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‘Right’ on: Two-year A1A intersection work almost complete
week of February 15, 2024

After suffering for almost two years through construction woes at the intersection of State Road A1A and Beachland Boulevard, motorists traveling between the island and the Vero Beach mainland may have smoother sailing soon as they navigate that critical crossroads. All the orange barrels blocking lanes or parts of lanes are finally scheduled to be picked up by Friday, Feb. 23, according to Melissa Simmons, assistant community outreach specialist for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), “pending weather and other unforeseen circumstances.” By that time, all new extended turn lanes should be open to traffic. A contractor earlier this month started the last phase of the twin projects to make traffic flow better through the intersection in Vero’s Central Beach area. At an estimated cost of $5.6 million, the project wasn’t supposed to wind up until the spring of this year, so Simmons indicated construction was basically on schedule. The major project involved lengthening the right-hand turn lane off southbound A1A onto Beachland for motorists heading to the mainland via the Merrill P. Barber bridge. The turn lane will soon stretch along an entire two-block section of A1A starting as far back as Banyan Road. This project took almost two years because it entailed coordinating the work of multiple subcontractors for rebuilding sidewalks, water runoff channels and culverts. READ FULL STORY


South island’s cachet grows for brokers, buyers
week of February 15, 2024

The St. Lucie stretch of the barrier island south of Round Island Park continues to lure Vero buyers, brokers and developers with lower land and home prices and sheer natural beauty. The area was looked down on by 32963 residents as remote and déclassé for decades. But over the past 10 or 12 years, its stock has steadily risen as sophisticated developers launched successful luxury projects along the 6-mile stretch of A1A between the Indian River County line and the Fort Pierce Inlet. Cristelle Cay, an architecturally impressive 21-unit contemporary condo where residents are moving in this month, is a prime example of the quality of island homes that are being created across the county line and their appeal to Vero buyers. The project was developed and sold by refugees from South Florida who came to the barrier island looking for more relaxed personal lifestyles and better development opportunities than they had in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The two-building condominium at 4810 Ocean Palms Dr. sits on a 3.3-acre site with 426 feet of beachfront. It is the handiwork of Vero Beach residents David Gilman and his wife and designer Gail Gilman who started their development careers during the 1960s in Pompano Beach. READ FULL STORY


Concept of county train ‘quiet zone’ falls on deaf ears
week of February 15, 2024

County residents who live near the busier-than-ever Florida East Coast Railway tracks will get no relief from the freight- and passenger-train horns that can be heard throughout the day and are especially disturbing during the late-night and early-morning hours. Putting public safety above residents’ quality of life, the County Commission last week decided to not pursue the establishment of a countywide “quiet zone,” which would have allowed train operators to blow their horns only at certain times of day or in emergency situations. No vote was taken, but none of the five commissioners spoke in favor of the proposal. Three of them – Deryl Loar, Joe Flescher and Laura Moss – voiced strong opposition. “I’m not convinced the quiet zones would be as safe,” Moss said at the commission meeting two Tuesdays ago, when she dismissed the argument that the county could mitigate safety concerns by posting signs warning motorists and pedestrians that approaching trains might not blow their horns. Especially at night,” she added, expressing doubt that the county can trust that all drivers will heed, or even notice, the signs in the dark. READ FULL STORY


Duany’s vision brings clarity to possible downtown of future
week of February 15, 2024

Urban planning guru Andres Duany was showered with applause Friday night at the Vero Beach Community Center as he ended a jaw-dropping, 95-minute presentation of his transformative vision for the future of the city’s downtown area. In fact, an audience approaching 180 people – the gathering included County Administrator John Titkanich, School Superintendent David Moore, and members of both the County Commission and City Council – was so excited about what it had just seen and heard that nobody bothered to ask questions. Instead, the room was abuzz with chatter about the dramatic metamorphosis that Duany, hired by the city to create a downtown revitalization plan, showed was possible with only minimal investment from the city government. “I saw a plan, based on stakeholder input, that gave us a blueprint for what our downtown could look like in the future,” Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno said. “I thought it was aspirational.” It was also achievable, city officials said. “There was a lot to his presentation,” City Planning Director Jason Jeffries said of Duany, the mastermind of Vero Beach’s wildly popular Three Corners Concept Plan to create a dining, retail, social and recreational hub on the mainland’s waterfront. “But I think it was all doable.” READ FULL STORY


Hospital District eyes ‘24/7 Mobile Response’ for mental health crises
week of February 15, 2024

Since mental health crises aren’t confined to business hours, the Indian River County Hospital District is working with its funded agencies to expand an existing program that sends a mental health professional to help prevent arrests and involuntary commitments by getting people the timely help they need. When a 911 call comes in for a person experiencing a mental health crisis, the unit of trained professionals would respond with police and emergency medical personnel, with the role of the psychiatric practitioner being to de-escalate the situation, to prevent the person from harming themselves or others. “We are moving forward in a coordinated effort to bring 24/7 Mobile Response Team services to Indian River County. Currently New Horizons provides this to our county but only during the day. We are looking to extend this to 24/7. This will be better care for the clients and their families and be safer for the mental health providers and law enforcement,” said Hospital District Executive Director Frank Isele. READ FULL STORY


No sand influx soon for eroded Shores beaches
week of February 8, 2024

The eroded beaches of Indian River Shores from John’s Island to the Tracking Station will not be getting the badly needed influx of sand residents were hoping for this winter. There might be time to complete the work before the May 1 start of sea turtle nesting season if this were a commercial project, but there’s not enough time to cut through all the government red tape. Turns out that instead of somehow piggybacking on the $13 million North Barrier Island sand project already underway – having the same contractors continue on south once they finish the 6.6-mile-long dune repair job which ends at the northern edge of John’s Island – the county needs to conduct a separate bidding process for the Shores project. “Even if the permits were issued today, it wouldn’t be possible to get the bidding process done to start construction before April 30,” county spokesperson Kathleen Copeland said last week. But the permits were not issued last week. They won’t be issued this week. And next week’s not looking good either. READ FULL STORY


End to repairs at Conn Beach boardwalk in sight
week of February 8, 2024

Finally! Some 15 months after Hurricane Nicole swept across Indian River County, final repairs at the south end of the Conn Beach boardwalk parking area in Central Beach were underway this week, with barricades and orange safety cones soon to be a thing of the past. Conn Beach is the quarter-mile-long stretch immediately south of Jaycee Park, across from the Racquet Club, where Ocean Drive curves, and diagonal parking spaces line its length. The Conn Beach boardwalk that runs between the dune and the street, highly popular with walkers as well as beachgoers, sustained damage in the Nov. 10, 2022 storm, and repair work since has moved at a glacial pace. The current Conn Beach project, says Vero Beach Assistant City Engineer Danessa Chambers, is specifically to repair the storm-damaged parking area that runs along the boardwalk. For months, a large hole in the roadway, as well as orange cones, yellow tape and concrete barriers, have prevented beachgoers from using many of the parking spots. According to Chambers, the current construction project, “will be complete by Feb. 29, as the work must be done prior to sea turtle nesting season.” READ FULL STORY


Looking to future, county taps planning firm to chart growth
week of February 8, 2024

More people, more houses, more businesses, and more roads clearly are coming to Indian River County – so the $128,000 question is whether after 34 years, the time has come to expand the Urban Services Boundary. That is the question an urban planning firm, Inspire Placemaking Collective, has been retained to study over the next nine months. The current boundary, which Indian River County established in 1990 to control urban sprawl and keep a lid on public infrastructure costs, lets the county provide water, sewer and other infrastructure within the boundary but not beyond it. The boundary encompasses most of the county east of I-95 – though there are two vast rural enclaves excluded – and a chunk of the county along route 60 west of I-95 along with the geographically expansive City of Fellsmere. The county’s population has nearly doubled since 1990, from 90,000 to 174,000 this year and is expected to approach 200,000 by the end of the decade, but the boundary limiting development “has remained essentially unchanged” during that time, according to the county’s request for proposals. READ FULL STORY


New cop on downtown Vero beat seen as positive presence
week of February 8, 2024

“Fair but firm.” That’s how Vero Beach Police Officer Jeff Otis described his approach to his interactions with the homeless population in the city’s downtown area, particularly in and around Pocahontas Park. Otis, who brings 26 years of law-enforcement experience to the job, began patrolling the downtown streets last week – on foot – as the police department launched its newly created Community Oriented Policing Unit. The department’s decision to assign an officer to walk the downtown beat came at the urging of the City Council amid years of complaints of vagrants harassing pedestrians along 14th Avenue, behaving inappropriately in the park and loitering at the Rotary Fountain. “Whenever we talked about improving our downtown, we heard repeatedly from the community about the problem with the unhoused people in that area,” Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno said. “The situation had gotten to a point where it was making people uncomfortable, especially women and particularly in the park. That became the catalyst to get something done.” READ FULL STORY


Three Corners: Four development groups submit proposals
week of February 8, 2024

Four development groups – including one based in Vero – submitted proposals to Vero Beach city officials for the Three Corners project. A fifth group attempted to submit a proposal, but it arrived at City Hall 15 minutes after Friday’s 2:30 p.m. deadline and was not accepted. “It was just a manila folder,” City Manager Monte Falls said. “The other four proposals came in boxes.” Three of the proposals submitted on time were from out of town. The fourth proposal was submitted by Vista Blue Vero Beach Resort & Spa, a group headed by Donald Urgo, president and CEO of Maryland-based Urgo Hotels & Resorts. READ FULL STORY


Bill regulating taxing districts gains steam
week of February 8, 2024

A bill in the Florida House of Representatives regulating many of Florida’s special, independent taxing districts has now been approved by a unanimous 114 to 0 vote and is moving swiftly through the Florida Senate. But the most drastic provision, requiring districts like Indian River County Hospital District and the Indian River County Mosquito Control District, to survive a voter referendum every decade has been dropped from the bill. Chairwoman Marybeth Cunningham of the local hospital district, which utilizes tax dollars to support a variety of healthcare programs in Indian River County, said the requirement that voters confirm the continuance of the district every ten years would have created “a serious disruption to the many agencies and programs that depend on district funding.” The idea behind requiring that voters re-authorize the existence of special taxing districts like the Hospital District and the Mosquito Control District was to eliminate unnecessary or wasteful layers of government to save taxpayers money. What legislators didn’t fully consider before the bill was filed, however, was that most of the affected districts must recruit highly skilled or even licensed professionals to carry out their mission, and the lack of job security that an every 10-year existential referendum would cause would make challenging to hire and keep qualified employees. READ FULL STORY


Vero High takes quantum leap in graduation rates
week of February 1, 2024

A month after receiving an “A” grade from the Florida Department of Education for the 2022-23 academic year, the county’s school district learned last week that its 95.6-percent high school graduation rate ranked No. 3 in the state. The district’s graduation rate for the Class of 2023 not only jumped a full percentage point over the previous year, but it was also the highest on the Treasure Coast and well above the state’s 88-percent rate. Notably, Black and Hispanic students achieved huge strides over the past four years, with 9 percent more Black students earning high school diplomas, and Hispanic students surpassing white, non-Hispanic students by graduating at a 15 percent higher rate than in the 2018-19 school year. Since the pre-COVID school year of 2018-19, the district’s graduation rate has increased from 88.5 percent, rising more than seven percentage points and 17 places in the state rankings in a four-year period. “To me, it’s the best indicator of a system’s success,” Schools Superintendent David Moore said of the district’s graduation rate. “To go from 89 to 96 percent – with a pandemic in between – means we’re using data to drive instruction. We’re monitoring students’ progress, adapting in real time and intervening when necessary. READ FULL STORY


Falling interest rates fuel Vero realty market
week of February 1, 2024

An early season surge in the housing market here that started in mid-January has island and mainland real estate agents feeling upbeat after a tough 2023, when high interest rates and low housing inventory damped down the historic pandemic property boom. “I have been on roller skates the past two weeks,” said Douglas Elliman broker associate Sally Daley. “Communities that had been soft now [are suddenly busy]. Sellers and buyers are back with a vengeance.” “It has definitely picked up in terms of interested buyers,” said Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty agent Chip Landers. “We are talking about it around the office. Normally you have a lot of people this time of year looking, but now they are actually buying,” especially on the mainland, where homes are moving almost twice as fast as on the island. “The market is starting to loosen up with the lower interest rates,” said Scott Reynolds, leader of the Reynolds Team at Compass. READ FULL STORY


Mental Health Association expands to meet ‘exponential’ increase in demand
week of February 1, 2024

The Mental Health Association, an important resource for local residents since the 1970s and an organization generously supported by island foundations and donors, has taken over the space vacated by the UF Behavioral Health practice to help better serve a community still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. In Vero Beach, residents shared the emotional impacts of isolation, upheaval, worry, loss and Long COVID that people felt elsewhere during the pandemic. But local residents also faced the economic pressures of a housing crunch caused by 1.5 million new Floridians and a property insurance crisis, coupled with double-digit inflation on life essentials boosting the cost of everything from rent and utilities, to food and fuel. This perfect storm of factors has driven more Indian River County residents young and old to seek a therapist’s help, and the Mental Health Association is often the first point of contact for these patients, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. “The pandemic has jump-started a sequence of events that will never be reversible. We are reeling. We are reeling in this community. I’m a psychologist and a CEO and I can tell you we are in a full-blown mental health pandemic,” said Mental Health Association CEO Philip Cromer, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist. READ FULL STORY


Hallmark of compassion endures as Community Church turns 100
week of February 1, 2024

In February 1924, the Village of Vero Beach – still just “Vero” – was only five years old, streets were unpaved, there were no traffic lights, the bridge from the mainland was made of wood. But the land boom was in full swing, Waldo Sexton had begun creating his iconic buildings, and the Community Church had just been organized, with 83 members. Today, Community Church’s membership is over 2,000. Senior Minister Rev. Dr. Anna V. Copeland, Community Church’s 13th senior minister, sees the year-long centennial celebration as a time to express gratitude “to the visionaries who preceded us, who imagined a community church of diverse people committed to the conviction that there is more that binds us together than separates us in the worship of God: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, diversity; in all things – love.” The congregation’s first female senior minister, Copeland describes the church’s “epic journey” and the foundational beliefs that have made it a robust beacon in the Vero faith community and beyond. READ FULL STORY


Seven-member panel will field, rank best Three Corners pitches
week of February 1, 2024

The Three Corners Selection Committee, which will recommend to the Vero Beach City Council the developer’s proposal it believes is best for the much-hyped mainland waterfront project, has been chosen. The seven-member panel includes four city department heads, the chairmen of the city’s Planning & Zoning Board and Finance Commission, and the chairwoman of the now-disbanded Three Corners Steering Committee. According to City Manager Monte Falls, each of the Selection Committee members will independently review the proposals and rank them based on the city’s criteria, which include the developers’ financial means, technical capability and conformity with the council-approved Three Corners Concept Plan. The committee then, as a group, will invite the developers of what it considers to be the best three or four proposals – it could be as few as two or as many as five, if that’s all the city receives – to come to Vero Beach to make in-person presentations and field questions. READ FULL STORY


‘Ultra-luxury’ rental apartments to grace Indian River Boulevard
week of January 25, 2024

Island residents driving north on Indian River Boulevard from the Barber Bridge have been wondering for some time what is about to go up at the massive construction site just south of Regency Park and 41st Street. Turns out it’s a high-end apartment and townhouse complex – with spacious units ranging up to 2,800 square feet that will start at $5,500 per month – which developer Tom Cavanaugh says will bring a new level of luxury to rental living in Indian River County. The 189-unit project – designed in large part for downsizing islanders looking for an elegant, carefree lifestyle – clearly stands apart from typical rental communities. “There is nothing else like it in Vero Beach,” Cavanaugh told Vero Beach 32963, “and not much else like it on the East Coast of Florida.” READ FULL STORY


Medical school outlines initial campus plans
week of January 25, 2024

The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine or VCOM hopes to have building plans approved this summer for a fall construction start on a future state-of-the-art medical training facility in leased quarters adjacent to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. But a full four-year medical school campus in Vero Beach is likely eight to 10 years off. What VCOM hopes to do in the near term is establish a robust residency training program on the Treasure Coast with third- and fourth-year medical students from its other campuses doing clinical rotations here, and then begin training first and second year medical students here in partnership with Cleveland Clinic by 2027. The top leadership of VCOM – which is headquartered at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg with campuses in Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina – provided a detailed timeline of its goals for a Vero medical school clinical campus to the Indian River County Hospital District which discussed them at a meeting last week. READ FULL STORY


Despite financial woes, Sebastian’s hospital is not seen on life support
week of January 25, 2024

Critical medical supplies may run short from time to time, but insiders insist that despite “obvious cash flow problems,” lawsuits by unpaid vendors and reports that the Sebastian River Medical Center is six months in arrears on its water and sewer bill, the hospital is nowhere near to shutting its doors. “I do know what’s going on,” says Theresa Tolle, who is chairperson of the hospital’s local Board of Trustees and runs the independent Bay Street Pharmacy across U.S. Route One from the North County hospital. “And I do not believe that the closing of the hospital is imminent.” Tolle says she was not authorized to share any further details on the financial condition of the hospital or its plans for the immediate future because of corporate policies. But she acknowledged that the cash flow problems of the for-profit hospital and its parent company are well documented. Sebastian River Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Ronald Bierman failed to respond to Vero Beach 32963 requests for further information, as did the designated public information spokesperson for the parent company’s area hospitals, who is located at another facility in Rockledge in Brevard County. READ FULL STORY


Duany: Downtown needs to be ‘cooler and hipper’ than Ocean Drive
week of January 25, 2024

Spend a few minutes with Andres Duany, who visited Vero Beach last week to educate himself about the city’s desire to revitalize its downtown, and you’ll soon realize the 74-year-old architect and urban planner can be blunt in sharing his opinions and assessments. Though he does so in the most gentlemanly way, he tells you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear, especially when discussing his work. Duany – the renown “father of New Urbanism” who created Vero Beach’s Three Corners Master Concept city voters approved in a November 2022 referendum – provided some of his raw honesty during a dinner-hour break in last week’s reconnaissance mission, saying:
While he’s expected to collect input from the entire community, he said he’d prefer to talk to only residents no more than 45 years old, because they’re the people to whom the downtown area must appeal most.
• To compete with Ocean Drive and, eventually, the Three Corners, Vero’s downtown needs to have an edgy, cool feel that attracts young adults. But establishments, as well as any future housing in the neighborhood, must be affordable to that crucial demographic.
• He said he was “shocked” by the public sector’s unwillingness to help the private sector here through funding or public-private partnerships, as well as by the bureaucratic impediments local government places in the way of development.
READ FULL STORY


