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New Vero Beach planning director focused on development of Cultural Arts Village

Photo: Vero Beach new planning director Jason Jeffries photographed outside city hall.

For years, Jason Jeffries would drive past the Vero Beach exit on I-95 without giving much thought to the seaside community to the east.

“I’m a baseball fan and I knew about Dodgertown, but the Dodgers have been gone for quite a while, so I never came down for spring training,” Jeffries said. “Really, I didn’t know much about Vero Beach until I came in for the interview.”

That was in October.

Three weeks later, Jeffries was at City Hall, starting his new job as Vero Beach’s planning director and looking forward to moving his family to a community that caught him by surprise.

“I came down for the interview and was immediately blown away by the beauty and character of Vero Beach and the surrounding community,” Jeffries said. “I remember telling my wife, ‘I found this beautiful place down south that I didn’t know was there.’

“When they offered me the job and I accepted, my wife and I drove down to look for a place to live, and we both fell in love with Vero Beach,” he added. “My job now is to preserve the character of the community while, at the same time, encouraging strategic investment through controlled growth.”

Jeffries, 44, replaced Tim McGarry, who served as planning director for 12 years, overseeing Vero Beach’s community development and, more recently, guiding the Planning & Zoning Commission through the grueling process of updating the city’s comprehensive plan.

McGarry died Oct. 28 after a long illness. He was 72.

Jeffries came to Vero Beach from Daytona Beach, where he spent 12 years as the city’s redevelopment project manager, overseeing the revitalization of the downtown area.

He previously worked as a planner and senior planner in Houston, after starting his career as an associate planner in Youngstown, Ohio. He received a bachelor’s degree in city, community and regional planning from the University of Cincinnati, then earned his MBA at the University of Houston.

Jeffries said his background in community development and experience working with neighborhood groups made the job here a perfect fit.

“It’s a good match with the type of work I’ve done throughout my career,” Jeffries said. “Even when I was just out of college, working as a young planner in Youngstown, I wasn’t stuck in an office doing a bureaucratic job. From the get-go, I was working with people, finding ways to resolve issues.

“When dealing with a community,” he added, “relationships are important.”

City Manager Jim O’Connor shares that philosophy, and he believes Jeffries possesses both the experience and personality needed to succeed in Vero Beach. In fact, he described the new director as a “younger version” of McGarry.

“Jason has a history of working well with people, especially neighborhood groups and business owners,” O’Connor said. “That should help him relate to people in a small community like ours.”

Among Jeffries’ first tasks, O’Connor said, will be to work with members of Main Street Vero Beach and the Oceanside Business Association, as well as the Vero Beach Cultural Arts Village team.

“Starting off,” Jeffries said, “the Cultural Arts Village will be a big part of the job.”

So will developing a plan for the city-owned property at the intersection of Indian River Boulevard and 17th Street – site of the now-closed municipal power plant, sewer plant and former postal annex.  Jeffries said the City Council wants the planning staff to get public input and create a plan for the property as soon as possible.

“That’s going to be a balancing act,” Jeffries said, “because I haven’t been here long, but I’ve been here long enough to know some people want to develop it and some want to keep it public.”

Jeffries said he’s already met with members of the city’s Planning & Zoning and Historic Preservation commissions, but he’s just beginning to meet with community leaders and neighborhood groups to learn about their issues and discuss possible solutions.

“I want to get around and meet with people, get the lay of the land,” he said. “Once I get a sense of different issues in community, I can put together a work plan for the department.

“My predecessor already updated the comp plan, based on the city’s vision plan, so this is a great time to be coming in,” he added. “Now it’s just a matter of implementing and executing those policies, and make sure the code fits the plan.”

Jeffries’ wife, Christie, is an elementary school teacher. They have two daughters: Ryleigh, 7, and Abby, 6.