintendent David Moore in Indian River County. His impressive performance has caught the attention of other – and larger – Florida districts capable of offering a significant pay increase and, possibly, better working conditions. We can only hope he likes living here as much as he says he does, and that he doesn’t become too frustrated by concocted culture-war distractions.
  • Since its arrival in Vero Beach in February, Breeze Airways has been everything we could’ve hoped for. The Utah-based carrier now connects our community with non-stop commercial jet service to Hartford, Connecticut; Westchester County, New York; Providence, Rhode Island; and Islip (Long Island), New York. It would be nice to see Breeze offer service to somewhere in the Midwest – possibly in the Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati or Detroit areas – and possibly a North Carolina market.

And now some quick wishes …

  • Putting a Brightline station in Fort Pierce’s downtown area certainly would attract riders from the Vero Beach community. For what it’s worth: Thus far, the high-speed trains zipping through our county haven’t been a nuisance.
  • We need to continue to support ongoing efforts to clean up the lagoon, especially the septic-to-sewer program, for our community to truly call itself special. The natural habitat must be preserved.
  • How about a round of applause for our public school teachers, who continue to make our district better while shrugging off ridiculous claims from fringe groups.
  • Remember former commissioner Peter O’Bryan’s suggestion that the county find a suitable place along our coastline for an off-leash dog beach? The commission needs to revisit it.
  • I’m asking again: Can Major League Baseball move one Grapefruit League game each year to the Jackie Robinson Training Complex – formerly Dodgertown – if only to acknowledge Vero Beach’s legacy as the America’s quintessential spring-training town?
  • And, finally, please join me in wishing that 2024 brings the end of COVID-19 as a public health concern. Yes, it’s still here.

Happy New Year!

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