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Broad public involvement sought in planning for Centennial Place


The Vero Beach City Council has underscored the importance of transparency in planning for redevelopment of the former city power plant site following public complaints about the process proposed by a Miami-based consulting firm.

The City Council at its Aug. 20 meeting discussed at length a $144,000 proposal by DPZ CoDesign for consulting services meant to guide redevelopment of the 35-acre riverfront property at 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard known as Centennial Place.

The six-month plan included time to analyze the site, hold a “kick-off” presentation to the board in mid-November, formulate a public survey, hold a series of public meetings in January and present a final report summarizing the community’s wishes in May.

In its plan, DPZ CoDesign suggested formation of a steering committee to guide the design team throughout the process. The small group would likely consist of the city manager, planning director and a few key administrative staff familiar with decision-making and city protocols.

The company also proposed creation of a committee of community ambassadors consisting of 10 to 12 members representing residents and civic leaders on the mainland and the barrier island who would host small groups in their homes to solicit input and encourage engagement.

“Community members who host these small groups will become champions throughout the process, helping carry the plan through adoption and implementation,” documents from DPZ stated.

But council members and members of the public questioned the idea of a steering committee and vehemently objected to private meetings in homes, instead directing Planning Director Jason Jeffries to alter the contract with DPZ – expected to be presented to the council sometime next month – to have open community meetings at a public place.

Jeffries suggested the meetings be held and videotaped at the Vero Beach Community Center on 14th Avenue.

“A steering committee making a lot of key decisions is not transparency,” Councilwoman Laura Moss said. “A lot of these meetings should be held publicly, right here. They could be videotaped. We’ll invite everybody. A lot of what I’m reading is behind closed doors in small groups. It’s people who are not elected – they are self-selected and that’s not good. I don’t buy that.”

A series of public speakers shared Moss’ reservations.

“This is being done is small groups because they break up the community and these small groups are easier to steer . . . the public will be given canned projects like canned flight plans with limited choices and this is moving too fast,” island resident Phyllis Frey said.

Centennial Place includes the sites of the former city electric plant, the current wastewater treatment plant and the former postal annex.

DPZ CoDesign is offering to formulate five redevelopment concepts for the prime riverfront site that the public can choose from, ranging from a mostly undeveloped site to one that incorporates the wishes of immediate site neighbors, the greater Vero Beach population and elected officials, according to city documents.

The City Charter prohibits a change in the use of the property unless voters approve it. The council’s hope is to present the public with a range of choices and then put the issue on the ballot during the 2020 elections.