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Old St. Ed’s property again drawing interest

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS, (Week of April 19, 2012)

The St. Edwards Lower School property at 2225 Club Drive across from Riomar County Club seems to again be attracting interest.

Vero Beach Planning Manager Hank Flores says planning officials met recently with Phil Stoddard and Joseph Schulke of Schulke, Bittle and Stoddard to look over plans for a small single-family subdivision on the 5.5 acre site.

The Vero Beach engineering and land-planning company is working for Palm Beach developers George and Lee Heaton of the Heaton Companies.

Heaton considered a similar project on the site in 2010 when the property still belonged to St. Edwards School Inc. but did not end up buying the land. The parcel was taken over by Wells Fargo Bank in November as part of a debt settlement.

“No plans have been submitted,” Flores says, “but we had a pre-application meeting with the engineers to look over the design. In a meeting like that we advise them on any problems or possible improvements to the project.

“Schulke and Stoddard are experienced engineers, pretty familiar with our code requirements, and the plan they have is similar to a couple of other plans we have seen for the site.”

If the Heaton companies decide to proceed, they or their engineers will submit a site plan detailing lot configuration, drainage, roads and other improvements.

Like the rest of Riomar, the school site is zoned R1-AA, which requires a minimum lot size of 15,000 square feet and allows homes as large as 5,000 square feet to be built on the lots. Divide 15,000 into 242,000, the number of square feet in 5.5 acres, and the result is 16, but that many houses could not actually be built according to city officials.

“Onsite drainage requirements and streets would take up a lot of space,” said Vero Beach Director of Planning and Development Tim McGarry in November. “Ten or 12 units would be the most you could fit in there.”

“We would do most of the review for lot size, lot width and drainage for the overall development,” says Flores. “The county would get involved as each individual house was built. Each home would require an individual site plan we would review and send to the county for them to issue a building permit.”

Children were educated at the Lower School until 2010, when St. Edwards consolidated all its classrooms at its campus on A1A.

Facing financial difficulties resulting from an overly ambitious expansion plan launched in 1999, the school put the Club Drive parcel on the market for $4.9 million.

It did not sell at that price and is now listed by Kay Brown of Premier Estate Properties for $3.995 million.

According to county records, the Heaton Companies have not bought the property.

The price Wells Fargo is willing to let the land go for will likely be the determining factor in whether the subdivision gets built.

The property occupies a highly desirable location, surrounded on three sides by fairways of the Riomar Country Club golf course, but most island real estate professionals agree the original $4.9 million price was unrealistic, given the post-boom decline in land values, and some say $3.9 million would still make it hard for a developer to make a profit.

If 10 lots were created, the developer would be starting with a basic cost of $390,000 per lot.

Add the expense of planning and engineering, demolishing existing substantial buildings on the site, installing a road and other infrastructure, marketing and other deal expenses and the developer would have to sell finished lots for well over $500,000.

That could be too rich for the market, since the nearest comparable lots, both waterfront and both larger than 15,000 square feet, are on the market for less money. A 34,000-square-foot lot in nearby Riomar Bay is listed for $429,000.

That makes it seem like the Heaton Companies will need to get the parcel for less than the $3.995 million asking price to make the deal work.

“I think the long-term prospects are excellent for the property,” says Robert Gertz, president of St. Clair Builders. “Eventually there is going to be a need for lots like that.”

Gertz, who inspected the property with thought of building custom houses there when George Heaton was trying to put together a 10-home plan in 2010, says such a project is feasible if the land is priced right.