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Vero on verge of creating Cultural Arts Village

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of February 25, 2021)

Vero is on the verge of accomplishing a feat its arts community has sought for six years:  approving official zoning for a Cultural Arts Village.

The proposed Cultural Arts Village area extends six blocks west from the 14th Avenue downtown arts district. Situated south of eastbound Route 60 (19th place), it encompasses much of the historic Edgewood neighborhood, ending at northbound 20th Avenue.

The idea is to encourage the revitalization of one of Vero’s oldest neighborhoods into an inviting mixed-use, creative arts hub where painters, sculptors, woodworkers, musicians, writers and merchants can build a community that attracts tourists, gives locals an artsy place to explore, and brings commercial investment to benefit the community, while honoring Vero’s rich history and heritage.

Changes to the city’s land development code and zoning regulations set to be considered in March and April would allow artists and skilled craftspeople to live, work and market their products at their home studios in the district.

It would also allow for small-scale cafés and tea rooms where larger restaurants would not be permitted.

Vero’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously last week to recommend the City Council approve the land development code language necessary for the arts village to take shape. On March 4, commission members will vote on whether to recommend the actual zoning changes for the Cultural Arts Village to the city council.

“Both ordinances (text amendment and Official Zoning Map amendment) are tentatively scheduled for first reading on March 16 [at the] City Council meeting,” said Vero’s Planning Director Jason Jeffries after the 5-0 vote that gave thumbs up to the first steps. “State statute requires the City Council to hold two public hearings for both ordinances. These City Council hearings will be held in April.”

Despite much skepticism, Barbara Hoffman, who led the Cultural Council of Indian River County for a decade prior to her retirement in 2020, never gave up on the idea that became the plan that is now about to become a reality.

Hoffman said the Vero Beach Arts Village is a true community partnership that “will offer complimentary creative environments – one for working, one for living and selling, the other for cafés, restaurants and small businesses. We envision an inviting, shaded streetscape that supports a diversity of economic events and activities.”

The vision is for a pedestrian and bike-friendly zone with amenities that include an amphitheater for open-air performances, a cultural arts education center, plus green space to support book, art, food and music festivals.

“The village concept will pull more activities back to the downtown district, contributing to a comfortable, appealing, walkable environment where people can spend time meeting, shopping, eating and working,” Hoffman said in her comments to the zoning commission.

Artists have already bought homes and set up studios and galleries in the area, along with other businesses, showing faith that the Arts Village would eventually be embraced by city leaders.

The Friends of the Vero Beach Art Village 501(c)3 has a 30-member leadership team led by Hoffman and a website Hoffman says nonprofit organization is ready to take the helm of the arts village from the Cultural Council as soon as the zoning changes are finalized.