(FAA Safety Check Airman and line Captain for Comair, the largest Regional Airline in the U.S. in the 1980’s, the Delta connection.)
August 18, 2015
FOR THE PUBLIC RECORD, I am Phyllis Frey at 275 Date Palm Road.
Good morning, Mayor Winger, council and staff. I would like to thank you for allowing me the time to speak given your busy agenda.
I am here today to speak about Transit Oriented Development, which is the end game of All Aboard Florida (AAF), in what will be one of the greatest challenges our community has ever known.
Driven by the $65 billion Fortress hedge fund, AAF’s real purpose was clearly defined as early as February, 2014 by Vince Signorelli, CEO and Vice President of Florida East Coast Industries, AAF’s sister company.
At a University of Miami Commercial Real Estate Entrepreneurial Conference, Mr. Signorelli opened by saying quote, “All Aboard Florida is a real estate play that will allow us to move our portfolios into urban areas and improve our assets under Transit Oriented Development.”
Florida East Coast Industries owns and operates Florida Development Group, one of the premier real estate developers in the state, owning 853 acres of land that can accommodate 16.1 million square feet of commercial and residential development and an additional 3,000 acres in its land bank, not yet entitled.
The Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, working in conjunction with FEC & AAF expressed its support for Transit Oriented Development on December 3, 2012 by Executive Director Michael Busha, in a letter to the Federal Railway Administration stating that: “The AAF Project will help encourage compact, mixed-use development and redevelopment that enhances the preferred form of infrastructure that encourages higher density and intensity of development.”
Under Transit Oriented Development, FEC and a few affiliated developers will manipulate and dominate the real estate market within 1/4 mile on either side of the rail corridor from Miami to Cocoa. Of course that includes Vero Beach.
Wesley Edens, the founder of the $65 billion Fortress hedge fund which is parent to FECI, FEC Railways, AAF and Florida Development Group, explained at the Miami conference that their real estate plan is already being implemented in Miami.
At that conference, an Edens developer explained how they overtook Miami’s historic district through zoning code changes to allow mixed-use development, increasing both population density and building heights. The developers demanded new codes that required shops and retail be built at ground level, with 600 square foot rental apartments above in the high-rise, without any return to the taxpayer. Another feature of this plan included the sale of “air rights” above the ground level.
This form of high density population development is further facilitated through a “Transfer of Development Rights.” When an agricultural landowner or citrus grower for example, agrees not to develop their agricultural land, they retain transfer of development rights. They can transfer those rights to an urban area and build there. Fortress’ Development Group bundles those TDR’s and finds communities who consent to changing their planning and zoning ordinances to become a “receiving area” for high density population inside the transit corridor.
As we have witnessed, Fortress excels at procuring taxpayer money and converting it into profit for themselves. One these mechanisms is through Public Private Partnerships, a form of corporate welfare where the taxpayer pays for the project to benefit the private parties. Another method is through Regional Planning Councils, enablers who promote Transit Oriented Development and use government grants from HUD/DOT & EPA, to build “Transit Villages,” converting our taxpayer dollars into administrative fees for themselves, leaving the taxpayers on the hook.
What’s toxic about this is that a handful of developers, with their own architects, who bring their own builders and construction crews, will control the future development, demographic, and valorem taxes while the community loses its character in exchange for a cookie-cutter high density stack and pack high rise.
Private property taxes will skyrocket to pay for these developments. Tri-Rail has already requested from the Mayor of Miami that property taxes be raised to pay for their new “Transit Village” rail station. If Vero Beach begs for a station, the taxpayer will pay for it, just as AAF expects us to pay for rail crossing improvements and assume liability.
In Palm Beach, AAF has already asked for “Transfer of Development Rights” along with an increase in building heights and an increase in population density. In Pompano Beach, taxpayers are paying for a $1.1 million square foot, stack, pack and track “Transit Village,” a 408-unit “work force” apartment high rise, requiring that 38% will be for “low income” dwellers. Developer Michael Masanof, when asked if he has financing for the plan, he replied: “Yes, 51% from the largest banks.” What he did not mention is where the other 49% will come from. Could it be the taxpayer?
Cocoa Beach took the bait and ended up having to change its city charter, relinquish control of existing local planning and zoning rights to comply with the “Visioning Plan” that included 150 rental apartments at 650 square feet each, and an increase in building height to 45 feet . And that’s just phase I. They do this in increments so you will hardly notice. Phase II and III are sure to follow.
