Free Bing Image of Vero Beach, FL City Councilor Dr. Val Zudans
After fighting for years to stop the trains against deep pocket corporations and elected officials with self-serving interests, we couldn’t help but view the last debacle facing Vero Beach with a jaundiced eye.
With little notice in mid-May, Vero Beach City Councilman Dr. Zudans introduced the concept of leasing the River House in Alex MacWilliam Park to a private entity, Orchid Island Brewery. In a lengthy discussion (May 15 Minutes on the city website), many issues were raised including: parking & traffic, serving alcohol the better part of every day near little league baseball and the elementary school, privatizing our parks and the protections of the City Charter.
The City Attorney pointed out leasing the building would require a referendum put before the voters but drafting a Concession License would get around a vote. So there’s a City Charter protecting local parks but also a way around that charter if you want to interpret the activities of Orchid Island Brewery as a “recreational, artistic, or cultural purpose, including incidental concessions.” Mr. Zudans didn’t just want a discussion, he wanted the Council to vote on moving forward on drafting a License.
This process is sounding very familiar for a number of reasons. By the time we heard about the All Aboard Florida project, most Miami/Dade and Broward county officials were well informed and on board. Based on the discussion in May, it appears Councilmen Zudans, and Sykes, the Mayor and the City Attorney were already well ahead of the taxpayers at the meeting.
In defending the trains, corporate executives stretched the truth, obfuscated and stonewalled. With the “Brewery in the Park”, the councilmen tried to suggest the Seaside Grill in Jaycee Park is the same type of concession, even though it was pointed out the Grill doesn’t serve alcohol and isn’t by a ball park, dog park or school. They also argued the River House allows alcohol to be served, while it was countered the allowances are on a one-time basis and not every day noon until midnight.
For the trains, the skids were greased for private businesses. Regulations were interpreted and oversight bodies lobbied so that each request of a government or quasi-government agency was met with approval. This is not to equate the brewery to the railroad corporations but why this specific private business? If the council wanted to license any parkland or facilities to private businesses, why not announce the plan to the public and solicit offers from all interested business owners from the start?
As the park issue played out, a ground swell of residents signed petitions and packed meetings in order to voice opposition to the leasing. They were called fear mongers by Dr. Zudans. We were called fear mongers by many train supporters and executives; with eight deaths on the tracks, we take no joy in being right. Councilman Zudans not only insults the opposition organizers with name calling but also insults the people joining them by insinuating they are easily led. As we’ve said about the trains – it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know a bad idea when we see one.
We said early on, council leadership should have begun this process by organizing a study of all park facilities and city owned land parcels and determined the best uses for each based on taxpayers’ desires and the city budget’s long-term financial needs. If Dr. Zudans had thought of this before he started carrying a banner for the brewery, maybe he wouldn’t have suffered the slings and arrows of skepticism and difficult questions. Now taxpayers should be demanding this as a first step and Dr. Zudans should stop whining.
Jaycee Park, Vero Beach
Susan Mehiel was one of the first activists to realize the negative impact of All Aboard Florida when it first surfaced at the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. She has been researching the issue for the past five years while spearheading the Indian River County grassroots movement in opposition to AAF.
[Ms. Mehiel’s comments are her own and do not reflect the position(s) of Vero Communiqué.]
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