Home Business Has Vero Beach City Council lost voters trust over marina expansion? We may find out Nov. 8

Has Vero Beach City Council lost voters trust over marina expansion? We may find out Nov. 8

Has Vero Beach City Council lost voters trust over marina expansion? We may find out Nov. 8

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

That line is from the 1967 Oscar-winning classic “Cool Hand Luke,” starring Paul Newman and Strother Martin. Luke is a Florida prisoner in constant conflict with the warden, nicknamed The Captain. Luke hears him, but refuses to live under his terms and frequently escapes from the camp’s poor living conditions.

Poor communication also seems to be the trouble between Vero Bespanch and the Vero Bespanch Preservspantion Allispannce. The city is making plans to expand the marina, but many residents disagree with the decisions.

The result is a sticky web of distrust residents have in the staff and elected officials. The rift is sure to influence the Nov. 8 City Council election — and permeate politics for years to come. 

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Vero Beach Municipal Marina

The short story goes like this, and I’m simplifying for space:

  • The marina is in disrepair and it’s long overdue for fixes just to make it safe.
  • The city’s marine commission has been working on plans to upgrade the marina for at least two years.
  • In addition to repairing docks and expanding the mooring field, the city wants to expand the boat storage building from its current 6,150 square feet to 21,402 square feet — an increase or 348%.
  • Marina neighbors think the plans are too costly, too ambitious and won’t get the anticipated return on investment. Many feel the planned boat storage is too big.
  • Neighbors added a referendum to the Nov. 8 ballot requiring voter approval for certain city projects in the future.
  • The city is suing the neighbors to remove the referendum from the ballot.

A ‘yes’ vote on the referendum would:

  • Addresses properties in Section 5.05 of the city charter
  • Add the dry storage property to the list of 26 properties in the charter
  • Require voter approval to add structures of 500 square feet or larger if no prior structure exists
  • Require voter approval to increase existing structures by more than 20%.
The Vero Beach Marina's dry storage area on the Indian River Lagoon is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. A citizen-proposed referendum could restrict the city from expanding and building on its marina without voter approval.

Resolving this problem is complicated by these two issues: 

  • On Oct. 25, Circuit Court Judge Laurie Buchanan will decide whether to allow the votes cast in the referendum
  • Whether the city can afford to redo the marina at the same time it is dealing with $40 million for a new sewer plant and the expense of developing Three Corners?

I expressed my opinion in span Sept. 22 column. Since then, I’ve met with Lesley Tilley and Karen Mancil of the Vero Beach Preservation Alliance. I also met with Debb Robinson, a neighbor who supports the referendum, but has a different angle on why.

All three convinced me the referendum was borne of frustration from broken lines of communication with city representatives. Adding the referendum to the ballot was a last resort for citizens to regain control of public property such as the marina.

The city’s response was surprisingly heavy-handed. After an Aug. 25 meeting, the City Council voted to file span lspanwsuit to remove the referendum from the ballot. The suit personally names Tilley and Mancil, among others, who were served court summonses.

They did not attend the city meeting organized to discuss the marina plans partly because they felt they were going to be railroaded, they said.  

The Indian River Lagoon is active at the Vero Beach Municipal Marina on Friday, April 8, 2022, in Vero Beach. In 2019, the City Council approved recommendations from its consultant Coastal Tech to replace the dilapidated docks and the dry-storage building, consider additional parking and expand from about 100 boat slips to up to 165. The city-owned marina was built in 1968.

Nov. 8 ballot referendum 

The Preservation Alliance, in short order, went door-to-door to secure the 1,130 petition signatures needed to add the referendum to the Nov. 8 ballot. Was the City Council’s lawsuit retaliation for that grassroots effort? 

It didn’t take much to sell the referendum’s concept to voters who signed the petition, Mancil said. Since canvasing the city, even more signed petitions have been coming in, she added.     

“What the city is doing is bullying us and the residents and it’s wrong,” Tilley said.

Let’s not downplay the group’s achievement at a time when voter apathy is rampant.

They also raised exception to the city spending time and money to sue its own citizens.

Distrust of the staff and City Council began years ago, Robinson said. When the city bought the dry storage building in 2006, it paid four times more than its appraised value, she said. Then, the city never addressed its needed repairs — such as damage caused by Hurricane Frances — nor needed repairs for docks and other facilities.

“They need to address the docks and other areas of the marina because it’s unsafe over there,” Robinson said. She also doubts the city will generate the revenue it anticipates from marina operations over the course of the next several years.

Robinson, Tilley and Mancil have all lived in Vero Beach for over 30 years. They have raised families and engaged in businesses here. They are not opposed to making the marina profitable. They are opposed to unreasonable expansion plans. 

To me, they easily explained why there is so much distrust of city processes. I think the judge should uphold the citizen-initiated referendum. Residents should be able to decide whether or not they support the expansion of a project — for whatever reason: fiscally, aesthetically or otherwise.  

What I think about marina expansion doesn’t matter. What matters is what Vero Beach citizens think.

Voting timeline

Sept. 30 — Mail-in ballots sent out

Oct. 24 — Early voting begins

Nov. 8 — Election Day

Complete details: Voteindispannriver.gov


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