Covid-19 cases soar here since Thanksgiving
week of January 18, 2024

The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 each week has tripled here since Thanksgiving, and the area’s oldest residents make up 43 percent of those getting sick enough to seek medical attention. Thanksgiving week, only 42 positive cases, an average of six per day, were reported to the Florida Department of Health from Indian River County. The week after Thanksgiving that number decreased sightly to 39 cases. Then in December the numbers began to creep up. Of the 129 new cases reported for the week ending Jan. 11, a total of 56 cases were people age 65 and older. Looking at the 50-plus age group, that number increases to 80 cases out of 129. Part of the reason for this is likely the use of at-home test kits by people with mild cases of COVID-19 illness who do not seek medical treatment – those case numbers are not captured in the state statistics. So naturally, older residents would be more inclined to seek out the Paxlovid treatment to head off severe disease and prevent hospitalization than younger people with no underlying chronic health issues. READ FULL STORY


Shores still pushing for beach replenishment
week of January 18, 2024

Hope is waning for residents waiting to get sand placed on Indian River Shores’ dunes ahead of the unknowns of the 2024 Atlantic Hurricane Season, but town officials are doing everything in their power to make it happen. The town hired its own coastal engineers to quantify damage to beaches from Turtle Trail south to the Tracking Station, and to file an independent application to have that stretch of beach declared critically eroded by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Each week, town public works or public safety staffers ride out to the beach to document each new escarpment chewed away by winter storm systems. Shores oceanfront property owners have quickly signed and returned the required number of easement agreements needed to give county crews permission to work on the beach. Funding is in place to purchase the sand. Now it’s a race against time, as turtle nesting season starts in the spring, and the absolute latest workers can be on the beach is May 1, with special permits. Regulators prefer all heavy equipment be off the beaches by the time the first Leatherback turtles begin nesting in March, and that’s only six weeks away. READ FULL STORY


Name and fame: Vero native son Mardy Fish nets dual tennis honors
week of January 18, 2024

The United States Tennis Association has made sure Vero Beach never forgets its home-grown tennis star. In a 45-minute ceremony Sunday at Riverside Park, the USTA Florida Section commemorated the tennis career and community involvement of Mardy Fish – a former top-10 player, Olympic silver medalist and U.S. Davis Cup Captain – by naming the island facility’s courts in his honor. Fish, now 42, retired from tennis and living in Los Angeles, was also inducted into the USTA Florida Hall of Fame, which provided a video highlighting his contributions to the game and beyond, including the work of the Vero Beach-based Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation and his efforts to promote the cause of mental health. The dual-purpose event, which was attended by a gathering of about 100 friends, dignitaries and members of the local tennis community, was part of USTA Florida’s 75th Anniversary celebration. “It’s very humbling,” Fish said after the formalities, glancing over at the “Mardy Fish Courts at Riverside Racquet Complex” plaque that will be attached to the city-owned, USTA Florida-run facility. “It’s also very nostalgic. READ FULL STORY


Famed ‘barcode lady’s house’ – listed at $60M – back on the auction block
week of January 18, 2024

One of the most famous houses on the island, long known as “the barcode lady’s house” and later renamed Palazzo Di Mare, is going on the auction block once again. The Regency Revival-style home at 2150 S. Highway A1A in the island’s estate section will be offered for sale by Concierge Auctions, with bidding to start on Jan. 31 at 5 p.m. and close at 5 p.m. on Feb. 15. The house is currently listed at $60 million but there is no reserve price in the auction. When Concierge last auctioned the property in 2019, it sold for $11.48 million, the auction company said. The house – the first major home built in what later became known as the estate section – was the creation of Sharon Nicholson, widow of William Nicholson, inventor of barcode technology and co-founder of Retail Grocery Inventory Service, now called RGIS, a leading inventory control company. The 23,315-square-foot house sits on a 6-acre ocean-to-river lot with 205 feet of ocean frontage and 198 feet of river shoreline. READ FULL STORY


Going fast: Final phase of $25M luxury garage project is half sold
week of January 18, 2024

A half dozen Ferraris, a $2 million Provost motorhome, luxury boats, and collections of historic maps, books and military figurines: All will soon have a new home, safe from the fiercest Florida storms, in phase 2 of Motorhaus 2.0. A year and a half after breaking ground on the 100,000-square-foot, $25 million luxury garage project, builder Vic Lombardi says “the market reception has been incredible.” “We will be finished in late March or early April, and I expect to be sold out by then,” says his partner Joe Schulke, an engineer with Schulke, Bittle & Stoddard, one of the county’s top civil and structural engineering firms. The partners completed the project’s 7-building, 67-unit first phase last summer, a year after breaking ground, selling units for an average of about $300,000. Buyers came from as far away as Melbourne Beach, but 90 percent of the units were purchased by 32963 island residents, according to Schulke. The developers broke ground on the 3-building, 25-unit second phase in October. Three months later, all the tilt-wall, concrete-and-steel buildings are up, and half the units sold. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian River Medical Center $75K in arrears on utility bills
week of January 18, 2024

As national reports show Steward Health Care’s network of hospitals deeply in arrears on rent, public records show Sebastian River Medical Center several months behind in bills for essential utility services. The hospital’s utility bills are public record, and a ledger of those bills show SRMC started out 2023 owing $33,000 in water and sewer bills to Indian River County Utilities. Payments were made in the first half of the year to catch up, but at the end of December the balance due for the main hospital facility was more than $75,000. This represents roughly six months of water service, as monthly bills average between $12,000 and $13,000. The last payment made on the account was on July 3, for $43,173.75. The hospital has incurred nearly $5,000 in late fees and penalties since January 2023. County officials did not respond when asked if some special arrangements had been made with the hospital to ensure that the water and sewer services remained on despite the delinquency. Messages left for SRMC CEO Ronald Bierman, and with the Steward media office in Rockledge, were not returned as of press time. READ FULL STORY


Father, surgeon son charged in New Year’s wine bar stabbing
week of January 11, 2024

A father and his surgeon son face serious charges after a stabbing in the wee hours of New Year’s Day at a popular island wine bar left a 26-year-old island man bleeding on the sidewalk. What was supposed to be an evening of revelry to usher in 2024 turned violent after a supposed dispute over a seating arrangement at Grind and Grape on Bougainvillea Lane just off Ocean Drive. Vero Beach police said Michael Gaudiani II, 30, an orthopedic surgeon in Michigan who graduated from Harvard University and Case Western Reserve Medical School, pulled another bar patron forward while his father, Michael Gaudiani, 66, of Vero Beach and Shaker Heights, Ohio, stabbed the man in the abdomen. “The victim stated the next thing he knew, he was bleeding from his side out on the sidewalk,” police said in the arrest report. “He stated he did not know the person who stabbed him and had never seen him before.” After the incident happened near the bar, security staff separated the patrons, noticed Haynes was injured and called for help. The Gaudianis were already gone before police arrived, officers said. Police later found the pair at the senior Gaudiani’s residence on Seagrape Lane in Riomar. READ FULL STORY


New charge for island woman in parade crash
week of January 11, 2024

The trial of Summerplace resident Susan Harvey for DUI and leaving the scene of a crash in which her car ran down two elderly Indian River Shores residents had been scheduled to begin this week. But instead of jury selection Monday, the 74-year-old found herself taking a trip to county jail to be re-arrested for felony DUI manslaughter of one of the victims who never recovered from the crash. Harvey, a 20-year Indian River County resident, was released on $25,000 bond Monday afternoon. The charges stem from an evening in December 2021 when Harvey had been drinking at the Ocean Grill – admitting to police she had two Cosmopolitans with dinner – then got behind the wheel of her Lexus, and struck the elderly couple as they were departing the Vero Beach Ocean Drive Christmas parade. Police say Harvey kept driving after she hit the man and woman – who were walking with folding chairs to the Reef Ocean Resort where their vehicle was parked – seemingly unaware she’d struck anyone. She was stopped by people in the crowd, which included an off-duty Vero Beach police officer attending the parade with his family, and failed police-administered roadside sobriety tests. READ FULL STORY


Did Vero Beach Bridge Club misplay its hand and lose out on $100K donation?
week of January 11, 2024

The cash-strapped Vero Beach Bridge Club, which has suffered from a steep decline in membership and attendance since the COVID pandemic, may have just blown a chance at getting its biggest donation ever – a $100,000 grant from its highest-ranked player. Club President Denis Conlon says he never believed a real offer was on the table of a $100,000 donation from 81-year-old Reanette Frobouck, a 10-year winter resident of the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club and a snowbird from Pittsburgh, and added that he just wants Frobouck to go away. Conlon has apparently convinced the other nine members of the club’s board to go along with his strategy. Frobouck and her estranged husband Stephen, a successful Pennsylvania fracking entrepreneur, say the $100,000 offer most assuredly was real. All they wanted in return was some kind of apology over the way she was treated during and after a club game last March, when club director and manager George Weber made a ruling against her and in favor of his own wife and club co-manager, Jan. READ FULL STORY


Island’s ultra-luxury listings garner worldwide attention
week of January 11, 2024

The top end of the barrier island real estate market is set for a spectacular season, according to ONE Sotheby’s International Realty broker associate Cindy O’Dare. “There is a momentum building we have not seen before,” O’Dare told Vero Beach 32963 last week. “Based on the number of showings we have had already, much earlier than usual, and the number of inquiries and scheduled showings, we think it is going to be an amazing season.” “I think the island will have more $10-million-and-up sales between now and June than we ever have in any six-month period,” added Richard Boga, co-founder of the O’Dare Boga Dobson Group at ONE Sotheby’s. “By historical averages, the ultra-luxury properties we have on the market now amount to a four- or five-year supply, but I think we will prove the average wrong. Everything won’t sell this season, obviously, but we are expecting a lot of transactions.” The momentum is driven by multiple factors – a strong stock market, which gives high-end buyers confidence, lower prices in Vero than in Palm Beach and Miami for comparable homes, and the exceptional range of ultra-luxury properties that have come on the market in 32963. READ FULL STORY


School Board hopeful’s wife charged for ‘leaving the scene’ after collision
week of January 11, 2024

School Board candidate Rob MacCallum’s wife was charged with “leaving the scene of an accident with property damage” after her pick-up truck crashed into the back end of a sports utility vehicle on State Road 60 on Dec. 30. The Sheriff’s Office report stated that witnesses provided deputies with the truck’s license-plate number and described the vehicle as “smoking and having front-end damage” as the driver left the scene without stopping. Colleen MacCallum, 38, was arrested at her Vero Beach home shortly after the collision, which occurred at about 4:30 p.m. near the 53rd Avenue intersection. She was booked into the County Jail two hours later and was released at about 7:45 p.m., after posting a $500 cash bond. Her arraignment on the second-degree misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail and a $500 fine, is scheduled for Jan. 23 before County Judge Nicole Menz. Reached by phone last weekend, Rob MacCallum said he didn’t want to comment on the incident because it was an “ongoing legal matter.” He said he didn’t believe it would affect his campaign. READ FULL STORY


County administrator feels at home here despite delays in getting into his house
week of January 11, 2024

County Administrator John Titkanich still isn’t home, but he’s here. “We’re in the county,” Titkanich said. And, for now, that’s all that matters – because the three-year contract he signed last spring gave him until Dec. 31 to become a county resident. But it’s costing him. For months, Titkanich has been waiting for construction to be completed on a house he and his wife are having built in an unincorporated part of the county between Vero Beach and Sebastian. He was planning to move in last summer – no later than August – before his two children started school here, but he and his family have been frustrated by repeated construction delays, ranging from materials being unavailable to work-crew shortages. Those delays continued through the end of the year, prompting Titkanich in the final days of December to lease a vacation rental home at significantly inflated seasonal rates to meet the residency deadline in his contract. Titkanich would not disclose the rate, saying only that it’s costing him more to lease the vacation home here for 15 days than he had been paying in monthly rent in southern Brevard County. He was renting because the home he and his wife owned there sold faster than they expected. READ FULL STORY


Bill would place Hospital District under microscope
week of January 4, 2024

A Florida House of Representatives subcommittee wants voters to decide – starting in November 2026, and every 10 years after that – whether certain types of local entities like the Indian River County Hospital District and the local mosquito control district should continue to exist for another decade or be dissolved. Florida over the years has accumulated nearly 2,000 special districts that show up on tax bills, and these entities typically go about their business with little oversight and almost no media coverage. But about 118 of these districts – which operate independently of counties and cities, including our local hospital and mosquito control districts – could be impacted by the new legislation, which in December was approved 11-to-4 by the House Local Administration, Federal Affairs and Special Districts subcommittee. State Rep. Robbie Brackett, a former Vero mayor and the Republican vice chair of the subcommittee, voted for the bill which has bipartisan support. “There are a lot of these districts that have existed for a long time,” said the panel’s ranking Democrat member, Rep. Dan Daley of Coral Springs. “Some of them do a great job, and some of them don’t. READ FULL STORY


Orchid Cove celebrates opening after arduous journey
week of January 4, 2024

Seventeen years after it was first approved by county planners as Michael Creek, the boutique luxury subdivision now called Orchid Cove located at the eastern end of the Wabasso Bridge is finally complete. “All the homes have been sold, there are boats in the marina, and we got the certificate of occupancy for the clubhouse on Dec. 8, in time for our holiday party,” said Albert Lim, president of the Orchid Cove homeowners’ association. Lim and fellow HOA board members Bill Binder, vice president, and Keith Lehman, treasurer, took over governance of the 57-home community on behalf of the residents in June. They are upbeat about the completion of the subdivision and the clubhouse, which they said will add to the growing sense of community in the compact, riverside development. “One of the things I like best is how small the community is. We only have one street [a road that circles the internal lake] and you get to know just about everybody,” said Lehman, who bought his waterfront house from Vero Beach PD Homes in 2020. “We had a very nice turnout at the Christmas party.” READ FULL STORY


‘King of Hill’ tourney still reigns supreme for local tennis pros
week of January 4, 2024

Sea Oaks Tennis Director Joe Biedenharn turns 59 next month, but he simply could not refuse the invitation to join more than two dozen area teaching pros and top amateurs in another King of the Hill tournament, the annual fundraising event for the local Youth Guidance Mentoring Academy. The reason? The man doing the asking. “To be honest, I never though I’d still be playing the King of the Hill,” Biedenharn said of the wildly popular event, which is scheduled to start next week and serve up six consecutive Thursday nights of on-court entertainment, from Jan. 11 through Feb. 15, at The Boulevard Tennis Club. But you can’t say no to Gigi.” Biedenharn, who started teaching tennis in the Vero Beach area in the late 1990s, was referring to the tournament’s founder and organizer, Gigi Casapu, a former local pro who now oversees the operations at Cascades in St. Lucie West. Casapu began inviting him to compete in the event in 1997, and Biedenharn has always answered the call. “I’ve played in all of them, except the very first one in ’96,” Biedenharn said. “Thank goodness Gigi has been adding senior divisions.” READ FULL STORY


Impressive response could see Breeze’s new seasonal service to Islip extended
week of January 4, 2024

From the moment Breeze Airways arrived in Vero Beach last February – when the Utah-based carrier introduced nonstop jet service to and from Hartford, Connecticut, and Westchester County, New York – local residents began asking for a connection to another off-Broadway market. Islip. Or as Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher called it: “The one city that more people kept mentioning over and over.” Two weeks ago, Breeze gave the people what they wanted, adding twice-per-week service between Vero Beach and Islip’s MacArthur Airport on New York’s Long Island. And the initial response to the seasonal service has been even better than airline officials expected. “Islip just started only a week ago,” Breeze spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones said last week, “but it is already performing as well as or better than our other destinations from Vero for the winter months ahead.” Edmondson-Jones said February looks to be an “especially strong” month for the Vero-Islip route, attributing at least some of the surge in bookings to students being off from school for winter break. But he added that bookings for all of Breeze’s flights between Vero Beach and the Northeast – including Providence, Rhode Island, as well Hartford, Westchester County and Islip – are promising. READ FULL STORY


Rotarians want to revitalize once-proud fountain
week of December 28, 2023

The Centennial Fountain at Pocahontas Park, erected by the county’s five Rotary clubs in 2005 to commemorate the organization’s 100th anniversary, has become a downtown eyesore, suffering from a lack of maintenance and respect. Most days, in fact, the once-celebrated monument serves as a gathering place for the neighborhood’s troublesome homeless population, which uses the fountain to bathe and wash clothes. Now, the Vero Beach area’s Rotary clubs want to refurbish the structure and, possibly, create a landscaped buffer or install fencing to prevent people from entering or touching the water. “We recognize we need to do something,” Marty Lewis, assistant governor for the county’s Rotary clubs, told the Vero Beach City Council. “We don’t want the fountain to go away, but we don’t like the way it’s deteriorated somewhat.” Lewis said the clubs plan to collaborate to preserve and protect the fountain that cost $77,000 to build but, in recent years, has become an “attractive nuisance.” He said two of the Vero Beach-area clubs already have committed to the project and, based on recent conversations, he believes all four will join the effort, which will include retaining the actual fountain. READ FULL STORY


Fort Pierce gains support here for Brightline station
week of December 28, 2023

Long the most anti-train county on the Treasure Coast, much of our community appears to be having a partial change of heart – but not yet a majority of the County Commission. When Brightline announced in October that its Treasure Coast station would be in either Martin County or St. Lucie County – not in Indian River – it was as if a lightbulb lit above the heads of some government officials and business leaders here. They suddenly saw clearly advantages of convenient access to a modern, high-speed train that could whisk Vero residents to Miami or Orlando – and Tampa, if Brightline’s dreams come true – and help bolster the economy of the region. And they knew if there was only going to be one stop along the Treasure Coast, they wanted it in Fort Piece, where the city and a private developer who says his project is fully funded are competing to build a station. “Stuart is too far away to be used by people from Vero,” said Vero Beach mayor John Cotugno. “Fort Pierce is much closer to our city and south county and would be a great option for residents traveling to Orlando.” READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic’s expanded services fill void for older, underinsured psychiatric patients
week of December 28, 2023

Hundreds of local Medicare Advantage policyholders who were at risk of being without their psychiatric medications in 2024 got an early Christmas present this month when Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital worked out a solution through its Behavioral Health Center. In the process of referring 2,600 patients to other providers in preparation for Friday’s closing of the University of Florida Center for Psychiatry and Addiction, the Indian River County Hospital District was alerted that many of UF’s older patients had insurance that the area’s private psychiatrists do not accept. In November, it appeared that the Hospital District might need to provide emergency funding of $350 per visit for several months so at least the 200 underinsured residents who live in Indian River County could be seen by doctors to get monthly prescriptions renewed for needed antidepressant, anti-anxiety, antipsychotic and other medications. But even with the funding problem theoretically solved, it wasn’t certain that the private physicians could or would absorb hundreds of new patients into their schedules. If patients fell through the cracks, they could end up in Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital’s Emergency Department – or worse, there was the danger that they could harm themselves or others. READ FULL STORY


Vero cheers $25M in state grants for new wastewater plant
week of December 28, 2023

