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Vero may annex oceanfront property, enabling developer to build condos

Photo: The oceanfront property located behind the CVS and 7-Eleven on A1A where a shuttered marine sciences laboratory currently stands.

Condominiums could soon rise on a piece of oceanfront property located behind the CVS and 7-Eleven on A1A just north of the Vero city line where a shuttered marine sciences laboratory currently stands.

Florida Institute of Technology is asking the city of Vero Beach to annex the 4.7-acre property, which is currently part of unincorporated Indian River County, so a potential buyer can build multifamily units.

The Melbourne-based university plans to sell the abandoned property, 805 46th Place East, within the next 90 days to an undisclosed buyer, spokesman Wes Sumner said.

“Florida Tech relocated its marine sciences activities to our Melbourne campus at least two years ago,” Sumner said in an email. “This was done in preparation to sell the property. This relocation aligned better with the focus of research on the Melbourne campus.”

Neither Sumner nor Vero Beach attorney Barry Segal, who represents the potential purchaser, would identify the buyer or the sale price. The property is assessed at just under $2.6 million, according to government records. 

Segal, who appeared before the Vero Beach Planning and Zoning Board on Aug. 1 to petition for the annexation and a land use and zoning change to allow for the construction of multifamily residences on the parcel, said his client will likely pay a significantly higher price for the property than the assessed value.

Segal’s buyer – who hopes to break ground on the future development sometime next year – plans to build around 20 condominiums on the property, Segal told Vero Beach 32963.

“It’s a beautiful piece of land where they see a lot of potential to make some happy homes,” Segal said of the mystery buyer.

Becoming part of the city would provide enhanced police protection and avoid having the development squeezed in between two different jurisdictions – the town of Indian River Shores to the north and the city of Vero Beach to the south.

“Access to the property is by way of travel through the city limits and the enjoyment of various amenities, community events and businesses will be of those located inside the city limits,” Segal wrote in the annexation application. “Accordingly, participation in the government of the city will be of great importance to the residents of the property.”

The Planning and Zoning Board unanimously approved city staff’s recommendation to allow the annexation. The board also approved Segal’s request to change the county’s single-family residential zoning for the parcel to a tourist-oriented services commercial zone, which permits several uses, including multifamily residential or commercial development. Segal insisted his client has no plans to build commercial space on the oceanside property, which he said would be unsustainable.

No site plan has been submitted to the city, Planning and Development Director Jason Jeffries said. The Vero Beach City Council will consider the developer’s request at its Aug. 20 meeting.

Florida Tech in 1980 purchased the property to develop a marine research laboratory. For the next 37 years, the multi-building site was used for research on seahorse life cycles and improved aquaculture techniques. Private aquaculture companies also operated on the site.

As recently as 2013, FIT planned a major expansion at the small campus located behind 7-Eleven on A1A just north of the Vero city line, announcing that it would hire additional faculty and build a new 20,000-square-foot, $10 million lab building that would include an area where the public could observe marine creatures and research projects.

University president Dr. Anthony James Catanese said at that time it was “absolutely untrue” FIT planned to sell the land to a developer.

However, the failure of a fundraising campaign undertaken in Vero Beach to support the project and the death of longtime lab supervisor Professor Junda Lin caused those plans to falter.
The county in 2017 unsuccessfully attempted to buy the property for roughly $1.5 million to expand parking at the neighboring Tracking Station Park and the dilapidated facility has been empty for two years.