Duany’s vision brings clarity to possible downtown of future


Urban planning guru Andres Duany was showered with applause Friday night at the Vero Beach Community Center as he ended a jaw-dropping, 95-minute presentation of his transformative vision for the future of the city’s downtown area.

In fact, an audience approaching 180 people – the gathering included County Administrator John Titkanich, School Superintendent David Moore, and members of both the County Commission and City Council – was so excited about what it had just seen and heard that nobody bothered to ask questions.

Instead, the room was abuzz with chatter about the dramatic metamorphosis that Duany, hired by the city to create a downtown revitalization plan, showed was possible with only minimal investment from the city government.

“I saw a plan, based on stakeholder input, that gave us a blueprint for what our downtown could look like in the future,” Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno said. “I thought it was aspirational.”

It was also achievable, city officials said.

“There was a lot to his presentation,” City Planning Director Jason Jeffries said of Duany, the mastermind of Vero Beach’s wildly popular Three Corners Concept Plan to create a dining, retail, social and recreational hub on the mainland’s waterfront. “But I think it was all doable.”

In time, anyway.

Perhaps a long time.

Despite the optimism of the evening, city officials said it probably will take 20 years or more for Duany’s spectacular vision – which included young adults living downtown and a Brightline train station near Pocahontas Park – to become a reality.

“This isn’t for my generation,” said Monte Falls, Vero Beach’s 66-year-old city manager.

“This is for the 20- and 30-year-olds.”

While Duany acknowledged that developing the downtown housing at the core of his vision will require both voter approval of zoning changes and a buy-in from the district’s property owners, city officials said several aspects of the plan can be implemented without any meaningful demolition or reconstruction.

Some of those improvements, they insist, can be made sooner rather than later:

  • Upgrading, modernizing and rearranging the amenities at Pocahontas Park.
  • Creating an amphitheater on the lawn outside the Heritage Center.
  • Adding awnings to building fronts and installing better lighting along the sidewalks.
  • Replacing left-turn lanes with a tree-lined and lighted median along 14th Avenue.

Duany also recommended the city ask the Florida Department of Transportation to incorporate into its planned State Road 60 resurfacing project raised intersections and speed tables at the 14th Avenue crosswalks.

“There are a few things that can be implemented almost immediately, and there are other things where we can at least get the process started,” Falls said, later adding, “But his theme was, ‘I’m not counting on any government investment.’

“He wants to get government bureaucracy out of the way and create an environment in which the private sector can make improvements to build wealth, then get the developers to step up.”

The comprehensive vision Duany shared during an easy-to-understand power-point presentation, which he punctuated with edgy humor and brutal honesty, was as unrestrained as it was ambitious – more of a concept than a plan.

But the plan is coming.

Duany’s Miami-based architecture and town-planning firm, DPZ CoDesign, is scheduled to deliver to the city its finalized report within the next four to six weeks. The plan is expected to include many of the ideas he presented last week, when he conducted downtown charrettes Monday through Wednesday before Friday’s grand unveiling.

Duany actually began his reconnaissance mission last month, spending three days in Downtown Vero, where he visited restaurants, bars and other establishments and talked to property owners, business owners and other stakeholders.

“A huge number of ideas are yours,” he told the audience Friday. “If you don’t see your idea here, it’s probably because it wasn’t very good.”

While he proposed bold and dramatic changes that encompassed building facades, lighting and land use, Duany said the “footprint and bones are there” to build a more attractive and vibrant downtown.

Duany suggested the city launch its revitalization process by concentrating on a three-block area – the “walkable core,” he called it – saying, “There can be more, but it has to be come later. We have to prove this is a cool area.”

He said it probably will take three to four years to establish the first two blocks, then one block per year can be added.

To make any of that happen, however, Duany said Vero Beach voters must approve – for the downtown district – a significant increase in the city’s 17-unit-per-acre density limit.

He said the current density cap is “too small” and recommended increasing it to as much as 110 units per acre to accommodate smaller apartments that would be more affordable for young adults, the “urban pioneers” who tend to drive the resurgences of cities’ downtown areas.

“Downtown has a thriving restaurant and bar business, but it still lacks a willingness to invest in and develop housing there,” Falls said. “That’s unlikely to change unless we increase the density.”

City Council members here agree, and they want to put on the November ballot a referendum to increase the density limit in the downtown district. To that end, they’ve set a May 23 deadline for approval of a Duany’s plan – or an amended version of it.

The Supervisor of Elections Office needs the referendum’s wording this summer to include it on the November ballot.

“We’re on track,” Jeffries said.

If city voters approve the density increase for the downtown district, property owners then can decide whether they want to invest in the redevelopment Duany recommends in his plan.

“If the property owners don’t buy in,” Falls said, “I’m not going to push it.”

Jeffries said the city will conduct a follow-up survey to gauge the community’s reaction to Duany’s presentation, and DPZ may use that feedback in finalizing the more defined plan it submits to the city.

“This looks finished,” Duany said Friday before presenting his vision, “but this is still flexible.”

Comments are closed.