Christmas came early for Vero Beach, where officials learned last week the city had been awarded $25 million in state grants to help fund the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant. And another gift from Tallahassee could arrive before Valentine’s Day. “We’re obviously ecstatic with the state money we’ve received,” City Manager Monte Falls said after the first two grants were announced two Mondays ago, “and we’re pretty confident more is on the way.” In 2020, the City Council approved a plan to replace its existing and outdated wastewater treatment plant – built on the banks of the Indian River Lagoon in the 1970s – with a new facility scheduled to begin operations at the Vero Beach Regional Airport in the first quarter of 2027. Inflation, however, has pushed the projected cost of building and connecting a new plant from $82 million in 2021 to $132 million now. “That’s the best estimate we currently have,” Falls replied when asked Friday if the cost could go even higher. The plant-construction project, which is scheduled to break ground this summer and take 30 months to complete, will be funded primarily by rate increases imposed on the city’s water and wastewater customers, including unincorporated county residents who live in the South Beach area and residents of Indian River Shores. READ FULL STORY


$500K John’s Island Foundation grant targets housing
week of December 28, 2023

To help alleviate homeless in Vero, the John’s Island Foundation recently awarded a $500,000 McCabe Leadership Grant to the Hope For Families Center, to be applied to the nonprofit’s $5.5 million Capital Campaign to expand their shelter. The amount is the foundation’s largest gift to date, more than doubling the $200,000 McCabe Leadership Grant awarded two years ago to the Coalition for Attainable Homes. The HFC has raised $4.25 million for the three-phase expansion, which will increase the number of rooms by 20, doubling shelter’s capacity. “A couple of years ago, when we were thinking about what was going on in the community, we decided to do some more work on specific topics that the board had particular interest in,” said Don Blair, JIF board president. “Essentially, our board identified affordable housing as an area that we felt was a significant problem in the community, and we wanted to deploy more money against that. We were very impressed with Hope for Families, the way they approach their mission and what they're doing, as well as the grant process,” said Blair. READ FULL STORY


Dick Haverland remembered as difference maker
week of December 21, 2023

Dick Haverland remembered as difference maker Richard M. “Dick” Haverland, known for his sharp mind and even sharper pencil during his nearly eight years on the Indian River Shores Town Council, passed away Dec. 9 at the age of 82 at his summer home in Little Compton, R.I. A graduate of both Princeton and Stanford universities, the John’s Island resident was a product of the Roman Catholic school system – training he credited with preparing him both for life and for success after high school. Haverland and his wife of 58 years, Rosemary, showed their gratitude by investing generously in endowed scholarships at Dick’s alma mater, Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York, giving more than $10 million over the years to help thousands of worthy students get the kind of education he benefited from. Locally, Haverland supported the John’s Island Community Service League, Childcare Resources and the Learning Alliance of Vero Beach, Riverside Theatre, Vero Beach Museum of Art, the United Way of Indian River County, Indian River Land Trust and the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Foundation. READ FULL STORY


St. Edward’s girls soccer getting a kick out of sudden success
week of December 21, 2023

The perfect weather for soccer – gray skies, a cool breeze and a slight drizzle illuminating a damp pitch – provided the backdrop for Saint Edward’s girls soccer to do what it has done all year: win and win big. Pirates players said they entered the year, coming off a 4-9-1 record in 2022-23, with no high expectations. But after a dominant first half of the season, Saint Edward’s brings only one loss through eight matches home for Christmas break. Led by first-year Head Coach Alexandra Pulido, a Saint Edward’s alum who worked as an assistant under former coach Jeffrey Lamscha, girls soccer has established itself as this year’s team to watch in the winter. Pulido said the main difference between this year and last has been the focus on simply staying positive and having fun. “Giving these girls an opportunity, giving them the best three months that I can as far having fun, learning the sport, being a team, working as a team and making memories more than anything. I think that’s my philosophy so far,” Pulido said. READ FULL STORY


Seaside Grill’s re-opening comes as early Christmas gift
week of December 21, 2023

It’s open at last! The Seaside Grill, Jaycee Park’s iconic eatery, re-opened its doors Dec. 12 just in time for the holidays, and was warmly welcomed back by its fans who had waited an unexpected 20 months for this moment. The little blue-and-white wooden structure, owned by the city of Vero Beach, was shuttered in April 2022 when its long-time proprietors, Dan Culumber and his family, retired and gave up their lease after three decades of serving patrons. South Florida restaurateurs Andy Studebaker and Wylie Wong of SW Hospitality Group partners won out over a field of seven firms bidding to take over the restaurant space and got to work on renovations and repairs as soon as receiving the keys that July. But after uncovering structural and equipment issues no one had foreseen, as well as the need to deal with updated building and health code requirements, “the extensive repairs and renovations took the project longer than anyone anticipated,” says City Manager Monte Falls. Far longer. READ FULL STORY


Stricter standards, requirements seen in construction of new island condos
week of December 21, 2023

The collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside two and a half years sent shock waves through the Florida condo market, raising fears of additional collapses in older residential buildings. But stricter inspection and repair requirements put in place in 2022, a year after the disaster, have provided some sense of security for residents in older condos – and new condos recently built or under construction in 32963 are far more structurally sound than the 12-story building that suddenly crumbled to the ground on Miami’s barrier island in June 2021. Take the new oceanfront condominium at 30 Indigo Lane next to Tracking Station Park at the northern edge of the City of Vero Beach. The shell of this 37,000-square-foot building is mostly complete and many of its structural elements can still be seen from the park. It will contain a garage level and three residential levels with six luxury condos, two per floor, and it could not be much more precisely planned and thoroughly engineered if it were a 100-story tower in Manhattan or a spacecraft destined for Mars. READ FULL STORY


Twin Pairs lane-reduction push ends
week of December 21, 2023

The “zombie project,” as Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno dubbed the repeatedly rejected and resurrected push for lane reduction along the Twin Pairs through the city’s downtown, is dead again. Until at least 2045, anyway. That’s the next time the Florida Department of Transportation will seek community input for its every-20-years cycle for the resurfacing of State Road 60 in Vero Beach. For now, though – because the City Council last week rebuffed proponents’ latest effort to reduce that strategic, half-mile stretch of the county’s most-travelled east-west corridor to two lanes in each direction – State Road 60 won’t see any jarring changes after FDOT crews repave the roadway in fiscal 2027. Instead, when the project is completed, motorists here will notice only minor improvements, which were part of a compromise plan the council voted 4-1 to approve during a special-call meeting two Tuesdays ago. READ FULL STORY


Hackers in Iran attack computer at Vero Utilities
week of December 14, 2023

The Mideast war touched Vero early on Thanksgiving Day when an Israeli-made component that monitors and adjusts odor at the municipal wastewater treatment plant was attacked remotely by hackers in Iran. Water-sewer Utility Director Rob Bolton told the Utilities Commission last week that the equipment called a programmable logic controller was taken over and briefly controlled by Iranian operators. “The City of Vero Beach was the first one that was hacked in the United States” via the Israeli equipment, Bolton said. “It happened at 2 o’clock in the morning on Thanksgiving morning, so I got the phone call about it and we shut the system off.” There was no ransomware injected into the system and no demands were made of the city by the hackers. The hacked component at the sewer plant also had no link to the city’s billing or customer data systems; its sole role at the plant was odor control. Bolton, in consultation with the city’s Information Technology staff, reported the hack to state cybersecurity officials, and to Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey, who then reported the breach to the FBI. Cybersecurity specialists from the FBI came to Vero to investigate the hack of the plant on Black Friday. READ FULL STORY


Medical school and Hospital District in serious lease talks
week of December 14, 2023

Top administrators from the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) traveled to Vero Beach again on Nov. 29 to visit with medical students training at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, and to discuss terms of a long-term lease of a building and land with key personnel from the Indian River County Hospital District. VCOM President and Provost Dr. Dixie Tooke-Rawlins and Senior Dean Dr. Matthew Cannon met with Hospital District Chair Marybeth Cunningham and Executive Director Frank Isele to address what had been a major sticking point in the negotiations – VCOM’s reticence to invest resources into building a new medical school campus on leased property. The state-of-the-art Medical Simulation Center VCOM aims to eventually build would cost millions of dollars, and the three-story building the Hospital District hopes to lease to VCOM is nearly 40 years old and would require major renovations and upgrades to serve as a medical school facility long-term. READ FULL STORY


Vero family’s $5 million donation boosts Brevard Zoo’s fund for new aquarium
week of December 14, 2023

On a charmed day last spring, Sara and David Scaife hopped in their car at their oceanfront home in Sanderling on the northern stretch of the barrier island and went for a drive to visit the Brevard Zoo. “We like zoos and visit them throughout the country when we travel,” Sara Scaife told Vero Beach 32963 last week. It was their first visit to the Brevard zoological park 52 miles north of Sexton Plaza, and “we immediately thought, wow, this is a great little zoo,” she continued. “We were especially impressed by the wonderful volunteers we spoke with. They were so friendly and knowledgeable in a way that was truly special. We were very moved by that.” How moved? Enough that they decided, more or less on the spot, on the basis of a single springtime visit, to donate $5 million to help fund the regional aquarium the zoo plans to build on the shore of the Banana River across from the cruise terminal at Port Canaveral. READ FULL STORY


Why no tree at Sexton Plaza? Size mattered
week of December 7, 2023

If you were among the thousands of local residents who went to Ocean Drive to watch Saturday night’s Vero Beach Christmas Parade, you might’ve noticed something missing at Sexton Plaza. The Christmas tree. The city didn’t put one up this year – and, no, it has nothing to do with any of those wacky conspiracy theories about a war on Christmas. “I can 100-percent assure you,” City Public Works Director Matthew Mitts said last week, “it’s not that.” Then what is it? Why isn’t there a tree at the hub of the Ocean Drive business district again this year? “We had one there last year, but people complained it was too small,” Mitts explained. “What they didn’t know is that the tree we put up was the biggest one we could fit in that space. The tree goes in front of the Sexton Plaza sign, and there’s just not a lot room there. “So this year, we didn’t order a tree,” he added. “We decided to try something different.” Instead of the traditional tree, the city opted for other holiday-season decorations, including what Mitts called “Christmas bears” that have openings in their faces where people, particularly children, can insert their heads for photographs. READ FULL STORY


Shores trying once again for crosswalk on A1A
week of December 7, 2023

Indian River Shores hopes the third time will be the charm when the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) conducts yet another traffic volume study in early 2024 to see if a new pedestrian crosswalk might be warranted on A1A at the southern entrance to the town by the CVS drugstore. Two previous FDOT studies over the past two years found that by the Department’s standards, there wasn’t enough traffic and there hadn’t been a required number of accidents at the spot to warrant a crosswalk. But Indian River Shores Deputy Public Safety Director Mark Shaw said the last study was done in September, out of season when traffic is typically the lightest in the area. There are three reasons the town is hoping for a different outcome this time. First, Shaw says FDOT has promised to do the next study in January or February, at the height of our busy winter season, when traffic volume is likely to be at its peak. Second, there is a new secretary at the head of FDOT’s District 4, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale and stretching all the way north to Indian River County. Steven Braun recently took over from his predecessor who retired and has agreed to take a new look at the issue. READ FULL STORY


Dale Sorensen Real Estate opening new office at A1A and 17th Street
week of December 7, 2023

The largest real estate company headquartered in Indian River County is opening a third office on the barrier island in a location that company founder Dale Sorensen Sr. calls “very strategic.” The office, which will be located in the former PNC Bank building at the intersection of Highway A1A and 17th Street, will be the company’s first new island office since 2005, when it opened its north A1A location. The new office will be the largest Sorensen office on the island based on the bank building’s current square footage, and it might be expanded with a second story or an addition in the area where the drive-thru is now. The company is still working out the details of how the new office will be renovated and used but one thing is already certain – it will be seen daily by many more passersby than Sorensen’s other two island offices combined. “I see the location as a hub,” said company managing partner Dale Sorensen Jr. “A lot of traffic goes through that intersection and people spend a lot of time waiting at the lights. Visibility wise, you couldn’t find a better spot. I am passionate about the location.” READ FULL STORY


Council weighs 3 Twin Pairs options
week of December 7, 2023

Confronting strong public opposition to its proposed lane reduction along the Twin Pairs through downtown, the Vero Beach City Council planned to consider three other, less-draconian options at a special call meeting Tuesday afternoon. Its choices included: Option 3: Making only minor safety improvements on the strategic stretch of State Road 60 between the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and 20th Avenue without any lane repurposing. Option 4: Eliminating the far-left westbound lane of State Road 60 – only between 14th and 16th avenues – and replacing it with landscaped areas between bulb-outs to be constructed at new crosswalks at 15th and 16th avenues. Approving Option 4 also would restore the traffic-calming measures a previous council favored only two years ago, when it voted to lower the speed limit to 35 mph, narrow driving lanes, add crosswalks and adjust the timing of traffic signals in the vicinity. City Manager Monte Falls said the new bulb-outs and crosswalks at 15th and 16th avenues would make the area safer by increasing visibility for motorists and reducing the distance pedestrians must travel to cross State Road 60. READ FULL STORY


VNA purchasing Hospice campus next to hospital
week of November 30, 2023

The Visiting Nurse Association of the Treasure Coast has entered into an agreement to buy the land under the VNA Hospice House, plus acreage for expansion, for $3.8 million, with a closing expected early in 2024. For decades, VNA had leased the 14.3-acre parcel – where it built the 12,000-square-foot Hospice House, and which now includes 4.2 acres of tropical meditation gardens, a pond and a memorial – but the Indian River County Hospital District did not enter into an agreement to sell the property to the VNA until this past month. But with the VNA’s 50-year anniversary approaching in 2025, the agency wanted a more permanent footprint and decided to exercise its right to purchase the property on 37th Avenue adjacent to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. VNA and VNA Hospice founder Ann Marie McCrystal said the purchase will allow VNA to better plan for the area’s growth and needs, and to enhance services provided to patients and caregivers. “This shows Indian River County that VNA is going to be around for the next 50 years,” McCrystal said when asked about the pending transaction. READ FULL STORY


Boom times at John’s Island
week of November 30, 2023

After a slow summer for home sales that was felt up and down the island, the John’s Island real estate market has come roaring back, with a strong October and blockbuster November. “I will go on record and say we’ve already set a new record for November,” John’s Island Real Estate broker Bob Gibb told Vero Beach 32963 on Friday, when there were still six days left in the month to push the total higher. “We were fortunate to have five properties worth more than $30 million go under contract in just the past 10 days,” added John’s Island Real Estate sales associate Luke Webb. “The buyers we are seeing now aren’t coming just to look. Almost all of them are coming to town specifically to make a purchase on that trip.” Altogether, the company’s eight agents put 15 homes under contract in October and the first 24 days in November with a total value of $76,500,000, according to marketing manager Mandy Robinson. “All eight of our salespeople were actively involved in our success in October and November,” said Gibb. “Everyone brought something to the party.” The 15 properties range in price from the low $2 millions to $11.5 million and include five condos and 10 houses. READ FULL STORY


Incumbent Vero Mayor Cotugno chosen for a second term
week of November 30, 2023

When the Vero Beach City Council met for its post-election organizational meeting last week, three of the five members were nominated to serve as mayor. Two of them, John Carroll and Tracey Zudans, nominated themselves. Neither would be chosen. Instead, incumbent John Cotugno won his second consecutive one-year term as mayor, receiving the deciding votes from Linda Moore, who nominated him, and Council newcomer Taylor Dingle. Carroll and Zudans each received only their own votes. Moments later, after being nominated by Cotugno, Moore won a second one-year term as vice mayor on a 3-2 vote, fending off a challenge from Carroll, who again nominated himself but managed to get only Dingle to back him. Cotugno, who on Nov. 7 was elected to a second two-year term on the Council with 40.64 percent of the vote, said he was “pleasantly surprised” to be handed the gavel again. “I had been hearing rumors for a while, and then later received confirmation that at least one of council member would seek the mayor’s position, so I knew there would be competition,” Cotugno said. READ FULL STORY


Zudans, seeking County Commission seat, sees no conflict with city duties
week of November 30, 2023

Vero Beach City Council member Tracey Zudans, who is seeking a seat on the County Commission in the 2024 election, said she doesn’t expect to confront in the coming year any significant issues on which the best interests of the city and county conflict. But if she does? “Right now, as an elected official for the city, I have a fiduciary duty to Vero Beach,” Zudans said last week, after a newly configured council held its post-election organizational meeting. “That’s my first responsibility. She quickly added, however: “I really don’t anticipate any problems. I can’t even think of an issue where there would be a conflict. Most of the issues the city and county are facing are community issues that impact everyone here.” To address those issues, in fact, the City Council and County Commission already have held the first of what is expected to be a series of joint workshops designed to encourage cooperation and improve the bodies’ long-contentious relationship. The city sees such an effort as necessary as the continuing population surge in the county puts more stress on Vero and its limited budget, which must absorb an increasing demand from non-city residents who flock to Vero Beach each day. READ FULL STORY


Piper lands a $36 million order from flight school for 90 Archer TX planes
week of November 30, 2023

AeroGuard Flight Training, a flight school that focuses on fast-tracking its students to careers as professional pilots, has ordered 90 new Archer TX single-engine airplanes from Piper Aircraft, the latest in a series of contracts the Vero Beach-based manufacturer has received for its trainer aircraft this year. Neither Piper nor AeroGuard representatives provided the cost of the purchase, but reported list prices put the value of the deal at more than $36 million. Delivery of the aircraft is scheduled to begin next year and continue through 2029. AeroGuard has four campuses – two in Arizona, one in Texas and one in Saudi Arabia – and plans to increase its student-pilot enrollment from the current 800 to 2,000 and double its fleet to more than 200 aircraft. The flight school has established partnerships with SkyWest and other airlines and universities across the Middle East, India and Asia, but most of the newly purchased aircraft will be stationed at AeroGuard’s campuses in the U.S. “It is an honor to expand our fleet partnership with well-known Piper Flight School Alliance member, AeroGuard,” Piper President and Chief Executive Officer John Calcagno said last week. READ FULL STORY


Hospital District unraveling snags in seniors’ care
week of November 23, 2023

With closure of the University of Florida Center for Psychiatry and Addiction in Vero Beach only four weeks away, several hundred senior citizens might find themselves without care and without their needed medications if the Indian River County Hospital District does not intervene. As the details of referring and placing 2,600 UF Health patients with alternate providers was progressing, hospital district staff became aware most of the local providers of behavioral health services do not accept a Medicare Advantage plan that UF Health has honored for more than 400 seniors in its care. Hospital District Executive Director Frank Isele told the board of trustees that most of the UF Health patients have been established with a new provider, but “we have a lot of providers” who do not participate in some Medicare Advantage plans. “So these folks have nowhere to go in our county,” Isele said at last week’s district chairman’s meeting, which is more of an informal roundtable discussion than the monthly business meetings. “The most immediate concern is this: The last day UF is operating is Dec. 29, which is not far away, and then anyone who has medications that are being managed, those all expire at the end of January. So that’s our concern,” Isele said. “These folks need to make sure they can have their prescriptions renewed.” READ FULL STORY


