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Neighbors divided over need for sidewalk along Live Oak Road

Photo: A car speeding down Live Oak Road.

Have you ever veered off Highway A1A onto Live Oak Road to avoid the seasonal traffic backups at the Beachland Boulevard intersection?

If so, you're the reason for those red signs with the message “Vote Yes For The Sidewalk” that adorn the front yards of some residents along the bucolic roadway that follows the shoreline of the Indian River Lagoon.

From A1A to a 90-degree bend necessitated by the shoreline, the road – one of the prettiest on the island – is called Live Oak Road. From the 90-degree bend to where it reaches Beachland Boulevard at the base of the Merrill Barber Bridge, it is called Indian River Drive East.

Short stretches of sidewalk are in place at each end of the residential street, but for most of its length they are lacking, which forces walkers to use the narrow roadway.

"Why do we want a sidewalk?" said Bill Gurley, a Live Oak Road resident who strongly supports the sidewalk campaign. "I invite you to walk that section of road between Greytwig and Mockingbird, especially during the season. Do that, and you'll have your answer.

"It's a safety issue," he continued. "Too many people use Live Oak as a cut-through street, and all too often, these people are driving at a rate of speed well above the 25-mph speed limit. It's extremely unsafe, even this time of year.

"I guarantee you: The way these cars come through there, you'll be jumping onto somebody's front lawn to get out of the way," he added. "If you don't want to get hit, that's the only option."

City Manager Jim O'Connor said residents on Live Oak Road and Indian River Drive have complained about the increase in traffic, despite "NO THRU TRAFFIC" signs posted at the entryways at State Road A1A and Beachland Boulevard.

"They've told us there's a problem with the amount of traffic and the speed the cars are traveling," O'Connor said. "It's such a pretty road, and a lot of walkers, runners and bikers like to go through there. And the make-up of that neighborhood is getting younger and more active.

"I can understand why they want a sidewalk."

Why, then, did a majority of homeowners along that stretch of road oppose the city of Vero Beach's plan to build a sidewalk?

Actually, when homeowners first began discussing the possibility of installing a sidewalk, as far back as April 2015, most of them expressed support for the idea. So they asked city officials to explore their options.

O'Connor said he sent out engineers to determine the best location for the sidewalk and then draw up a preliminary plan.

That plan, however, put the sidewalk on the north side of Live Oak Road and west side of Indian River Drive – and homeowners on those sides of those streets didn't want their property disturbed.

Two homeowners, who requested that their names not be used, said the city's initial plan called for a 12-foot setback from the roadway and a 6-foot-wide sidewalk – and too many of their neighbors didn't want to part with that much of their property.

The plans since have been amended, the homeowners said, so that there's only a 5-foot setback and 5-foot-wide sidewalk, and proponents have launched a new campaign to persuade their neighbors to support the proposed project.

"For these kinds of projects, we require that at least 50 percent of the residents support it," O'Connor said. "Initially, they had the 50 percent, but when they found out where we were going to put it, everything changed.

"A lot of them wanted the sidewalk," he added, "but they didn't want it on their side of the street."

O'Connor estimated the cost of installing the requested sidewalk at $220,000 – $170,000 of which is already earmarked in this year’s budget for sidewalk construction.

"We have it designed, we have the funds and, judging by the signs, there is a group trying to resurrect it," O'Connor said. "But I have not talked to anyone over there."

The effort to revive the project is being done by a petition. O’Connor said the petition can be a paper document with signatures, an electronic document or a series of individual emails indicating a yes or no vote for the sidewalk. This time around, only homeowners on the affected side of the street will have a vote.

Unless at least 50 percent of those residents support the sidewalk campaign in writing, O'Connor said that money will be used for other projects.

"Nobody has told me the project has been killed, so I still consider this a work in progress," Gurley said. "I know we've got people still working on it, and I think most people in the neighborhood would say we need a sidewalk.

“I’ve heard people opposed to the sidewalk say, ‘Nobody has been run over yet,’” he added. “Do we really want to wait until that happens?”

Some opponents of the sidewalk said the safety issue could be addressed through more police enforcement of the speed limit, a couple of speed bumps and longer green signals for southbound traffic at the intersection of A1A and Beachland Boulevard.