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Seagrapes could still trip up Shores auction of beachside lot


The long-debated issue of whether residents should continue to have beach access through a town-owned lot in Indian River Shores has finally been decided, but another issue has cropped up that might interfere with plans to auction off the vacant land for development.

The County Commission last week approved a single dune crossover for the property in exchange for a 5-foot wide public pedestrian path on the south end of the 5.2-acre parcel nestled between Pebble Bay Villas and Surf Lane. However, the commission rebuffed proposals to trim back 20-foot-tall seagrapes that block the parcel’s view of the ocean.

Indian River Shores Mayor Brian Barefoot spoke at the county commission meeting, and hinted that if the county didn't approve the trimming, the auction of the 5.2-acre site might not move forward.

“I don't know why they would buy it if they can't see the ocean,” Mayor Barefoot said.

“We have pretty strict building codes in Indian River Shores,” he said, explaining that the tree-like shrubs are so tall the homes that would be allowed on the site wouldn't rise high enough to get above them.

Reached by phone later in the week, Mayor Barefoot modified his statement and said the auction will go on as planned May 6 and someone will be the highest bidder. That bid will then be presented to the Town Council for consideration – it'll be accepted, rejected or negotiated.

County Administrator Jason Brown cautioned the commission that while state and federal regulations allow seagrapes to be pruned, it is easy to over-trim and damage them, reducing their ability to anchor the dunes.

Commissioners raised their own concerns about trimming the plants, which have large, leathery leaves and act as a windbreak and provide wildlife habitat.

Vice Chair Peter O'Bryan said he wasn't in favor of trimming the seagrapes – especially before the auction – because it could create an expectation that they'd stay trimmed.

He also didn't like the idea of trimming them “solely for the benefit of someone's view.”

When Mayor Barefoot suggested that the Town take over maintenance of the seagrapes, O'Bryan again said no.

“I'm not in favor of whacking the trees for the sake of whacking them,” O'Bryan said.

Michael Thorpe, of Treasure Coast Sotheby's, told Vero Beach 32963 that the public access walkway and the overly tall seagrapes could reduce the auction's highest bid by as much as 10 or 20 percent.  “The views are what people pay a premium for,” he said.

Rick Baker, of Indian River Auctions and Appraisals, is the broker for the Indian River Shores auction. He sees the outcome of the County Commission's decision differently from Thorpe.

“I don't know it would have any impact,” he said of not having the seagrapes trimmed. Maximum building height on the property is 30 feet, with a 10-foot garage on the ground floor.  That leaves enough height for a second floor to see above the seagrapes, he said, seeming to contradict Barefoot.

Public access, too, is no problem, according to Baker, who pointed to the years and years residents on the west side of A1A have crossed the road to get to the ocean.

“The market will show up,” Baker said, expressing confidence in the auction outcome.

An appraisal done for the Town of Indian River Shores estimates the 5.2-acre site's value at about $7 million. The County Commission has the first right of refusal on the property's sale. The highest bid will be presented to the Commission – which will decide whether it wants to match the bid price and buy the property, or pass and release the property to Indian River Shores for sale.

“We'll see on May 6,” Baker said.