’Tis the season for Saturday parking enforcement
week of November 23, 2023

How do you know when “The Season” officially kicks off in Vero Beach? The police department starts enforcing the city’s parking-time limits beachside and downtown – in effect year-round from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday – on Saturdays, too. The additional enforcement began last weekend, but Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said only warnings would be given the first two Saturdays to allow residents and visitors to adjust to the change. Citations for parking violations on Saturdays will be issued starting Dec. 2, and Currey said Saturday enforcement is scheduled to continue until June 1. “It’s the same thing we’ve been doing for many years,” Currey said. “With more people here for the season, we want to make sure they don’t park there beyond the time allowed, so the spaces turn over.” City officials approved the Saturday enforcement in response to requests from merchants who want the spaces to be available for customers and, particularly along Ocean Drive, not monopolized by hotel and restaurant employees. Currently, there’s a two-hour parking limit beachside and three-hour limit in the downtown area. READ FULL STORY


Housing market expert sees chances of crash here as ‘very, very, very low’
week of November 23, 2023

There was an upbeat moment last Tuesday at a housing market lecture at Quail Valley River Club. The lecture was sponsored by Marine Bank and attended by many of the top real estate brokers and agents on the island. The speaker was Ken Johnson, Ph.D., a former commercial real estate broker turned academic. Mid-lecture, Johnson, an entertaining speaker who is now a dean at FAU’s College of Business and a renowned housing market statistician, projected a graph showing housing prices in Vero Beach between January 2000 and September 2023. There were two lines on the graph. One, which slanted upward, straight and steady, from the lower left corner to the upper right, showed the historical trend of Vero housing values. The other snaked up and down, rising to a dizzying peak in 2006 before collapsing far below the trend line in the 2007-2012 housing crash and then rising to another exhilarating high, way above the trend line, during the COVID housing boom. “I have done this before,” a smiling Johnson said to the packed room. “I know when you look at this chart [with current prices way above the trend line, just like in 2006] you are thinking, ‘It’s going to happen again. Prices are going to crash and it’s all going to come tumbling down. READ FULL STORY


Access to Justice center hailed as legal aid game-changer
week of November 23, 2023

Four out of five local residents who at some point in their lives wind up in family or small claims court, either as plaintiffs or defendants, go to court without the aid of a lawyer, according to Clerk of Court Ryan Butler. To assist these self-represented litigants – regardless of their income level – the Jeffrey R. Smith Access to Justice Self Help Center officially opened last week on the first floor of the Indian River County Courthouse. The program, named for Smith, the former long-time Clerk of the Court who retired earlier this year, enables people to access legal forms at the self-help center, where staff can help them navigate the process, or via its website. Attorney consultations are also available in certain circumstances, at a very minimal cost. An additional kiosk is located in the United Against Poverty UP Center and others are being planned at locations around the county. “We have been working to bring a self-help center to the 19th Circuit for 23 years. Today is a dream come true,” said Judge Cynthia Cox. READ FULL STORY


Shores town meetings to be live on internet in January
week of November 23, 2023

Beginning in January, Indian River Shores residents and anyone else who is interested will be able to watch all the town meetings, livestreamed on the internet on the town’s YouTube channel. While Indian River County, City of Vero Beach, the City of Sebastian and even the City of Fellsmere have offered a way to view or join council meetings remotely, Indian River Shores’ business meetings have always been an in-person-only experience with simply a voice recording taken and used by the town clerk to type up the minutes. The Shores began upgrading its audio and video equipment in late 2022 and early 2023 as part of an overhaul of town hall facilities, so meetings could be videotaped and reviewed. There was one camera angle facing east to videotape the whole town council and top staff. Then over the summer, a second camera facing west was added to capture the speaker and most of the audience, as the podium was moved from the south end of the dais to the center of the room, facing the council. Town staff first test-broadcasted a town council meeting over the internet in June. Since October, the tests have continued, with the opportunity to tweak technical issues. The official rollout, originally scheduled for December, has been postponed to the new year. READ FULL STORY


Hockey Hall of Fame induction icing on cake for Mark Mulvoy
week of November 23, 2023

Mark Mulvoy’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame last week provided the longtime John’s Island resident with a well-deserved opportunity to look back nostalgically on a sports-journalism journey that took him from campus correspondent to the pinnacle of his profession. Recognized for his contributions to hockey’s rise in America from a regional game embraced almost exclusively in cold-weather regions in the 1960s to a major-league sport that today fills arenas from Florida to the Pacific Northwest, Mulvoy fondly recalled the glory days of a remarkable career. They began in April 1965, when he graduated from Boston College and joined the staff at Sports Illustrated, where he went on to cover baseball, pro football and hockey before eventually taking over as the once-vaunted magazine’s editor-in-chief and, later, publisher. It was hockey, however, that took Mulvoy to the 1972 Summit Series, the first-ever showdown between Canada’s National Hockey League All-Stars and the Soviet Union team that dominated international amateur competition. “The single-greatest event I ever covered,” Mulvoy, now 82 and retired for more than 25 years, said of the much-hyped, eight-game series won by the Canadians – four games to three with one tie – only after they swept the final three games in Moscow. READ FULL STORY


Dune replenishment imminent for north island beaches
week of November 16, 2023

In the next few weeks, the county expects to begin trucking in approximately 275,000 cubic yards of beach-compatible sand and over 725,000 native salt-tolerant plants to shore up the dunes behind island beaches stretching from just north of John’s Island to just north of Windsor. The county has not yet nailed down its sand source for the project, but has identified several options, said county spokesperson Kathy Copeland. “The contractor is aware of the timelines identified for the work to be completed within and is confident in their abilities to complete the project within the agreed upon timeframe,” Copeland told Vero Beach 32963. The project, which will cost around $13 million – $2 million less than county originally estimated – will affect Treasure Shores, Golden Sands, Wabasso, Seagrape Trail and Turtle Trail beach parks, but the county has not specified any closure dates yet. The targeted completion date is April 2024. Indian River County will be responsible for $3.5 million of the cost as it has received $9.5 million in reimbursable grants from FEMA, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Division of Emergency Management. READ FULL STORY


Who will Council choose as next Vero Beach mayor?
week of November 16, 2023

NEWS ANALYSIS | When the Vero Beach Canvassing Board makes last week’s election results official, and Taylor Dingle and John Cotugno get sworn-in to begin their two-year terms, the next thing likely to happen is a potentially ugly scramble between Cotugno and John Carroll for the mayor’s gavel. A better choice might be to go in a totally different direction. The City of Vero Beach has a massive pile of important business on its plate over the next 12 months. Taxes are up, spending is up, utility rates are way up. Plans for the riverfront development are still sketchy, and running behind schedule. Choosing the right developer for that property, and determining how much of the city’s proceeds from the Florida Power & Light sale of Vero Electric to invest to make the development a commercial success, is a huge responsibility. The cost of moving the wastewater treatment plant keeps mushrooming, and no one has submitted the first bid to build it. The next mayor needs to hold Water-Sewer Director Rob Bolton’s feet to the fire to ensure that every aspect of that project is transparent, and that the city ends up with a facility designed to last for generations. READ FULL STORY


Pelican Island Audubon earns 2 state awards
week of November 16, 2023

Pelican Island Audubon Society came home from Florida Audubon’s annual assembly in Tampa this year with the goods. The group received two out of seven statewide awards – one for Chapter of the Year and one for Excellence in Education – given at the assembly, fresh recognition of the 850-member local organization’s extraordinary efforts to hold the line against environmental deficit and degradation. These are not feel-good, “participation” awards. The competition is intense and people with expertise in evaluating the importance and effectiveness of environmental efforts, including protecting birds and their habitats, make the picks. The state organization has 45 independent chapters and approximately 100,000 members, according to Florida Audubon communications director Erika Zambell. “The chapters are about equally divided between large chapters with over 500 members and small chapters with fewer than 500 members,” said Richard Baker, Ph.D., longtime president of Pelican Island Audubon. “Two Best Chapter awards are given each year – one for best large chapter and one for best small chapter.” READ FULL STORY


For home owners, arrival of natural gas brings decisions
week of November 16, 2023

Now that Florida City Gas has begun running natural gas pipes to homes within the island’s gated communities, property owners will soon face hook-up decisions that include converting appliances and safely mothballing underground propane tanks that run whole-house generators. In fielding questions from the Indian River Shores Town Council, Florida City Gas Senior Service Advisor Tim Knutson said there’s no one right answer for everybody. While some homeowners may have expensive, modern appliances that can be converted from propane to natural gas, others may wish to greet the introduction of natural gas to the island by upgrading to new appliances. “Every house is different. Every appliance is different depending on age. With some newer ranges, it’s just a matter of switching out the regulator.” Knutson said Florida City Gas will pair residents up with a licensed contractor qualified to do the conversions. “We bring them in to meet with the customer to discuss what those costs are going to be. We have some rebate money that’s available to offset some of those costs.” READ FULL STORY


Higher mortgage rates having relatively little impact on island housing market
week of November 16, 2023

When home mortgage interest rates hit 8 percent at the end of October, the reaction by many housing experts and economists wasn’t pretty. Round numbers get people’s attention. The rate hadn’t been that high since 2000, and there were dire predictions that the market would be frozen by a lack of demand, as affordability hit a 40-year low. There were worries, too, of a decrease in inventory as homeowners with COVID-era, 3-percent mortgage rates burrowed in, opting not to sell when they would have to repurchase a new home with a mortgage at 8 percent. There was much less concern on the 32963 island, however, where several brokers told Vero Beach 32963 that higher rates haven’t had a major impact on high-end sales, even as rates climbed steeply much of the year from a low of 6.09 percent in February to the late October high. “Interest rates at 8 percent don’t impact our business that much,” said Cindy O’Dare, broker associate and leader of the O’Dare Boga Dobson Group at ONE Sotheby’s International Realty. “We almost always have cash buyers and demand has not shrunk.” READ FULL STORY


Beachland Elementary’s Rachel Finnegan named Principal of the Year
week of November 16, 2023

Beachland Elementary School Principal Rachel Finnegan has been named Principal of the Year by the School District of Indian River County. Finnegan has led the barrier island’s only public school since October 2019, when she began to rework and rebrand the school’s approach. She oversaw the school’s navigation of the COVID-19 pandemic, through the transition to school-at-home, the return to classrooms and even a temporary shutdown of the school due to Covid outbreaks. Under her leadership, Beachland re-opened with a fresh optimism that stuck. Beachland was one of four of the 13 elementary schools in the local school district to receive an “A” grade for academic performance from the Florida Department of Education for the 22-23 school year. It also led the local school district in several metrics. It had the highest gifted student enrollment, by total and percentage, among all 21 local non-charter schools, and Beachland led the district with the highest “least restrictive environment” percentage – which measures the time students with disabilities spend with their peers without disabilities – among all schools. READ FULL STORY


Island DUI hit-and-run trial postponed
week of November 16, 2023

The trial of Summerplace resident Susan Harvey, charged with driving while under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident after her car struck two elderly pedestrians leaving the 2021 Ocean Drive Christmas Parade, has been postponed until Jan. 8. Harvey’s criminal trial was one of several scheduled for this past Monday, but Circuit Judge Robert Meadows instead proceeded with jury selection for the second-degree murder trial of Jamal Riggins for a drive-by shooting in Gifford – a five-year-old case. Defense Attorney Bobby Guttridge, when asked by Meadows about continuing the case, noted that Harvey “had been having some health issues” anyway, so he said a January trial would work for the defense. Harvey, now 74 years old, was arrested at 8:28 p.m. on Dec. 4, 2021, at the 3400 block of Ocean Drive after her Lexus hit two elderly pedestrians as the annual Christmas parade crowd dispersed. Police reports show Harvey performed poorly on roadside sobriety tests, and said she’d had two Cosmopolitan cocktails with dinner at the Ocean Grill. She registered a .129 percent and .130 percent blood-alcohol-level on two separate breathalyzer tests – well above Florida’s .08 percent legal limit for impaired driving. READ FULL STORY


Retroactive stats show decline in new Covid cases here
week of November 16, 2023

Since the Florida Department of Health was required to resume publishing detailed, retroactive COVID-19 statistics last month as part of a legal settlement, we once again have timely Indian River County case data showing that from September to October, positive COVID cases declined locally from about 17 per day to 6 per day. Data through Nov. 3 reflects the lowest COVID infection rate in Indian River County since June. The late summer saw a bump in cases, rising steadily from an average of 5.4 per day in June to 16 per day in July, topping out at an average of 20 new positive cases per day in August. Overall so far in 2023, 3,711 people have reported testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus – down 79 percent from the 17,651 people who tested positive in 2022. During the height of the pandemic, the two age groups which accounted for the greatest percentage of Indian River County’s positive cases were the 20- to 29-year-olds and the 50- to 65-year-olds. But now, Vero’s oldest residents are more likely to test positive for COVID this fall than people between the ages of 20 and 65. READ FULL STORY


Island residents invest generously in skilled trades education
week of November 9, 2023

The island’s largely retired, white-collar population places a high demand on the rest of the community for all kinds of qualified skilled trades workers, so when Indian River State College needed capital to build a state-of-the-art workforce training facility, residents like John’s Island Real Estate President Bob Gibb recognized the value of practical, marketable education. “I’d been really concerned that people are taking out these crazy student loans going to college to get liberal arts degrees and then not having a job,” Gibb said. “And we’re so desperately in need of subcontractors, and whether it’s in automotive or air-conditioning or all the marine work that needs to be done. “Those ought to be areas that they’re bringing in these people who are bright enough to start a business and give them an entrepreneurial education, give them a way to get certified in a profession,” he said. “We are going to need that group of people in the community and in the economy in the next few years.” Gibb, along with his wife Wheatie and daughter Rennie, invested big in the cause, and now have a wing of the college’s new 60,000-square-foot Eastman Advanced Workforce Complex that bears their names in appreciation for their $400,000 contribution. READ FULL STORY


Medical school in talks to have campus in Vero
week of November 9, 2023

The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine is negotiating with the Indian River County Hospital District for space to establish a medical school campus in Vero Beach and train medical students at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. The nonprofit medical school, referred to as VCOM, is seeking to lease the former Visiting Nurse Association headquarters, a 19,000-square-foot structure sitting on five acres of prime real estate in the midst of Vero’s busy medical corridor – the perfect spot for a medical school. VCOM has its main campus at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., with additional campuses in Spartanburg, S.C., Auburn, Ala., and Monroe, La. The school specializes in training primary care physicians, and in preparing doctors to work in rural areas, and in locales with a shortage of primary care doctors. Across its four campuses, VCOM receives 15,000 applicants per year, and has graduated more than 5,000 physicians – some 60 percent of whom pursue careers in family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics or obstetrics/gynecology. The school expects 600 students to graduate this year from its campuses across Appalachia and the Southeastern United States. READ FULL STORY


The Tides restaurant to relocate in 2025 to South Beach
week of November 9, 2023

The Tides, one of the island’s favorite fine-dining restaurants, will move to a new mixed-use development at 1410 A1A across from Johnny D’s when the restaurant/retail/office project is complete in 2025. “We are moving,” said The Tides chef and owner, Leanne Kelleher, who has already drawn up the design for her new restaurant, working with project developer Anthony DeChellis, a Moorings resident and financier whose family has a long history in the restaurant business in Vero Beach. “We will have a nice big kitchen down there, bigger than our current kitchen, which will allow us to do more,” Kelleher told Vero Beach 32963 on Sunday. “I think the dining room space will be a little larger, too, and we will have more outdoor seating.” DeChellis, who got site plan approval for his approximately 13,500-square-foot mixed-use project from the city in October, owns the old frame building where The Tides is now, along with the rest of the property that fronts on Cardinal Drive between Camelia and Bougainvillea. He and his team are working on plans to redevelop the property. READ FULL STORY


To no one’s surprise, Vero out of mix for a Brightline station
week of November 9, 2023

While Brightline has stirred up some excitement in St. Lucie and Martin counties with its plans to pick one as the site of a new Treasure Coast rail station, exclusion of Vero Beach from the RFP process for the new high-speed train stop comes as little surprise here. Indian River County spent approximately $4 million unsuccessfully fighting to halt extension of the train from Palm Beach to Orlando through the county, finally ending its quixotic effort when Brightline agreed in June 2021 to install $31 million worth of additional safety improvements along the Florida East Coast Railway tracks here. Brightline did not contact the City of Vero Beach regarding the RFP it issued for a Treasure Coast station, Vero Beach Public Works Director Matt Mitts confirmed Monday. “We inquired with Brightline two or so years ago and they were unresponsive to a discussion.” “The community’s concerns have been vocal and well-documented, making the exclusion from the selection process a predictable outcome,” Dan Lamson, executive director of the Indian River Neighborhood Association, said Monday. READ FULL STORY


Safety grades: The 3 area hospitals all awarded a ‘B’
week of November 9, 2023

The Leapfrog twice-yearly hospital safety grades were released on Monday and none of the three local hospitals most frequently used by island residents scored the highest “A” ranking this time. Both Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital in Vero Beach and HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital in Fort Pierce – Vero’s nearest Level One Trauma Center where most serious traffic crash victims are taken – slipped slightly from an overall “A” grade this spring to a “B” grade this fall. Steward Sebastian River Medical Center also earned a “B” grade, the same as in the spring. Cleveland Clinic Indian River’s strengths in the fall report included measures the hospital takes to prevent harmful events, including patient falls, broken hips and air bubbles in the blood. Cleveland Clinic also scored well in preventing infections and sepsis after surgery and urinary tract infections in hospitalized patients. The staff still struggles a bit with communication with doctors and communication with patients about medications and discharge instructions, according to Leapfrog. In the spring, Cleveland Clinic got marked down for a lack of hand-washing among hospital personnel, and unfortunately that was an area of weakness again in the fall ratings, with the hospital scoring a 40 out of a possible 100 points, as compared to the average hospital score of 79. READ FULL STORY


UF Health outpatient mental health clinic in Vero to close
Staffing a major problem; Hundreds of patients being referred to other providers

week of November 2, 2023

After 15 years of compassionately serving the mental health needs of Vero Beach residents young and old, the doctors of the University of Florida Health Center for Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine are closing the clinic on 37th Place on Dec. 29th. UF attempted to recruit two different entities to take over the busy outpatient practice, but unfortunately, neither one will be assuming the caseload of 2,600 patients, of which about 250 are children and teens. Dr. Wayne Creelman, director of the center, said when he couldn’t find the right fit in a successor, he began the process of notifying the patients and referring them out to other providers. “We’ve got eight different providers that we’ll be sending patients to,” Creelman said, crediting the McCabe Connections Center on 14th Avenue with being extremely helpful with the referrals. Creelman and his rotating staff of psychiatry residents and psychologists set up an outpatient practice in Vero Beach in October 2008 with a generous grant from the Robert F. and Eleonora W. McCabe Foundation to fill a critical need in the community for behavioral health treatment. Then in 2013, funds were raised to extend the agreement with UF another five years. READ FULL STORY


