IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS SEVEN 50 – SEVEN COUNTIES, FIFTY YEARS…OR A REGIONAL PLAN FOR HOW MIAMI AND THE SOUTH FLORIDA METRO CORRIDOR WOULD TELL EVERYONE IN THE REGION HOW THEY WOULD PLAN THEIR LAND USE, TRANSPORTATION AND HOUSING FOR THE NEXT 50 YEARS.
But the announcement of the marvel project piqued the interest of smart folks outside the metro area. Locally, this effort was promoted by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council (TCRPC) which includes representatives from 4 counties – Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River.
Groups of dedicated local citizens throughout the Treasure Coast began researching and talking and meeting and rallying when they learned of the real villains behind 7-50.
The Obama administration brought in lefty, regionalism advocates from around the country to fashion a massive grant program which would divide the country into regions and slowly leach all of the governance and planning out of the small towns and suburbs ending home rule.
Fortunately, people around the country figured out the end game and started fighting the HUD, DOT, EPA Sustainable Communities grants which mandated massive changes to local zoning and building codes.
In many areas including the Treasure Coast, teams of taxpayers packed city and county halls and encouraged their representatives to pull out of the program – and they did. Here in southeast Florida, three of the seven counties voted to rescind their participation and essentially emasculated the project.
But it wasn’t over…a cornerstone in the Sustainable Communities grants is called Transit Oriented Development (TOD). TOD calls for limiting the developable land in a municipality, changing building codes to allow for higher, larger multi-family buildings (densification), narrow roads, fewer parking spaces, more government owned land and mass transit.
In other words, the planners decide where you live, how you live and how you will move about in smaller cars or via mass transit – which controls where and when you go. …All in the name of saving the planet with your tax dollars.
Many who fought Seven 50 also led the charge to stop All Aboard Florida (AAF), realizing that AAF was just another form of TOD disguised as a private high speed rail project.
It was a known fact (and confirmed by the TCRPC) that once AAF was up and running, the central planners would add stops supported by local, state and federal taxpayer monies and use tax dollars to fund the tandem development of commuter service, Tri-Rail (operating $80 million in the red annually), all the way to Cocoa Beach.
The head of the Treasure Coast RPC, Michael Busha, was ecstatic with the prospect of AAF accomplishing what 7-50 couldn’t, “(AAF) reduces dependency on the automobile, reduces the use of fossil fuels… encourages transit, compact mixed-use development and helps contain suburban sprawl.” So AAF was not just about freight, it was All About Real Estate…increasing new, high density real estate projects for developers along the route.
Rendering of AAF Train Station, West Palm Beach
And so we fought AAF and delayed their approvals and funding for the northern portion indefinitely, as it appears.
However, the TCRPC and central planners are not going away despite all efforts in Tallahassee to defund these turfdoms of unelected, unaccountable organizations with ties to crony businesses and land developers. The city of Vero Beach is the latest example of the central planners and grant-hungry governments and consultants deciding to continue the TOD plan.
The concept of the Art Village is not unique to Vero Beach. They are a way for Regional Planners to sugarcoat the changing of building codes and the implementation of the stack/pack housing – or in nice terms “mixed-use” development along with narrow streets to encourage fewer and smaller cars. The feel good idea of blending HUD housing with artistic folks is a real winner, using our quaint community as their sacrificial lamb.
So the Vero Beach Cultural Council hired the staff at the TCRPC (with annual revenues of $2.2 million – all taxpayer money – with salaries/benefits over half of that) to conduct pseudo community input sessions. Then they churned out the boiler plate plan which paves the way using zoning changes to implement the first phase of DOT for Vero. Naturally, the TCRPC promised taxpayer funded grants to help with implementation.
Next, the city decided to update its Comprehensive Land Use Plan which will be a roadmap for land use and transportation through 2035. Again, the TCRPC was there to assist the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Department and Board in rewriting it for a fee. The new 400 page Plan was approved by the P&Z Board in April, 2017 and sent to the City Council for its approval in June.
Fortunately, for all of us, the woman who rallied the troops to stop Seven 50 and served as a lead player in stopping AAF, Phyllis Frey, has been tracking the insidious entrenchment by TCRPC and TOD. She was there to speak out against the TCRPC while it worked its magic on the arts village and she knew what was coming with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan 2035.
At the June 6, 2017 Vero Beach City Council meeting, Phyllis was joined by a number of residents to point out the flaws in the plan. She gave a detailed review of the most egregious problems with the Land Use Plan including:
- Mixed-use density is being increased from 17 dwelling units and 30 rooms, to 21 dwelling units and an uncapped number of rooms…Commercial density is up to 15 dwelling units from 8
- The FAR or Floor Area Ratio – the ratio of building floor space to the size of the lot – increases in every zoning category.
- The city shall rezone all land consistent with the changes
- …developers will be offered bonus incentives in return for implementing a mixed-use, high density plan
- All mid to large development will be confined to Transit Boundaries
- The city will provide multi-modal transit and “shall investigate bringing passenger rail service to Vero Beach to enhance mixed-use development.”
As Phyllis explained to the City Council, the plan increases the number of units and structure size allowable per acre. It restricts building out and encourages building UP and necessitates an increase in height limits.
From the reactions of the City Council members, the Comprehensive Land Use Plan 2035 would have been rubber stamped had it not been for a group of vocal, dedicated residents. Wisely, the City Council decided to schedule a future workshop to discuss the plan before voting on its acceptance.
This is a perfect example of bureaucrats and central planners using the propaganda of saving the planet in order to gain control. TOD is the new directive of regionalists and we WILL have more units on less buildable land. We WILL pay for expensive mass transit and force people out of their cars. And don’t believe the propaganda that this is what future generations will want. As the Wall Street Journal reported in a 2015 article Generation Y Prefers Suburban Home Over City Condo, “…based on responses from 1,506 people born since 1977, most want to live in single-family homes outside of the urban center.”
If we don’t stay awake and engaged in local governance, we will wake up one day to high-rise buildings chock-a-block along 14th Avenue with electric car charging stations instead of garages. Walking or biking to your destination will be required…uh, ‘encouraged’. We stopped Seven 50, we’ve stalled the trains, now we need an army to save Vero Beach.
Susan Mehiel, a retired marketing executive, has lived in Vero Beach for 23 years and has spent the last four years raising awareness about the negative impact of All Aboard Florida.