The “preferred” from of development the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council touted in its letter, supported a Vision Plan that they insinuated into our community through consent agenda and a proposed Memorandum of Understanding that offered $4.2 million through a HUD grant as you will recall, with heavy terms and conditions attached, including low income housing quotas. In 2012, you wisely voted it down, as did three other counties, their cities, school boards, civic organizations, HOA’s and MPO’s.
Once exposed and voted down, they went underground and let the transportation arm of their plan in the form of AAF take center stage. But they have not been idle. They have been dangling their carrot under the noses of cities struggling with budget constraints still offering “free money” for T.O.D. projects such as Transit Villages. With perfect timing, they have scheduled their dog and pony shows in Vero Beach, on September 12th and 18th.
The Treasure Coast Regional Council’s website under “Urban Design and Town Planning, and Design Charettes” says: “Master plans have been prepared. Design guidelines, comprehensive plans and traffic calming means new codes have been recommended and “assistance” with implementation has been provided.”
Translation, you will relinquish control of your development rights. The Regional Planning contracts are very clear. “The Executive Committee will be the overall governing board, (excluding elected officials), will approve the overall work plan, recommend the selection of staff and consultants, provide policy direction for the “Regional Vision Blueprint” and implementation plan, provide technical assistance (such as contained in Resolution 2014 you recently approved) and develop a toolbox that will assist planners in modifying their local codes to embrace the Vision elements.”
In other words, just agree to our design and re-zoning, sign for the grants and we’ll take care of the rest.
Fortress and its subsidiary Florida Development Group, sister to AAF, has millions of dollars to spend on advertising and propaganda. They use attractive and clever techniques to persuade you to relinquish your rights. They begin with a design charrette that features big screen pretty pictures and artists renderings of New Urbanism, a Sustainable Community, a Transit Village, an Art Village, a Potemkin Village that is smart, green, walk-able, bike-able, breath-able, planet-saving with complete streets and ice-cream licking kiddies with balloons.
All the euphemisms are there but it’s the same old cookie-cutter pro-forma plan involving government grants—our tax money, complete with terms and their conditions, demanding your compliance to re-engineer your community as part of Transit Oriented Development. Retail on the ground floor and rentals above requiring changes for increased density and building heights. No matter what town you are in, the ploy and the end game is the same. And because this is implemented in small increments, you will hardly notice that your town is being re-engineered and you are losing control of the future development of your own community.
At their dog and pony show on the 12th, after they dazzle you with pictures and propaganda, and carefully crafted words—they are highly trained—they’ll have “breakout sessions” with the public where smaller groups sit at separate tables and you play little question and answer games and fill out comment cards to make you think you are part of the planning process. We went through this same charade at our Indian River County Chamber in 2012. Since then I’ve attended every TCRPC monthly meeting and every design charrette, public forum, summit and keynote speaker event they’ve held for the past two years.
For 18 months I have been working with four organizations consisting of MIT and aerospace engineers, financial analysts, legal teams and professionals with specialty backgrounds that drilled down into Fortress’ corporate and financial structure and discovered the truth about the end game.
With FEC waiting in the wings to take Transit Oriented Development to the next step once the TCRPC has its foot in the door, this AAF artist’s rendering is what you will get once you give them the power to do so, and the taxpayer will end up paying for it.
Fortress, EDENS, FEC/AAF and Flagler developers do not care about our living preferences. They will find the phrase “keeping Vero Vero” laughable. They specialize in misrepresentations and deception, even in federal court. Nothing is sacred. They will influence and coerce politicians who offer their policies to appease special interest groups, and they will place profit over lives while taking you out of the equation.
If we succumb to the Florida Development Group and their shill, the TCRPC, the dream of “Keeping Vero Vero” will become nothing more than an empty political slogan. While you are campaigning, be sure to tell the taxpayers how much the Transit Village is going to cost them. The TCRPC and Fortress’ developers will become your deciders, and you will become their rubber stamp-ers IF you allow this to happen.
None of this has to happen. All it takes is the strength and the courage to say NO, like you did in 2012 when this chamber was packed with educated taxpayers and there were long lines at the podium in opposition to the charade. We do still have home rule of law, but it is on the endangered species list. It is up to you to save it.
I would like to share a quote from the Wall Street Journal that summarizes AAF and its influence over us.
“Bullies know that the key to dominion is the first conciliatory act of submission.”
I thank you for your time and attention.