Longtime jeweler set to retire after glittering career
week of November 2, 2023

At age 73, after two tours of duty as a Marine in Vietnam in the 1970s and what seems like a lifetime in the jewelry business, John Michael Matthews is ready to retire. “It’s funny,” he was saying Monday, the first day of a two-month retirement sale at John Michael Matthews Fine Jewelry on Beachland Boulevard. “Most people retire at 65, but I’ve met some people who don’t think I should be retiring now.” That’s because Matthews has been a fixture in the Vero Beach jewelry community since 1989, when he opened a store here. Thirty-five years later, he’s looking forward to doing something else, including driving his antique car and motorcycle and traveling with his wife, Carla. After all, Matthews has spent most of his post-military years working in jewelry stores in Washington, D.C., Miami, Coral Gables and Tallahassee before moving to Vero Beach and going into business for himself. Actually, Matthews was a mere teenager in search of a part-time job when he was introduced to the profession in which he would build a career. READ FULL STORY


Seaglass, new subdivision with ‘Old Florida’ ambiance, set for holiday unveiling
week of November 2, 2023

As Vero heads into the winter high season, the busiest time of the year for homebuying, GHO Homes is in an enviable position. The company has two luxury home subdivisions with new model homes complete on the island, and a third high-end development in Grand Harbor, all ready for house-hunting snowbirds. And the newest of the island subdivisions – Seaglass across from the Disney Resort, an intimate, 72-home development that GHO president Bill Handler justifiably says he “will be proud of forever” – is nearly ready for a planned spectacular holiday unveiling. Seaglass, The Strand in Indian River Shores, and The Reserve at Grand Harbor offer between them about 160 homebuying opportunities, including ready-to-go homes and lots where houses can be built. This abundance of big, beautiful, finely crafted houses – priced from about $1.3 million to $2.4 million – stands out in an island market that is woefully short of resale inventory and even leaner when it comes to new construction. Seaglass demonstrates Handler’s commitment to his customers and their quality of life. The 26-acre parcel is being built on what originally was part of Disney’s 70-acre Florida Beach Resort planned development, which was approved in the 1980s but never completed. READ FULL STORY


Replenishment of Shores beaches may still be a year away
week of November 2, 2023

While turtle nesting season ended this week, Indian River Shores residents waiting to get much-needed sand trucked onto their beaches will likely need to wait until this time next year as Indian River County’s permits are still pending, and only a fraction of the required easements from oceanfront property owners have been secured. Last week, county staff told commissioners plans to replenish the span of shore that runs from John’s Island to the Tracking Station Beach Park behind the CVS Pharmacy, referred to in the county’s beach plan as Sector 4, are still in the design and permitting phase. “The permit the County is to receive for the Sector 4 dune nourishment project is expected to contain requirements for the County to monitor the physical changes associated with a nourishment project on a semi-annual basis to determine the long-term performance of the project and if infrastructure may be vulnerable to storm damage,” a staff report reads. The county extended its surveying agreement with Morgan and Eklund, Inc. to conduct surveys in January and February, with reports due in March to meet permit requirements. Engineers will survey a three-quarter mile area to sample the 2.8-mile sector. READ FULL STORY


Shores officials slam utilities meeting as ‘light on substance’
week of November 2, 2023

Indian River Shores officials are getting frustrated with what they see as Vero’s lack of transparency about how much water-sewer rates will rise from mounting costs of the city’s planned wastewater treatment plant construction project. A joint meeting last week of the Indian River Board of County Commissioners and the Vero Beach City Council with all the top staffers in attendance could have been the perfect venue to discuss the matter, but as the three Shores council members who watched the meeting pointed out, the massive project, now estimated to cost a quarter billion dollars including debt service, was barely mentioned. “I was surprised that they have this huge, huge project that’s going to cost a zillion dollars and nobody even talked about it,” Shores Councilwoman Mary Alice Smith said. “I just think it’s so un-transparent. The people might hear about this wastewater treatment plant, but they have no idea that they’re going to be paying for it, and I’m surprised that the county wasn’t more concerned about that,” Smith said. “I mean, they had zero discussion.” READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic addresses losses, plans for future
week of October 26, 2023

Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Peter admitted to some major shortcomings and far higher-than-expected operating losses at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital in his annual report a week ago to the Indian River County Hospital District. But he had good news for the community about two major issues that have dogged the Vero Beach medical center since Cleveland Clinic’s takeover in 2019 – a communication system that has frustrated patients trying to reach the hospital, and the Emergency Department. Responding to District Trustee Dr. William Cooney, who said the Emergency Department was source of “one of the major complaints that we get,” Peter said, “It’s not a facility that we’re proud of. “We inherited it and we have done the best we can to make it as functional as possible, but this year, in 2023 and 2024, it is our major focus for philanthropy. We expect within the next year and a half to two years to have a renovation done on the ED which makes it much more efficient, much more attractive and quite honestly, a better facility.” READ FULL STORY


City ups taxes to fund raises, add cops
week of October 26, 2023

As homeowners receive their annual property-tax bills in the mail in the final days of October, residents within the Vero Beach city limits will notice their millage rate has gone up. The Vero Beach City Council last month approved a tax increase to pay for adding four new police officers as well as increased staffing in the planning and finance departments, and a 5-percent pay raise for all 330-plus municipal employees. “We passed a reasonable budget,” Mayor John Cotugno said after the council’s consecutive 4-1 votes on the millage rate and budget for fiscal year 2023-24, which began Oct. 1. The lone dissenter in both votes was first-term council member and District 5 County Commission candidate Tracey Zudans, who said the newly adopted $33 million budget contained “unnecessary spending.” She said the council could’ve “met the public-safety criteria without raising the millage,” which she added has now been increased in back-to-back years. READ FULL STORY


Removal of derelict vessels from lagoon finally gets underway
week of October 26, 2023

Hurricanes Ian and Nicole may be a fading memory, but the 2022 storms left some lasting calling cards – 18 derelict vessels in or near the Indian River Lagoon. In late September, the county removed three of the abandoned boats – one west of Fritz Island north of the Merrill Barber Bridge, one near the Main Street boat ramp in Sebastian and one in the St. Sebastian River – and now crews have turned their attention to three more nuisance boats. Aside from being an eyesore, derelict vessels can threaten other boaters, water quality, and the health of plant and animal life. The inoperable boats can leak pollutants such as fuel, engine oil or cleaners into the water, while their hulls’ resting spots can damage the lagoon’s oyster reefs. The removal process is not as simple as finding the boat and yanking it out of the water, said Indian River County Natural Resources Lagoon Environmental Specialist Melissa Meisenburg. READ FULL STORY


Shores public safety all in on H.A.L.O.ween benefit
week of October 26, 2023

Indian River Shores Public Safety officers responded to a different type of rescue mission Saturday, playing host to the H.A.L.O.ween Haunted House and Fall Festival to benefit the H.A.L.O. No-Kill Rescue. The town’s firefighters, paramedics and police officers have worked alongside H.A.L.O. for six years to raise awareness about adoptable pets in need of homes, and over the four years that the agency has organized the Halloween-themed fund-raising event, it’s become more elaborate and popular with island residents. Lurking below the festivve surface, however, was the staggering increase in the number of animals being surrendered to animal rescue shelters across the country and locally, including H.A.L.O. and the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County. During the pandemic, said Jacque Petrone, H.A.L.O. founder and executive director, “the economy was pretty good, and everybody was home. Everybody wanted pets. Our foster and adoption numbers soared, and our surrender rates dropped. We were living in a wonderful world.” But now, it’s a different time. Due to lifestyle changes, plus inflation and higher living costs, more and more people are deciding they no longer have time or resources to care for their pets. READ FULL STORY


‘60 minutes’ interviews Vero co-founder of ‘Moms’ group
week of October 26, 2023

Former School Board member Tiffany Justice, who grew up in Vero Beach and co-founded the Moms For Liberty, was interviewed last week by award-winning CBS News reporter Scott Pelley for a future segment on “60 Minutes.” Justice broke the news on Oct. 16, when she announced on X – formerly Twitter – that she and her group’s co-founder, Tina Descovich of Indialantic, “just finished recording” the interview. Her tweet, which alerted followers to “stay tuned for when the interview will air,” was accompanied by three photographs from the set. Last Friday, Justice followed up with a tweet that read: “Just received the transcript of this interview,” adding, “Can’t wait for it to air.” Neither CBS News nor the Moms For Liberty responded to emails sent by Vero Beach 32963 seeking comment on the interview and planned air date of the segment. READ FULL STORY


Few non-seniors line up for latest version of COVID vax
week of October 26, 2023

With COVID-19 hospitalizations remaining low this month nationwide and throughout Florida, few people younger than 65 years old are rolling up their sleeves for the latest version of the vaccine even though a third updated booster option is now available. According to an Oct. 12 Reuters report citing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the source, only about 7.6 million Americans had gotten the new Fall 2023-version vaccine boosters so far. That’s roughly 2.2 percent of the population. According to the Florida Department of Health’s Oct. 13 report, nearly 19,000 or fewer than 1 percent of Floridians had gotten the new Fall 2023-version shot. Vaccination rates have plummeted locally, with 78.6 percent of adults getting the original two-shot dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but only 19.1 percent of adults getting the Fall 2022-version bivalent booster, which has since been discontinued. READ FULL STORY


County looks to reel in state funds for wish list of lagoon projects
week of October 26, 2023

Indian River County hopes its new lagoon plan and the 88 proposed water-quality projects included will help secure a share of $100 million in state grants announced this summer. In response to commissioners’ direction to expedite the county’s Indian River Lagoon Management Plan, staff recently delivered on the list of more than $200 million worth of proposed projects. “It has taken longer to get here than I like, but we’re here,” said county commission chair Joe Earman. “Let’s follow the playbook and let’s pursue this. I think we can make a difference,” Earman said. The 103-page plan, developed by county staff and the consultants Tetra Tech, delves into the nitty gritty of nutrients in the lagoon, various ecosystems, the demands of increased development and the algal blooms of 2011, 2012 and 2016 caused by excess nutrients in the water. READ FULL STORY


Resolutions to criminal cases still a ways off
week of October 19, 2023

Several criminal cases island readers have been following are still winding their way through the backlogged felony court system. Nearly two years after allegedly crashing into two 90-something year old pedestrians leaving the Vero Beach Christmas parade, a 74-year-old Summerplace woman finally is set to be tried next month for the felony of leaving the scene of an accident, and for driving under the influence of alcohol with damage to property or persons. According to her arrest record, Susan Harvey told police she’d had dinner with friends at the Ocean Grill, including two Cosmopolitan drinks, and that she did not know she had hit the pedestrians on the 3400 block of Ocean Drive. An off-duty Vero Beach Police officer helped out, getting Harvey to pull over after leaving the crash. READ FULL STORY


Search ends for swimmer missing off Moorings
week of October 19, 2023

On Saturday afternoon, 46-year-old Moorings resident Jonathan Michael Christy hit the beach with his wife Jennifer Faletto for his regular workout. Swimming in the ocean was routine for the St. Edward’s graduate, one of the hobbies he loved along with listening to music, playing the piano and hiking with his dog. The surf forecast Saturday called for sunny skies, mild winds, a moderate risk of rip currents and a surf height of 3 feet. Christy entered the water near the 900 block of Reef Road, several miles south of the Vero Beach city limits. Wearing gray board shorts and his prescription snorkel mask, he began swimming laps parallel to the beach about eight to 15 yards offshore, according to an Indian River County Sheriff’s report. But on shore, as 10 minutes went by and Faletto could no longer see Christy in the water, panic set in. Faletto called 911 and asked beachgoers for help in looking for her husband. Christy’s disappearance launched a multi-agency search involving the U.S. Coast Guard, Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Indian River County Fire Rescue. His body was not found, and on Wednesday, search efforts were discontinued. READ FULL STORY


Shores’ last-ditch utility appeal goes nowhere in court
week of October 19, 2023

The Florida Supreme Court has declined to hear the Town of Indian River Shores’ last-ditch appeal of a 2020 breach of contract lawsuit against the City of Vero Beach over utility rates, so Shores leaders will continue to pursue two other avenues for eventual rate relief. First is the town’s looming April 1, 2024, deadline to give Vero Beach formal notice whether the town plans to renew its 15-year water-sewer franchise agreement with the city for another 15 years in 2027. Renewing would presumably lock the town into 15 more years of financing the city’s plans to relocate its wastewater treatment plant operations from the current site on the Indian River Lagoon to the Vero Beach Regional Airport. Getting out of that agreement means finding an alternative service provider to step up and be ready to take over by Oct. 1, 2027. Shores staff and council members are actively negotiating with top Indian River County managers in an effort to broker such a deal. “We were always focused on the town’s options both before and after the April 2024 notice date. The Supreme Court hearing the appeal was merely one option,” Foley said last week. READ FULL STORY


Estate Section spectacular: Four new listings go on market for total $49 million
week of October 19, 2023

Last week was a big one for ONE Sotheby International Realty’s Vero Beach office, which debuted four listings with a total asking price of $49 million in the area that has become known as the Estate Section at the south end of 32963. The star of the show is a world-class modernist home completed in 2020 and represented by longtime Sotheby’s agent Sandra Alexander. Designed by renowned Vero Beach architect Tom Hoos and built by Joe Foglia, one of the island’s top luxury homebuilders, the 8,700-square-foot oceanfront house comes with a two-story great room with a glass wall facing the ocean and a third-floor observation area with true 360-degree views that extend from the Fort Pierce Inlet to Cape Canaveral. “You can see the rocket launches perfectly from up there,” said Alexander, who sold the current owner the 1.5-acre lot in 2016. The gated property is located at 6600 N. Highway A1A, about 700 yards south of the Indian River County line. It is listed for $22 million and may not last long at that price. Approximately 60 agents and brokers showed up for the brokers open last Thursday. READ FULL STORY


City Council candidate Dingle scoffs at ‘back-room deal’ talk
week of October 19, 2023

Vero Beach City Council candidate Taylor Dingle denies any promise to nominate John Carroll for mayor in exchange for receiving Carroll’s endorsement in the November election. Responding to growing-but-unsubstantiated rumors of the alleged arrangement, Dingle wrote in an Oct. 6 statement that he had not made any such deals with any current council member and if elected, does not “intend to make any nominations” for mayor during the Nov. 22 organizational meeting. “The same applies for voting,” Dingle said on Sunday. “Nominating and voting has never crossed my mind. Winning this election is my one and only concern.” He went on to add that “no type of back-room deal” was made with Carroll and his wife, Tracy, a former City Council member, in exchange for the couple’s support of his campaign. He said he was surprised to learn of the Carrolls’ endorsement, which they announced in a Facebook post on Aug. 25, but is grateful for their backing, which included Carroll inviting him to a local Rotary Club meeting as his guest. READ FULL STORY


Natural gas to John’s Island delayed to ’24
week of October 12, 2023

John’s Island residents won’t see natural gas service until the summer of 2024 due to delays by Florida City Gas in executing a utility franchise agreement with the Town of Indian River Shores, but Windsor residents are getting gas lines run to their community now. Had the Shores’ legal team and Florida City Gas ironed-out the contract details back in the spring as expected, gas lines could have been installed this past summer through most of John’s Island. But the town council got the final documents to vote on in August and September – the agreement was drafted as an ordinance which required two public hearings – and some easement agreements are still pending a vote later this month. According to John’s Island General Manager Mike Korpar, the contract giving a Florida City Gas subsidiary the non-exclusive right to provide piped-in natural gas to Indian River Shores just happened too late to make construction feasible this year. “We have yet to have a meeting with Florida City Gas,” Korpar said last week. “We are now in the beginning stages of setting up meetings with them. Our first meeting will be with their construction team to give them a tour of our property and show them our infrastructure so they have a better idea in what their challenges may be when installing the lines.” READ FULL STORY


Threat of ‘construction lien’ shakes Shores resident
week of October 12, 2023

In a true case of having insult added to injury, an Indian River Shores resident already inconvenienced by her street being closed while gas lines are installed has now been threatened with a lien on her property for a rented construction port-a-potty that’s apparently been abandoned on her street. “They’re making it sound as if I’m behind this project, that I’m the owner or something,” said Beverly Taylor, a retired nurse who lives on Indian Lane just off State Route A1A. “This is crazy. I have nothing to do with this. It’s not my equipment. I didn’t ask for this work to be done – as a matter of fact all I’ve had because of this is grief.” The company that sent the threatening letter through the U.S. Postal Service, Sunbelt Rentals of Simi Valley, Calif., defended its action, saying it was “standard procedure under Florida law” to establish a so-called “construction lien” against the owner of a property containing any of its construction equipment. “This is standard procedure for us,” said a Sunbelt representative at its Florida offices in Orlando. “If anyone believes the notice was sent in error, they can fax us and we’ll take care of it.” READ FULL STORY


‘Hire’ calling: Skyborne looks for instructors
week of October 12, 2023

Skyborne Airline Academy’s training center at the Vero Beach Regional Airport will conduct a “Hiring Day” on Saturday, hoping to attract certified flight instructors, aircraft mechanics and flight dispatchers. Especially flight instructors. The academy is so eager to expand its faculty that well-qualified applicants could get hired on the spot and be on the payroll two weeks later. “We want to grow,” Dan Peterson, new managing director of Skyborne’s Vero Beach campus, said last week. “But our mission is to train cadets to become airline pilots, and we can’t grow without flight instructors.” Actually, Skyborne has managed to grow, anyway, as a global pilot shortage has spawned a fierce demand for flight students. In the nearly six months since Skyborne celebrated the grand opening of its refurbished facility here, the academy’s enrollment has more than doubled – from 140 students in April to 350 now. In fact, with room for only 314 cadets in its on-site residences, the academy has been forced to house three dozen students in off-campus accommodations. Peterson said the Vero Beach academy has a waiting list of another 100 potential students who want to enroll. READ FULL STORY


Wheels of justice turn slowly in A1A vehicular homicide case
week of October 12, 2023

Orchid resident Elizabeth Jewkes-Danielsen, who is out on pre-trial release facing vehicular homicide and DUI manslaughter charges for the death of John’s Island resident Christopher Ingraham in a May 2022 crash on A1A in Indian River Shores, still awaits her day in court on the serious felony charges, but her two traffic tickets from the crash have been dismissed. She was issued tickets for not wearing a seatbelt, and for driving 30 miles over the posted speed limit – both citations based upon readings public safety officers obtained from the on-board computer of Jewkes-Danielsen’s black Mercedes. The reason hand-written on both dismissal forms in the court file: “Can’t use EDR (event data recorder) by itself to issue citation.” Though the criminal case has been continued multiple times, the attorneys are making some progress on moving it to trial. Defense attorney Andy Metcalf took several depositions in September, including from two Indian River Shores Public Safety Department officers, one Indian River County Fire-Rescue officer and one witness to the crash. Metcalf has scheduled five more depositions for this month. READ FULL STORY


Island brokers see strong market ahead for real estate despite some headwinds
week of October 12, 2023

