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Laura Zorc pushes for purchase of land near Vero High

Photo: School Board Member Laura Zorc

A new school board member and a citizens’ organization that promotes good land use are trying to put the brakes on the county effort to sell off to a private developer 12 acres at the corner of 16th Street and 20th Avenue across from Vero Beach High.

“I would like strong negotiations opened up on this property. It has too much value to our district not to pursue it,” School Board Member Laura Zorc said at last week’s school board meeting.

Zorc was successful in getting negotiations with the county reopened after unsuccessfully pitching the same idea at the December board meeting.

“We don’t need it,” Superintendent Mark Rendell said in December, a position supported by Zorc’s fellow board members.

But this month, Zorc’s views were echoed by the Indian River Neighborhood Association.

“The Indian River Neighborhood Association is very concerned the 16th Street ball fields’ property will be sold to private developers for high-density residential use,” said acting Executive Director Carter Taylor.

“It is a very unique piece of property, smack dab in the middle of the Vero Beach High School campus. The district has a large investment there.”

The county lost interest in the property because the three baseball fields on the land are not regulation size and are too land-locked to be expanded, said Sheila Votzi, a county parks division employee.

“The school district has been aware for a year we want to get rid of the property,” County Administrator Jason Brown said.

In that time the school district made one offer, a land swap with no cash, which was turned down by county commissioners.

“We have offered them valuable land next to Sebastian River High School, but the county wouldn’t agree to it,” School Board Member Dale Simchick said at last week’s meeting.

“Let me tell you the characteristics of that property,” Brown said. “In exchange for more than 11 acres, they offered us a strip of land, about 1,800 feet by 8 feet, which is less than an acre, on Sebastian River High School grounds. The idea was we could build a sidewalk on the land, essentially making it easier for their students to get to their high school. We’ve already built a sidewalk connection to the school, along Vero Lakes Estates. It sounds like a great deal for the school district, but not so great for the county.”

About two months ago, Rendell again offered the same parcel to the county at a meeting with Brown, but the county commission, after waiting a year, had already directed staff to sell the land by the high school for cash, Brown said.

Zorc has learned the district’s Land Use and Acquisitions Committee recommended last March the district acquire the property. She also noted Rendell never followed up with Brown’s request to see a list of other school properties for trade. 

“That’s not how it ended,” Rendell said. “Brown said the county was not interested in a trade, they wanted cash.  Even though the Land Use Committee recommended acquisition, I’ve no permission from the board to spend money.”

The county’s emphasis on cash from the school district may be a case of tit-for-tat. “There is a little bit of history there,” Brown said. “About 10 years ago the county needed to widen a road and the school district charged $380,000 for the land.”  

“We are being so naïve if we think we don’t need this land,” Zorc said. “We don’t know what we need, because we have no five-, 10-, 20-year comprehensive plan.”
The board agreed to reopen negotiations on the land with the county.