After a long hot summer in which the island real estate market was stuck in low gear, 32963 brokers say they see early signs of a seasonal uptick in activity. “I think we are seeing a little bit of a surge in buyers,” said Matilde Sorensen, co-owner of Dale Sorensen Real Estate. “Our business is good. We are getting walk-ins and everyone is busy.” Sally Daley, one of the founders of Douglas Elliman’s island office, agreed: “There has been an increase in buyer activity in the past four weeks, which is one of the first elements needed for market activity . . . so that’s good.” “There is demand, no question,” said Richard Boga, of the O’Dare Boga Dobson Group at ONE Sotheby’s International Realty. “We are seeing the first signs of people who want to purchase a home and be in residence here this season.” The market was slow during the summer, with fewer transactions than the prior summer, but also remarkably steady, with a modest number of houses and condos coming on the market and being sold each month. The result: Inventory held more or less unchanged through the summer, at around 120 or 130 houses and 80 or 90 condos. READ FULL STORY


Breeze adds seasonal Vero-to-Long Island route
week of October 12, 2023

At this time last year, Director Todd Scher would not have dared predict the level of activity Breeze Airways has brought to the Vero Beach Regional Airport. “A year ago? No way,” Scher said last weekend, days after the commercial carrier announced its plan further expand its Vero Beach operations by connecting our community to a fourth destination – Islip, New York – at least on a seasonal basis. “Back then, Breeze’s representatives were still in the exploratory phase,” Scher said. “We were hopeful, maybe even optimistic, that they’d decide to come here. But they hadn’t made any kind of commitment. We were just showing them around, letting them get acquainted with the airport. “So what has happened over the past year, and especially since they began service here in February, has been phenomenal.” In fact, when Breeze adds twice-per-week flights to and from Islip Long Island MacArthur Airport on Dec. 21, the airline’s operations in Vero Beach will increase to a combined 26 departures and arrivals a week. Scher said he believes that level of commercial airline activity is unprecedented in the airport’s history. READ FULL STORY


In nod to Three Corners plans, developer giving ‘whole new vibe’ to 17th St. Plaza
week of October 12, 2023

The ripple effects of Vero’s riverfront Three Corners redevelopment have already begun, years before that ambitious mixed-use project is slated to break ground. Scott Parker, developer of 3 Avenues Plaza, is renovating 17th Street Plaza, which adjoins the southwest corner of the city’s land, giving a dated property a stylish new look and adding a suite of 17 executive suites with a conference room and lounge. “This place was kind of stuck in the ’80s,” Parker told Vero Beach 32963. “What we are doing will bring a whole new vibe, along with more upscale tenants.” Parker purchased the 4.24-acre site and 45,000-square-foot building from members of the Schlitt family a year and a half ago, in part because of an expectation that property near Three Corners will increase in value. The Three Corners hotel, marina, shopping, dining and recreation project is projected to transform Vero Beach’s riverfront and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, including locals and tourists. Parker picked up the 17th Street Plaza property for the bargain price of $3.6 million. READ FULL STORY


Rude awakening as state disallows bed-tax increase
week of October 5, 2023

Indian River County got a rude surprise two weeks ago when the state of Florida informed county officials – at the last possible moment – that a planned bed tax increase set to go into effect last Sunday was prohibited by state law. The 1-cent increase, which was intended mainly for beach repair and replenishment on the barrier island, would have upped the county bed tax to 5 cents and raised more than $1 million in additional revenue for beach and dune restoration. Instead, the bed tax here will remain at 4 cents – at least until the November 2024 general election – depriving the county of substantial revenue it could have used to help repair 32963 beaches, long stretches of which are classified by the state has critically eroded. The late-breaking news, revealed in dramatic fashion by County Administrator John Titkanich, Jr. at a Sept. 13 hearing, was delivered to Vero by the state just days before the 2023-24 budget was due to be approved and adopted by the county commission. READ FULL STORY


Rowdy element making weekend trouble beachside
week of October 5, 2023

Late at night along Ocean Drive, particularly on weekends, things aren’t quite as tranquil as they used to be in our little village by the sea. Merchants recently have been complaining about petty crime and vandalism in the Central Beach area, and some pedestrians out for a late-night stroll have reported being hassled and harassed by boisterous groups of young people spilling out of bars at closing time. Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey says he has already increased police presence in the area and will do so even more in the near future, with the additional four officers he was authorized to hire under the new city budget. Two officers now have been assigned to foot patrol in Central Beach Friday and Saturday nights starting at 10 p.m. Since January of last year, Currey said, 60 citations for trespassing have been issued in the area. READ FULL STORY


New septic-tank law challenging for governments
week of October 5, 2023

A new Florida law designed to eliminate septic tanks in all-but-rural areas, and to force homeowners to hook up to sanitary sewer or install expensive on-site treatment upgrades, is posing a challenge for local governments, including the Town of Indian River Shores. The law, introduced as Florida House Bill 1379, “prohibits new onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems (unless previously permitted) within the Indian River Lagoon Protection Program area beginning January 1, 2024, where a central sewerage system is available. “For new developments where sewer is not available, only enhanced nutrient-reducing onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems will be authorized,” the law says. The new regulation “requires any commercial or residential property with an existing onsite sewage treatment and disposal system located within the Indian River Lagoon Protection Program area to connect to central sewer or upgrade to an enhanced nutrient-reducing onsite sewage treatment and disposal system or other wastewater treatment system that achieves at least 65 percent nitrogen reduction by July 1, 2030.” READ FULL STORY


Former county administrator ‘shocked’ by probable-cause affidavit in accident
week of October 5, 2023

Six weeks after a minor traffic accident on Ocean Drive, where his car was in a collision with a bicyclist, former County Administrator Joe Baird was surprised to learn Sunday that the police had presented a state prosecutor with a probable-cause affidavit. “I’m actually shocked,” Baird said. “I didn’t know anything about it. As far as I knew, the case was closed.” It was – but not until Assistant State Attorney Gayle Braun denied the Vero Beach Police Department’s request for an arrest warrant charging Baird with one misdemeanor count of leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage. That was on Sept. 11. The accident occurred on Aug. 21, when Baird was driving south on Ocean Drive and began to turn left into the Waldo’s parking lot, where he planned to turn around and go north. As Baird began his turn, however, his car was struck by 26-year-old Gavin Brugger on his electric bicycle, who was traveling south along the curb in the northbound lane. “He ran into me,” Baird said. READ FULL STORY


Site of Orchid’s new Town Hall on island seen ideal fit
week of October 5, 2023

After occupying an office in Wabasso on the mainland for a dozen or more years, Orchid’s Town Hall is coming home to a far more convenient island location. No date has yet been set for moving into offices in the Orchid Professional Centre at the northwest corner of the Wabasso Causeway and Highway A1A, but the second-floor space should be ready for its new occupants by year’s end, according to Orchid Mayor Robert Gibbons. At its Sept. 18 meeting, the Town Council approved the lease agreement with property owner Orchid Island Holding Company and the documents, Gibbons noted, were expected to be signed at some point this week. The initial term of the lease is 10 years with three five-year renewal options, with a monthly rental price of $4,134, to commence when the agreed-upon interior “build-out” has been completed. Orchid’s new Town Hall suite will occupy 1,750 square feet on the second floor and will include offices for the town manager, town clerk and building clerk, a kitchen, a large meeting room and a smaller conference room adjacent to the building clerk’s office. READ FULL STORY


Shores residents poised to finally get natural gas
week of September 28, 2023

By week’s end, a half-year’s delay in bringing natural gas service to the Town of Indian River Shores should finally come to a close, and the dirt-moving, pipe-laying work of getting the gas from the main north-south line to homes and businesses on each side of A1A can hopefully soon begin. Tuesday afternoon, the Shores Town Council was set to take a final vote on the new town ordinance containing the franchise agreement with a Florida City Gas subsidiary for a 20-year non-exclusive right to use town rights of way for natural gas distribution lines to serve residents with natural gas for cooking, appliances and emergency generators. In August, the council voted 4-0 to approve the deal (one member was absent) and Town Manager Jim Harpring said he did not anticipate any surprises on the second, final vote, as the town staff worked with its legal team to obtain all the information needed and to address any concerns. At first, the contract was only going to require one vote, but Town Attorney Pete Sweeney explained the town instead turned it into an ordinance, which by law requires two public hearings and two separate votes. READ FULL STORY


Spate of A1A projects driving motorists nuts
week of September 28, 2023

Although the main issue facing motorists traveling to and from and the Vero Beach mainland is the recently started four-year effort to rebuild the 17th Street Bridge, a number of smaller construction projects along Highway A1A have added to motorists’ woes on the island’s main thoroughfare. At least a half dozen areas of active construction along A1A from the southern part of the town of the Indian River Shores to the 17th Street causeway have turned the major traffic artery into what often looks more like an obstacle course. “I wish they would have finished whatever they are doing on A1A before they started the lane closures on the 17th Street Bridge,” one Vero Beach policeman exclaimed in frustration recently. “This is not good for traffic. They delayed that bridge project so many times, what difference would it have made if they waited another couple of weeks so we can get all the stuff along A1A finished?“ Traveling south on A1A from Indian River Shores, motorists are first faced with the closure of Indian Lane on the west (lagoon) side of the highway. Shores Town Clerk Janice Rutan said this is part of a project by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Florida Gas to install the infrastructure for bringing natural gas to the island. READ FULL STORY


High-speed Brightline era begins here with not-so-high speeds, little fanfare
week of September 28, 2023

The long-delayed start of high-speed rail service between South Florida and Orlando last week was pretty much a non-event for Indian River County as a dozen Brightline trains a day passed through Vero Beach without incident during the first weekend of service. Newly upgraded rail crossings from one end of the county to the other were closed only for about a minute each time a six-car Brightline train passed, resulting in little disruption to traffic – and far shorter delays than mile-long Florida East Coast Railway freight trains regularly cause as they rumble through Vero at 20 mph to 30 mph. While the advertised top speed of Brightline trains during their non-stop transit through Indian River County is 110 mph, their speed through downtown Vero is expected to be no more than 80 mph – and observers said it appeared considerably less than that on their early runs this past weekend. Over the next three weeks, Brightline will ramp up to near-hourly service each way between South Florida and Orlando, reaching a planned total of 32 trains daily on Oct. 23. READ FULL STORY


Islanders hunting for more choose Pine Creek Sporting Club
week of September 28, 2023

The 32963 island lifestyle isn’t bad, what with the ocean and river and golf courses and tennis centers, not to mention exceptional restaurants, boutiques and country clubs – but even paradise can get a bit boring after a while. The good news for islanders who find themselves feeling jaded is there’s a whole other world just a short drive to the west – the romantic rural world of cattle ranches, citrus groves and hunting lodges. And you don’t have to rough it to lose yourself in that vast, mostly silent environment. There are a handful of private hunting clubs west of Vero where seaside residents can and do indulge their desire for wilderness and wing shooting while still enjoying the finer things in life. The most renowned is Pine Creek Sporting Club, where a number of island residents have elegant country homes in the midst of a 7-square-mile hunting, riding, swimming, fishing and fine-dining playground that is restricted to just 100 members, their families and guests. READ FULL STORY


Slick Three Corners marketing pitch looks to woo investors
week of September 28, 2023

City leaders hope a new video and brochure marketing Vero’s Three Corners development opportunity will attract the interest of top investors with deep pockets. In August, the Vero Beach City Council hired Colliers International to create a marketing campaign for its much-anticipated Three Corners project because the Canada-based global real-estate services firm was so highly regarded and well connected in the commercial development community. Vero Beach Planning Director Jason Jeffries believes Colliers has the reach and the reputation to make the right connections happen. “It’s a very clubby industry,” Jeffries said last week. “Everybody knows each other, and everyone in the industry knows Colliers.” Thus far, city officials are thrilled, having viewed Colliers’ recently completed digital brochure and video that introduce potential developers to Vero Beach and its grand plan to create a dining, retail, social and recreational hub on the mainland’s waterfront – at the west end of the 17th Street Bridge. READ FULL STORY


Free COVID home test kits once again available by mail
week of September 28, 2023

As local island residents begin rolling up their sleeves a sixth time to get the latest Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 booster shot, the federal government announced a re-launch this week of the free COVID home test kit program. Free tests delivered by the U.S. Postal Service can now be ordered at www.Covid.gov/tests by filling out a short online form. People who need help placing an order for free test kits can call 1-800-232-0233 or the TTY help line for the hearing impaired at 1-888-720-7489. Orders will begin shipping on Monday, with each residential address eligible to receive four test kits, which come packaged in two boxes and retail for between $20 and $25 per box in local stores and pharmacies. Medicare recipients and those with good health insurance should have been able to get these tests COVERED through their health insurance throughout the summer, but uninsured or underinsured people have been without free Covid tests since the COVID-19 federal health emergency ended on May 11. READ FULL STORY


Here come the trains!
week of September 21, 2023

Eleven contentious years after a project calling itself All Aboard Florida announced plans to run several dozen passenger trains a day through Vero Beach at speeds of up to 110 miles an hour en route from Miami to Orlando, the moment of truth has finally arrived. Friday, barring yet another delay of which there have been many, the passenger railroad – which for a while was calling itself Virgin Trains and now is on its third name, Brightline – is finally planning to start regularly scheduled high-speed service through Vero’s upgraded rail crossings. Preparations for the formal start of rail service – which will pass south to north across the county but not stop for passengers in Vero Beach – came right down to the wire, with workers installing new traffic signals the past couple of weeks on Old Dixie Highway at six intersections near railroad crossings. READ FULL STORY


Condo owners face depressing triple whammy
week of September 21, 2023

As homeowners’ associations, condos and cooperative boards head into fall budgeting season to determine how much maintenance fees need to be increased for 2024, and whether special assessments need to be levied, they are facing a gigantic triple whammy. In addition to crushing rates for additional insurance, and new costs imposed by the mandatory inspections and repairs laws passed in the wake of the Surfside collapse in South Florida, they now also face a new legal requirement to “fully fund” reserves for major future maintenance and repair items. This amendment to existing state laws on condo associations, also passed in the wake of the Surfside investigations, prevents HOAs from “kicking the can down the road” and letting future owners or generations foot the bill for needed major repairs. The new legislation forcing all HOAs to fully fund reserves doesn’t officially kick in until the end of next year for the 2025 budget to be prepared next fall, but local HOAs are hearing the footsteps. READ FULL STORY


New Covid boosters available here, but Florida guidance may dissuade some
week of September 21, 2023

New COVID boosters were set to be available locally this week – but with conflicting and confusing advice from the CDC, FDA and state health officials, it was unclear how many arms would be waiting to be jabbed. While senior citizens aged 65 and older and those with complex health issues or compromised immune systems may eagerly await the new booster, Florida Department of Health officials disagree with the CDC and FDA on whether younger, healthy people should get the updated vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration last week recommended all Americans aged 6 months and older receive the updated COVID booster. But Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo took issue with the new booster shots being given the federal go-ahead after human testing on 50 or fewer people, noting that one test subject in one of the tiny trials had experienced an adverse vaccine event. READ FULL STORY


Amid still-hot housing boom, DiVosta launches 4th subdivision
week of September 21, 2023

With homebuilder confidence high in Indian River County, DiVosta is moving forward with a fourth subdivision and relocating a group of key employees here from Broward and Palm Beach counties to help manage its expanding operations. “The new people will include sales, construction, and customer service employees,” said Brent Baker, Southeast Division President for PulteGroup, DiVosta’s parent company. “Some will be new hires and some will be transfers. The additional manpower flows with our land investments here. By next year, we will have $75 million invested in Indian River County in land and infrastructure.” DiVosta has three large subdivisions underway in Indian River County – Harbor Isle along the Wabasso Causeway, The Preserve at Waterway Village, and Costa Pointe across the street from Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. With the addition of Red Tree Cove, which will include 175 homes near the intersection of Oslo Road and 43rd Avenue, the company is set to add 800 new homes to the county’s built environment over the next several years. READ FULL STORY


Analyst: Ocean Drive retail market ‘one of the great places’
week of September 21, 2023

Would it surprise you to hear the Vero Beach market compared to the posh seaside communities of Nantucket, The Hamptons, and Carmel-by-the-Sea? “You have the coolness of some of the great places in the country,” says Robert Gibbs, one of the nation’s highest-regarded urban consultants. “You have the demographics and quality of life of those places.” Gibbs called the Ocean Drive retail market “one of the great places,” which attracts young families, draws from the entire Vero Beach area and offers a demand for a “whole range of price points for goods and services.” Gibbs analysis found that the island market, which includes Cardinal Drive and extends to the Village Shops in Indian River Shores, could accommodate up to 30 new stores and 15 new restaurants. He also noted there was an “overwhelming demand” for another upscale, gourmet grocery store. While Gibbs, in a presentation to the Vero City Council last week, focused on revitalizing the downtown, a 1,000-page report he submitted also studied the retail market along Ocean Drive. READ FULL STORY


Utility saga: Court vindication would be too late to help Shores
week of September 21, 2023

Vero Beach has now argued that the Florida Supreme Court should reject the chance to take up the Town of Indian River Shores’ breach of contract utility dispute with the city. But even if the justices review the briefs, take up the case and rule in favor of the Shores, that vindication would likely arrive too late to be of much value. It would be too late to be a relevant factor in the town’s decision over whether to tell Vero – by an April 1, 2024, deadline – that the Shores will leave the city’s water-sewer system in Oct. 1, 2027. It would be too late to save Shores water-sewer ratepayers from paying yet another round of double-digit rate hikes on their water and sewer bills starting in October. The city’s rate schedule of increases is necessary to fund the planned state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant at the Vero Beach Regional Airport – a project that is set to cost a quarter billion dollars including interest. READ FULL STORY


Sticker stinker: New utility plant may cost $250M
week of September 14, 2023

Remember how just a year ago, the number being tossed about for building a new Vero sewer plant at the airport was $82 million? Well, the September Shock for Vero Beach water and sewer ratepayers is that over the next 30 years, the total cost of moving Vero’s sewer operations off the Indian River Lagoon is going to be more like a quarter of a billion dollars. That’s right. Billion with a “B.” Documents obtained from the city, confirmed by city staff, show that the state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility that the city is now calling its “One Water Campus” is expected to cost approximately $132 million to design and construct. Financing $132 million over 30 years could be expected to cost another $120 million, bringing the total bill for the new plant to $250 million. READ FULL STORY


Oft-delayed Seaside Grill reopening now said imminent
week of September 14, 2023

Good news for hungry visitors to Jaycee Park – and this time, we are assured it is for real. With a shiny new roof, a refreshed blue-and-white exterior and a dolphin mural under way on the patio, the Seaside Grill, closed for the past year and a half, could at last begin welcoming its eager fans back in just a few weeks. Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls said the new operator of the city-owned eatery “anticipates an opening the first week of October.” While so many promises have been made of an imminent reopening – almost from the moment the Seaside Grill closed in April 2022 – that it has become a bit embarrassing, Falls said: “The roof is complete, the hood system will be completed this week, and they are replacing the gas line (an issue that just arose). Final inspections will be conducted by the Building Department.” And, Falls added with significant understatement, “the city is anxiously awaiting the grand opening!” READ FULL STORY


Shooter in fight at Humiston Park won’t be charged
week of September 14, 2023

A post-midnight fight between two groups in the Humiston Beach parking lot early on Sept. 3 led to gunplay that sent a 19-year-old Vero youth to the hospital and shattered windows at Corey’s Pharmacy and Nino’s Café. But police said Monday that while charges will be forthcoming for some members of the two groups – one from Vero, the other from Okeechobee – involved in the 2 a.m. fight, the 17-year-old Okeechobee youth who gunned down the Vero man will not be charged in the shooting. Police and the state attorney’s office determined the Okeechobee teen was defending another person and was justified in shooting the Vero youth under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, according to police spokesperson Kelsea Marty. The Vero teen who suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen underwent surgery and remained in stable condition Monday morning at HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital in Fort Pierce, Marty said. “He was awake and talking,” Marty said. READ FULL STORY


CDC’s explanation on hospitalizations is as clear as mud
week of September 14, 2023

Barrier island residents will have no idea, going forward, how many people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 illness in Indian River County if they rely on the arcane way the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports these numbers. On Sept. 7, Vero Beach 32963 published an analysis of CDC COVID hospitalization statistics around Florida and in major metropolitan areas out of state showing numbers that seem to bear no relation to reality. The CDC listed 70 people hospitalized in one week in Indian River County, when we knew first-hand from hospital officials that there were only six people hospitalized. Brevard County to the north had the exact same 70 hospitalizations that week, according to the CDC, which would be more than amazing since Brevard County has roughly 3.5 times the population of Indian River. Then last week the latest numbers for Indian River County showed 101 hospitalizations, up 44 percent from 70 the previous week. But the number straight from a local physician who visited the hospital on Friday was eight COVID-positive patients in isolation on the regular floors, plus another two patients in the ICU, as confirmed by the hospital administration. READ FULL STORY


Sick threats on School Board continue
week of September 14, 2023

The hostile and threatening phone calls and emails have slowed to a trickle, but School Board Chair Peggy Jones said she’s still enduring the sickening aftermath of an intimidation campaign launched by followers of a Moms For Liberty operative. The calls and emails are still coming in, and the Sheriff’s Office says it’s still tracking them, but I don’t know if anyone will be arrested,” Jones said on Sunday. “From what I’ve heard, the threats need to be specific and direct – that someone actually says they’re going to kill me – for them to rise to the level of a crime. “Just saying someone should kill me or they wish I was dead isn’t enough, apparently, even if they use vile language and a menacing tone, as most of them do,” she added. “But we’ll see what happens. The investigation is still ongoing.” READ FULL STORY


Seasonal rental picture surprisingly rosy
week of September 14, 2023

Great news for snowbirds who want to spend the winter season on the barrier island but haven’t booked a place yet. In contrast to this time last year, when rental prices were much higher than before and properties were booked fairly solid, a good selection of houses and condos are still available for lease on the island for January, February and March. What’s more, seasonal rental rates have stabilized after doubling in some cases in the past couple of years – with rents flat or up a mere five or 10 percent above this time a year ago. The change doesn’t indicate a weak rental market, according to top agents on the island, but rather a slight increase in rental inventory and a later start for the renting season. There are variations in availability and price movement from neighborhood to neighborhood, and rental agents largely agree activity is brisk and getting better. READ FULL STORY


Tracey Zudans looking to move up to County Commission
week of September 14, 2023

Less than halfway through her first two-year term on the Vero Beach City Council, Tracey Zudans has announced that she is running for the County Commission’s District 5 seat next year. Why now? Zudans, 52, said she has already accomplished the mission that drove her to run for City Council – moving the Three Corners project into a position where it is poised to become a reality – and she’s ready to take her fiscally conservative principles to the county government. In a statement Zudans publicly released Friday, after filing the required paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections Office, she said: “Serving on the Vero Beach City Council has been such a rewarding experience, and I believe my vision of common-sense, efficient, accountable and limited local government will work at the county level.” READ FULL STORY


Skyborne Airline Academy lands a new managing director
week of September 14, 2023

Skyborne Airline Academy’s Vero Beach campus has a new managing director. The United Kingdom-based flight school announced this week that Dan Peterson, who served in the U.S. Air Force and Utah Air National Guard for 23 years before retiring as a commander in 2008, has been hired to oversee the Florida facility’s operations. Peterson replaces Ed Davidson, who retired last month after 15 months with Skyborne here. “Leading the Skyborne Vero Beach team has been the highlight of my 50-year aviation career,” Davidson said Tuesday. “Since March 2022, there has been a 220-percent increase in students, with more than 300 individuals currently in training.” He added that he was confident his successor would “make a significant impact on Skyborne’s growth and development.” READ FULL STORY


Vero to remove broken Bethel Creek aeration system
week of September 7, 2023

Vero Beach residents in the Bethel Creek area might’ve noticed recently that the aeration system installed by the city six years ago in response to a major sewage spill isn’t functioning properly. According to City Water & Sewer Director Rob Bolton, oysters have attached themselves to the underwater oxygen lines and cut them, resulting in oxygen leaks. It’s also possible that some of the 10 aeration heads aren’t working. But no repairs will be done – because the city plans to remove the system next month. “We’re probably going to pull it out, anyway,” Bolton said last week. “We’re going to wait until the fall, when it’s a little cooler, so I expect it will happen at some time in October.” That’s about four years later than originally planned. “When we initially put it the aeration system, the plan was to use it for nine months to a year – just long enough to clean up the damage done by the spill – then take it out,” Bolton said. “But it’s still there. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 stats from CDC just defy belief
week of September 7, 2023

During August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new director made almost daily headlines warning of a new wave of COVID-19, citing numbers showing covid hospitalizations sharply increasing week by week. On Sunday, Aug. 27, the Press Journal jumped on the bandwagon, with its lead headline proclaiming: “Summer COVID surge hits Treasure Coast. Hospitals have seen influx of patients.” But is any of that true? Not only do the CDC’s numbers, upon closer examination, appear grossly inflated, but a bizarre pattern makes many of the recent numbers reported in Florida and elsewhere across the country look totally bogus. And Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has been reporting hospitalization numbers for COVID-19 here that are far, far lower than those reported by the CDC. READ FULL STORY


Du Pont mansion becomes Riomar Bay’s second $27M listing
week of September 7, 2023

An estate in Riomar Bay with nearly 600 feet of river frontage and a classic mid-century home that came on the market last week is making ripples in the real estate world. It was splashed across the pages of the Wall Street Journal’s Mansion Global section last week, where a feature article noted that the 2.2-acre, parklike property “was the longtime home of the late Andrew Edmonds, a direct descendant of E.I. du Pont, who founded the DuPont chemical company in 1802.” Edmund, who lived in the home with his wife Marsha for 40 years and passed away there in January, was a bit of a character who collected, among other things, antique fire engines and V-16 Cadillac convertibles. The couple also “collected” abandoned English mastiffs, taking in 15 of the dogs over the years, providing them with loving care and a substantial, tile-roofed doghouse. READ FULL STORY


Shores’ new gas contract halfway home
week of September 7, 2023

After a summer of delays, Indian River Shores’ utility franchise agreement with a Florida City Gas subsidiary is finally – almost – a sealed deal. According to Town Manager Pete Sweeney, the original plan was to bring forward what he described as “a standard franchise agreement similar to what other municipalities have with this same entity.” That type of action could have been approved with one vote, and become effective as soon as both the town and the gas company had signed. The agreement awards a non-exclusive right to use town rights of way to provide gas service in the town for 20 years with a 10-year renewal unless the town opts not to renew and gives two years notice. Though Sweeney had said near the end of May “it is not anticipated to be an ordinance, which would require at least two readings and the required associated advertising,” the agreement did eventually come to the council by way of a 14-page ordinance, not a standard contract. READ FULL STORY


Schools’ mental health program staying in place
week of August 31, 2023

The highly regarded “Erika’s Lighthouse” mental health curriculum – provided to the county’s public-school students in grades 6 through 9 for the past five years – will continue to be used to educate them about depression, help them cope with anxiety and prevent suicide. For the current school year, anyway. “The mental health program is a go,” Eric Seymour, the School District’s Assistant Superintendent for Student Affairs, said last week in response to questions raised by Vero Beach 32963 about the popular curriculum’s fate here. There’s still uncertainty, however, as Seymour declined to discuss details pertaining to what will be taught and how, saying only that district administrators hadn’t yet finalized their plan. Thus, nobody seems to know to what extent the curriculum will be offered or how it might be amended to accommodate the requirements of a new mental health strategy endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, promoted by his wife and adopted by the Florida Department of Education. READ FULL STORY


The ‘Bloomberg’ of real estate: Collins building info empire
week of August 31, 2023

Vero Beach native Clayton Collins – Glendale Elementary, St. Helen Catholic School, John Carroll High School – is building a real estate information juggernaut. His goal: to create a one-stop shop for real estate professionals across the board, from brokers to builders, bankers, insurance agents and title agents as they make business decisions. “We operate at the intersection of media and data to break through the silos and provide essential information to all the professionals involved in the ecosystem of single-family housing,” Collins told Vero Beach 32963. “We want to bring them all together to share knowledge, digitally and in person at our events, the way Bloomberg has done with finance.” Collins’ chief publication, HousingWire, which he bought in 2016 at age 31, already is “the nation’s most influential source of news and information covering the multitrillion-dollar U.S. housing and mortgage markets … reaching more than 3 million industry professionals each year,” according to the company website. READ FULL STORY


Neville won’t seek 3rd term on City Council
week of August 31, 2023

Two-term City Councilman Rey Neville said in July he would seek re-election only if there weren’t candidates who shared his vision for Vero Beach. Apparently, he’s satisfied that the city’s foreseeable future will be in capable hands. When the qualifying period ended on Aug. 18, Neville was not among the three candidates who filed to run for two council seats in the November election. Instead, at age 81, he plans to return to private life, do some volunteer work in the community and travel with his girlfriend to parts of the world they hadn’t yet visited. “Serving on the council does take up a fair amount of time, depending on the workload for a particular meeting and how much reading you need to do to be prepared,” Neville said. “But it’s not so much the time commitment as it is having to be here every two weeks for the council meetings,” he added. “And, sometimes, we’ve got special meetings and workshops. “It makes it very difficult to just take off somewhere.” READ FULL STORY


E-bikes suddenly all the rage on Vero roads
week of August 31, 2023

The recent wave of hot weather has made e-bikes an even hotter commodity in Vero than they already were, but at the same time has raised new questions about their safety, both on and off the road. “It’s been so hot that people who would normally go for a traditional bike ride are more inclined to stay indoors because it’s just too hot to pedal or do any exercise,” says Mike Costner, the owner of the Bicycle Sport shop on 7th Avenue. “With a pedal-assisted e-bike, you don’t have to pedal as hard, and you can still go a little faster so you can catch a good breeze. “That’s why it’s an ideal way to still get some exercise outdoors even when it’s hot. We’ve seen a definite uptick in sales since the start of the hot, sticky days of summer.” E-bikes come in all shapes and sizes, and range in price from a no-frills basic model costing around $1,700 to an all-bells-and-whistles-included superbike with more powerful batteries that’s made of lightweight materials so it’s easier to carry. Top-of-the-line models will run to around $15,000. READ FULL STORY


Local NAACP fights directive on how Black history is taught
week of August 31, 2023

Appalled and angered by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ education curriculum, the local NAACP chapter and other community leaders have launched a grassroots campaign opposing the way he wants Black history to be taught in Florida’s public schools. More than 100 people packed the Gifford Community Center last week, where NAACP chapter president Tony Brown asked those attending the Monday night gathering to write letters to the governor, contact other state and local officials, and recruit neighbors to the cause. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Brown told the audience, which included as many white members as Black. “We’ve got to do better. Black history is being lost, stolen, forgotten and maliciously altered.” Brown was especially determined to put pressure on the county’s School Board, urging attendees to show up at this week’s monthly workshop and business meeting – both were held Monday – to voice their outrage, particularly over the state’s plan to require students to be taught that slaves actually benefited from their servitude because it provided opportunities for them to learn work skills. READ FULL STORY


Shores extends utility saga with high court appeal
week of August 24, 2023

The Town of Indian River Shores has asked the Florida Supreme Court to consider its 2020 breach of contract lawsuit appeal, and to uphold the validity of the town’s utility franchise agreement with the City of Vero Beach. Vero officials have said the costly legal dispute over utility rates is over, but Shores officials say they are in it for the long haul, because if the Florida trial and appeals courts won’t honor a valid franchise agreement voted on and executed by both municipalities’ duly elected councilmembers, state regulators need to step in to protect consumers. Shores Mayor Brian Foley acknowledged that a clear answer likely won’t come before Indian River Shores needs to notify Vero in April whether the town intends to remain on Vero’s water-sewer system, or whether the barrier island community will obtain utility service elsewhere starting in October 2027. READ FULL STORY


In wake of Surfside, condo costs here set to mount
week of August 24, 2023

Ever since the 12-story Champlain Towers condominium building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed just over two years ago in the middle of the night, killing 98 people, destroying the homes of many others and triggering a myriad of lawsuits, it’s only natural people have been asking: Could it happen here? We’re about to find out. Although there is absolutely no reason to believe that any high-rise structure in our area is in imminent danger, a series of obligatory new inspections will determine just how safe any of our buildings of three stories or higher are. Even that first step – plus the likely repairs that in many cases will follow – is costing a pretty penny and will result in hefty special assessments for condominium owners to pay for inspections and repairs, as well as sizable increases in annual maintenance fees to fully fund reserves and enable homeowners associations (HOAs) to carry out needed maintenance work in the future. READ FULL STORY


Surprise! 17th St. Bridge closure next week blindsides officials
week of August 24, 2023

Island residents weren’t the only ones blindsided by the news last week that the 17th Street Bridge will be closed next week – all four lanes – from 12:01 a.m. Tuesday through 5 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 31. Vero Beach city officials didn’t see it coming, either. That’s because the Florida Department of Transportation didn’t notify them of its plans until Aug. 11, when the city received a late-Friday-afternoon email. “During all the meetings we’ve had with them to discuss that project, you’d think someone would’ve told us they needed to completely close the bridge for a couple of days at the onset,” City Manager Monte Falls said. “Maybe they didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago, but if they did, they should’ve told us,” he added. “We really didn’t find out about it until pretty much everyone else did.” READ FULL STORY


Natural gas service to island a step closer
week of August 24, 2023

Residents of John’s Island hoping to cook holiday feasts using natural gas this year are now one step closer to getting that Christmas wish as the Indian River Shores Town Council this week takes up a long-awaited franchise agreement with the Florida City Gas company. The proposed utility contract is available on the town website for those who cannot attend Thursday’s council meeting in person. Shores Mayor Brian Foley hoped the legal teams would produce a draft agreement back in April, but negotiations dragged out. Spanning 14 pages of mostly standard contract language, the 20-year, non-exclusive franchise agreement with Pivotal Utility Holdings (DBA Florida City Gas) precludes the town from competing against Florida City Gas by providing natural gas service on its own. The agreement does not dictate local rates and fees customers will pay, as Florida City Gas is an investor-owned or “public” utility, part of NextEra energy – the parent company of Florida Power & Light. READ FULL STORY


3 will vie for 2 Vero council seats as Dingle enters race
week of August 24, 2023

Jumping into the race shortly before 11 a.m. Friday – the final day of the qualifying period – Taylor Dingle ensured that there will be a Vero Beach City Council Election in November. Dingle, who ran unsuccessfully in 2021 and 2022, will be joined on the ballot by Mayor John Cotugno and former council member Honey Minuse. Two-term incumbent Rey Neville did not file to run for re-election. Cotugno, Minuse and Dingle will be competing for two council seats. “I’m not sur prised Rey didn’t run, especially after he left for vacation without filing his papers, but I didn’t know if anyone else would get in,” Cotugno said last weekend. “Then Taylor contacted me late Thursday night to tell me he was going to run, and I shared my thoughts with him. He believes this is his opportunity to win, based on the number of people in the race and who’s running.” READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic here to no longer have ‘president’
week of August 17, 2023

Local physicians working for Cleveland Clinic say they’ve been informed the position of president of the Indian River Hospital has been eliminated and that henceforth, final decisions for the medical center here will be made in South Florida. “We’ve been told that there will be no new president and that from now on, Conor Delaney will be in charge of everything here,” said one physician who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the matter. Cleveland Clinic has made no official announcement. Dr. Delaney, an Irish born and educated surgeon based at Cleveland Clinic’s facility in Weston, is president & CEO of Cleveland Clinic Florida, a position in which he oversees five hospitals, a research center and numerous outpatient centers in five counties across the southeastern part of the state. The last president of Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, Dr. Greg Rosencrance, left late last year to take a position as president of the health system associated with the University of West Virginia in Charleston. Following Rosencrance’s departure, Dr. David Peter, the chief medical officer here, was named “interim president.” Until recently Cleveland Clinic was saying the search for a new president was ongoing. READ FULL STORY


Judge’s ruling may mean clear sailing for marina project
week of August 17, 2023

Vero Beach, armed with a court decision in its favor, can finally move forward with its long-delayed plan to build a significantly larger boat-storage facility at the municipal marina. That’s essentially what Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Metzger told officials last week when, acting in an appellate role, she denied a request from the project’s opponents to review and reject the process the city followed in approving the site plan. “The judge denied the petition, so it’s dead,” City Attorney John Turner said of Metzger’s decision, which was entered into the court record on Aug. 9. “There’s no ruling. There’s nothing to appeal. It’s over.” Metzger’s decision ended a tumultuous, sometimes-contentious dispute between city officials and the Vero Beach Preservation Alliance, which was formed by a group of marina-area residents who waited until late in the approval process to voice their objections, then fiercely fought the plan for more than year. The alliance’s efforts, which produced an unsatisfactory compromise from the city last summer and a court-voided referendum in November, ultimately failed. But the clash delayed the start of the project for eight months. READ FULL STORY


Big-hearted islanders respond to pet shelter’s plight
week of August 17, 2023

Three weeks after having to temporarily cease accepting animals for the first time in its 70-year history due to a surge in surrenders of family pets, the Humane Society of Vero Beach has re-opened, thanks to an outpouring of support from island residents. According to Humane Society Board Chairman Susan Schuyler Smith, after the organization’s plight was featured on the front page of Vero Beach 32963 and Vero News, “the community really stepped up. It was great. We adopted out probably 102 cats and dogs that week.” The nonprofit H.A.L.O. animal shelter also helped take in additional pets when the Humane Society’s admissions department closed, and since Aug. 1, local residents have adopted 35 of H.A.L.O.’s dogs and cats. At an adoption event Sunday on the Sebastian riverfront, five out of the eight dogs brought out as “special guests” were adopted. But the Humane Society shelter and H.A.L.O are both still operating at near capacity, and both are struggling to solve the local version of what has become a nationwide crisis of homeless pets. READ FULL STORY


Oak Harbor re-energized as members gain control of club
week of August 17, 2023

When Oak Harbor members took over ownership and management of their club two weeks ago, they didn’t waste any time before launching the first phase of a multimillion-dollar slate of improvements. “Aug. 1, the first day we were in control, we rolled out a new menu in our dining room with lower prices and better selections,” said Rob Hill, one of five members of the club’s new board. “The second thing we did was sign a contract to completely reroof the club house. It got to be a busy first week.” “We are going to fix things up here,” said Lizzie Hallinan, another member of the new board. “It will take a while, but we will absolutely do it. We have a great group of members here who love this club.” “The board is already close to their goal of raising $2 million for capital improvements and renovations to the clubhouse and a new look and feel for the club’s brand,” said Dale Sorensen broker associate Stacey Morabito, who has lived in the community since 2011 and sold numerous homes there. READ FULL STORY


Enthusiasm high as Skyborne’s pilot training grows here
week of August 17, 2023

Amid sharp increases in post-COVID air travel and a global pilot shortage, Skyborne Airline Academy’s Vero Beach campus has been buzzing with activity as more than 300 flight students have come here for training during the past 18 months. The campus, in fact, got busier in June. That’s when the first 20 students enrolled in Delta Airlines’ pilot-career pathway program arrived in Vero Beach to train at the carrier’s Propel Flight Academy, which operates in partnership with Skyborne. This past Tuesday, Delta and Skyborne officials attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the grand opening of a newly renovated building that will serve as the Propel academy’s administration headquarters at the Vero Beach Regional Airport. READ FULL STORY


Historic local mansion ‘stars’ in documentary
week of August 10, 2023

The Gracewood Mansion, a historic six-bedroom estate located on 5 acres of land off Route 60 just west of the Twin Pairs, will put Vero Beach on the world map once more in a major documentary about millions of dollars in missing gold shot by the National Geographic in cooperation with the BBC. The documentary, which is scheduled to be aired on the National Geographic cable channel as well as on the BBC in about a year, focuses mainly on Gracewood’s most infamous recent resident, treasure hunter Tommy Thompson, who managed to hide out in plain sight in Vero Beach for almost a decade in a case still shrouded in mystery and intrigue. Thompson left Vero Beach hurriedly in 2012 after a federal bench warrant was issued for him in connection with numerous civil suits, and he was arrested about a year later, along with his companion, Alison Antekeier, at a Boca Raton hotel where he had holed up. READ FULL STORY


Crossings to Vero’s vaunted beaches still in shabby shape
week of August 10, 2023

Vero Beach, known far and wide as the Hamptons of Florida for its many splendid beachfront homes and its seaside village charm, is putting that reputation in jeopardy. Nine months after Hurricane Nicole slammed into Vero’s shoreline, orange “crime scene” tape, traffic cones, crude barricades and warning signs continue to obstruct routes to the beach at two of the city’s three ocean parks. The boardwalks and beach access points at Humiston and Jaycee parks are still wrecked, with sections of boardwalk missing and shattered timbers laying on the sand. Partial, temporary repairs feature crooked boards and mismatched materials, more reminiscent of a kid’s tree fort than the toniest section of Long island. Vero Beach Director of Public Works Matthew T. Mitts told Vero Beach 32963 that the city gets frequent complaints about the dilapidated condition of the beach parks. He said city leaders are as frustrated as the public at the pace of repairs, which he and City Manager Monty Falls blame mostly on slow response from FEMA, and the complexities and expense of maintaining seaside infrastructure in the face of eroded beaches and frequent hurricanes. READ FULL STORY


‘Perfect fit’: Polk eager to oversee Three Corners project
week of August 10, 2023

Peter Polk was among the first potential candidates to approach Vero Beach officials about managing the development of the Three Corners property at the west end of the 17th Street Bridge, inquiring about the high-profile position before the city began its search. City Manager Monte Falls was impressed enough with their conversation – and Polk’s long list of credentials – that he asked him to come back for an interview, during which the 74-year-old civil engineer promptly talked his way out of the job. Or so he thought. “I told them I didn’t see myself as a city employee,” Polk said of his follow-up session with Falls and City Planning Director Jason Jeffries in early April. “Next thing I knew, there was a newspaper story saying that a few of us had interviewed but they were still looking. “I didn’t hear anything after that, so I thought – as far as I was concerned, anyway – it was a dead issue.” Weeks later, though, while Polk was preparing to fly back to Vero and going through the security checkpoint at the airport in Burbank, California, his phone rang. READ FULL STORY


New Jungle Trail subdivision proposed on enticing site of former citrus groves
week of August 10, 2023

Just when it seems like the island is built out, with no more room for major development, an enterprising John’s Island resident has found a hidden tract tucked in off the Jungle Trail large enough to build a new subdivision. The 19.6-acre parcel is notched into the southern edge of the Capt. Forster Hammock Preserver just north of Island Club. It is one of the last scraps of agricultural land left on the island, which once was a garden of citrus groves in its northern sections. There is no guarantee the subdivision, named Oak Hammock, will be built – at least not as proposed. The land would have to be rezoned, which would require two public hearings where neighbors and conservationists could raise objections, and the county was not impressed by the preliminary plans submitted earlier this year, deeming them unclear and incomplete. READ FULL STORY


Wastewater twist finds Vero seeking Shores’ support
week of August 3, 2023

Vero Beach is seeking letters of support for its planned state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant, but the Town of Indian River Shores was probably the wrong place to go for a favor. The Shores and Vero have been at odds for more than a decade over utility matters, but most recently the neighboring municipalities have battled in a breach of contract lawsuit over utility rates – a nasty and costly dispute which has run up the chain to appeals court. Vero won the last three rounds – but this month, the Shores’ legal team is expected to ask the Florida Supreme Court to take up the case. Still, Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls started began his letter to Shores Town Manager Jim Harpring, “In light of the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s denial for rehearing, the City of Vero Beach seeks to enlist the assistance of the Town of Indian River Shores in a matter of great importance to our community.” READ FULL STORY


Non-MLS agents elbow into our hot real estate market
week of August 3, 2023

In recent years, one “name” has appeared at the top of the list of real estate agents who sell the most homes in Indian River County – and it isn’t one of the island’s star brokers, who regularly sell the $10-million-and-up homes and notch as much $200 million a year in sales. The list is topped by a collective amalgam called “non-MLS agent” – a term applied, presumably, to the horde of sharkskin-suited or Chanel-clad sharpies who come from around the country, but mostly South Florida, to represent clients in real estate deals in Vero Beach. They are called “non-MLS” because they don’t belong to Indian River County’s multiple listing service, a local organization that allows brokers and agents who are members to share information freely and efficiently about property with the aim of bringing buyers and sellers together and getting everyone’s listings sold. READ FULL STORY


Some Covid indicators merit attention
week of August 3, 2023

As the combination of record-high temperatures and daily thunderstorms drives people indoors, certain COVID-19 indicators are inching back up. The numbers aren’t alarming yet, but probably worth keeping an eye on if you’re still concerned about contracting or spreading the virus. The number of weekly positive cases here reported to the Florida Department of Health hit the triple-digit mark with 101 cases in mid-July. The Health Department reports COVID case numbers with a delay of up to two weeks, and it’s unknown how meaningful these numbers are with the widespread use of at-home test kits. Though the overall number of local COVID hospitalizations was down about 7 percent during the last reported week in mid-July from the week prior, the percentage of Emergency Department visits for COVID-19 illness was up very slightly, about a half a percent. READ FULL STORY


Study: Bolder lagoon cleanup effort needed beyond fertilizer ban
week of August 3, 2023

Indian River County’s decade-old rainy-season fertilizer ban may have curbed nutrient runoff into the lagoon in the first few years after it was put into force, but any improvement in water quality has long since “plateaued” and tougher measures to clean up the lagoon are now needed, according to researchers. The county fertilizer ordinance, which was enacted with considerable fanfare in 2013, prohibits the residential use of nitrogen- or phosphorus-containing fertilizers during the rainy season from June 1 to Sept. 30. “The initial overestimation of [nitrogen] contributions from residential fertilizers applications led to broad public support and the passage of numerous fertilizer ordinances along the Indian River Lagoon during the study period,” a study published by Florida Atlantic University researchers in the August issue of the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin reads. READ FULL STORY


State’s new golf cart rules largely par for course here
week of August 3, 2023

A new state law sponsored by state Sen. Erin Grall imposing restrictions on golf carts on public streets is causing some changes for people living at the northern and southern ends of 32963, but will not impact residents of Vero Beach or Indian River Shores. House Bill 949, which went into effect July 1, regulates age requirements for golf cart operators, stating that the driver must have at least a valid learner’s permit if under the age of 18. Golf carts and other four-wheel vehicles with top speeds between 20 mph and 25 mph are now categorized as a “low-speed vehicle” under the new state law, which means they must be titled, registered and insured. Those vehicles cannot be driven on roadways with speed limits of above 35 and their operators must have a valid driver’s license. The City of Vero Beach’s golf cart ordinance takes precedence over the new bill within the city limits as it is more restrictive. In Vero Beach, all golf cart drivers, regardless of age, must have a valid driver’s license and liability insurance. READ FULL STORY


As Breeze adds Providence flights, Vero airport plans expansion
week of August 3, 2023

With Breeze Airways opening up a new destination for travelers just in time for winter residents and tourists, the Vero Beach Regional Airport is getting ready to welcome a steady stream of passenger traffic this season and beyond. Beginning Nov. 2, Breeze Airways will add nonstop flights to Providence, R.I., three days per week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. The new route is the northernmost option for Vero residents, on top of its current service to Hartford, Conn. and Westchester, N.Y. Also in November the airport will begin taking bids on an expansion project to make guests more comfortable, and to replace a temporary baggage claim area now housed under a tent. The initial plan was to convert a 960-square-foot banquet facility at C.J. Cannon’s restaurant into an indoor baggage claim area. READ FULL STORY


Back to school: New teachers, staff raises in place as classes set to begin
week of August 3, 2023

After a busy summer of hiring 80 teachers and trimming administrative staff to put resources in the classroom, the school district is preparing to open its doors to students on Aug. 10. “About $1 million we cut from district staff,” Superintendent Dr. David Moore said. “I think we intentionally had staff in place to help build systems and capacity over the last several years but we’re now to a place, just based on the limited funding that we have, that we want to continue to provide raises.” Over the summer break, the school district reached tentative agreements for 4.5 percent pay increases with its Communication Workers of America chapter – encompassing support staff – and for its instructional employees. The CWA raise had not been ratified by union members as of press time. Teacher shortages have been a problem for Indian River County in the past, with not enough young teachers coming into the system to replace those retiring or moving on, but Moore said only 14 instructional positions are currently open as the school year begins. READ FULL STORY


Pair of island criminal cases still unresolved
week of July 27, 2023

Two vehicular homicides one year apart on Highway A1A – with two barrier island residents dead, two families grieving – are slowly making their way through criminal courts as two defendants navigate the State of Florida’s felony justice system. Jamie Jarvontae Williams, the Fort Pierce man responsible for the high-speed crash on A1A which killed pedestrian South Beach resident Michael Gianfranceso and his dog in May 2021, entered a plea of no contest to vehicular homicide and to violating his probation for felony firearm charges at the time of the crash. Court documents state Williams wanted his sentences run concurrently, and Judge Robert Meadows honored that, sentencing Williams to 15 years in state prison, and five years for the violation of probation, to run concurrently, giving Williams credit for the 697 days he’s spent in county jail. But the case is not quite over, as Williams has petitioned the court to withdraw his plea, stating that he was led to believe that his plea would result in a “reduced sentence below the guideline,” court papers say. READ FULL STORY


Crisis situation as shelter stops taking in animals
week of July 27, 2023

For the first time in 70 years, the Humane Society of Vero Beach has stopped taking in animals. The shelter, which has rescued and rehomed tens of thousands of stray and surrendered animals since 1953, announced it had temporarily closed its admissions department last week “in light of the critical lack of space to accommodate the unprecedented influx of owner surrendered and stray animals.” “HSVB is beyond capacity,” said chief communications officer Tracey Kinsley. “We’ve had a 71 percent increase in owner surrenders and 25 percent increase in strays, year to date.” But while the number of animals being brought in has soared, adoptions have not. There is simply no more room to house any additional cats and dogs until local residents adopt those already in the shelter. READ FULL STORY


Cash is king in Vero property market – and baby boomers have a lot of it
week of July 27, 2023

Cash deals have always led the real estate parade on the island, especially in the upper end of the market. But now, in the post-pandemic world, pure, unadulterated cash plays an even bigger role in Vero’s property market, flowing more freely on the island and spilling over onto the mainland – and a majority of it is coming from baby boomers. “Realistically, it comes down to the fact that baby boomers are the ones who have all the money,” said Berkshire Hathaway agent Chip Landers. His statement is backed up by Seniorliving.org, which reports that boomers possess 80 percent of personal assets in the United States, and by The Motley Fool financial website that says boomers have 70 percent of the country’s disposable income at their slightly arthritic fingertips. “It is all cash,” said Landers, who does a majority of his business on the mainland. “Before the pandemic, my business was probably 70 percent financed and 30 percent cash. Today, 75 to 80 percent of my deals are all cash.” READ FULL STORY


Brightline tests give county taste of speedy trains to come
week of July 27, 2023

Brightline blasted its new passenger trains through Indian River County at 110 mph this past week in a test of how things will go when it starts regular service between Orlando and South Florida on Sept. 1. Brightline ran high-speed trains through 31 of the 32 railroad crossings in Indian River County, excluding only the Roseland Road crossing just south of the St. Sebastian River Railroad Bridge, according to Brightline’s most recent construction update. “We wrapped up the Indian River County testing (Sunday),” said Brightline spokeswoman Katie Mitzner. “The next testing will be Brevard (County), which right now is scheduled for Thursday.” Brightline plans to operate 32 trains per day between Orlando and South Florida, 16 in each direction between the hours of 5 a.m. and 12:20 a.m., starting Sept. 1. Tickets will sell for $79 and up for adults. Passenger trains will reach speeds of up to 110 mph in Indian River County, while Florida East Coast Railway operates approximately 20 freight trains per day at speeds ranging from 40-to-60 mph. READ FULL STORY


School spending buoyed by huge hike in property values here
week of July 27, 2023

The School District of Indian River County will get less state and federal money in the coming school year than in 2022-23, but local property taxes, boosted by big gains in property values, will enable raises and improved benefits for the county’s public school teachers. The total proposed school district budget for the next year sits at just under $320 million, a $12.4 million increase from the previous year. The tax rate is set to decrease by 1.25 percent, from $5.98 per $1,000 of taxable value to $5.91 per $1,000 of taxable value, but in almost all cases, rising assessed property values will mean more school district taxes due this fall. Taxable property values districtwide increased by $4.5 billion this year. Island homeowners pay roughly $3,000 in school district property taxes for every half-million dollars in assessed property value. READ FULL STORY


Flowers has raised far less than rival in race for sheriff
week of July 27, 2023

Sheriff Eric Flowers raised $40,300 in the first month of his re-election campaign. He also took in more than $22,106 in in-kind contributions. However, all but four of those in-kind contributions – they totaled more than $19,600 – came from Flowers himself. According to Flowers’ July 10 filing with the county’s Supervisor of Elections Office, most of the “Candidate to Themselves” contributions were campaign items that appeared to be left over from his successful 2020 run for sheriff. They included clothing, signage, bumper stickers, balloons, pens, cups, plasticware, business cards, envelopes, party supplies, pop-up tents, folding tables, coolers, cornhole boards, a generator and golf cart wrap with logo seats. Signs and frames accounted for more than $9,500 of the in-kind contributions the 43-year-old sheriff made to his campaign. READ FULL STORY


Appeals court denies Shores’ rehearing bid
week of July 20, 2023

The Fourth District Court of Appeals has rejected a request by Indian River Shores for a rehearing of an appeal of the town’s breach of contract lawsuit against the City of Vero Beach, but the legal battle is likely not over. Indian River Shores still believes the town has a good case in its claim that Vero unjustly reneged on a 2012 water-sewer utility franchise agreement. But at this point, the case can only be resolved by the Florida Supreme Court – if the town’s legal team can convince the state’s court of last resort to take up the case. “I fully expect the (town) council to authorize the seeking of certiorari from the Florida Supreme Court, to exhaust all of our legal options,” Mayor Brian Foley said Monday. Should the Florida Supreme Court agree that it has jurisdiction, it would send a Writ of Certiorary to the appeals court asking that the 4th DCA prepare the case and send it up to Tallahassee. What may entice Florida’s top judges to hear the Shores’ case is a chance to affirm one of the high court’s own rulings from 1955. READ FULL STORY


Homeowners here are fighting rising insurance premiums
week of July 20, 2023

It may strike many island residents that they are powerless in the face of skyrocketing insurance rates, with little option but to gratefully write a check if they can get homeowners coverage at all. But some are fighting back. A growing number of homeowners are taking the advice offered in TV commercials of one leading insurance company to “Pay only for what you need.” While this is not quite as simple as it sounds, industry experts say there are several steps residents can take to control their costs for insurance, depending on where they live and what level of risk they’re willing to assume for themselves. One piece of advice the experts agree on unanimously: Don’t give up on Vero Beach, and don’t even THINK about moving somewhere else in the Sunshine State. As bad as things are here at the moment with insurance, they’re worse in other parts of Florida. Why is Vero better? Apparently because people tend to be more honest here in their dealings with insurance companies, and the incidence of fraud or suspect claims is lower. READ FULL STORY


O’Dare flair: Real estate collaboration working well for father-daughter team
week of July 20, 2023

Real estate is very much a family affair for Lily O’Dare. Most people around town know the stylish 32-year-old as a successful Realtor who is the daughter and business partner of Cindy O’Dare, one of the star agents on the barrier island. But she also works on real estate deals with her father, Rory O’Dare, currently representing a mid-century modern house in Central Beach that her dad bought last year, renovated in consultation with her, and put on the market in June. It is the fourth real estate project the two have worked on together and they seem delighted with their collaboration. “Lily has a tremendous work ethic and excellent taste, which is critical,” said Rory O’Dare, when asked why he listed his latest flip with his daughter. “She works with you, has a sense of what is fair and just, and has great resources behind her at Sotheby’s and with her mom’s team.” READ FULL STORY


County buoyed by windfall from state for beach work
week of July 20, 2023

State funding to reimburse Indian River County for planned beach replenishment on the island will be more than double the previously expected amount in the coming fiscal year, but the funds must be used by 2025, so work must get underway as soon as possible. The county is now set to receive $7.7 million instead of the anticipated $3.7 million from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. FDEP has also waived the requirement for local match funding. Beach replenishment can be planned and designed now, but construction work can’t get underway on the island until after Nov. 1 when Sea Turtle Nesting Season is over. “ Sectors 3, 4 and 5 – spanning from Seaview, north of Windsor, south to the Riomar golf course in Central Beach – will receive $2.6 million, $2.3 million and $885,600, respectively. The funding also allocates $1.8 million for Sector 7 beaches, though the planned project for that South Beach area has been scrapped and the funds will likely go unused. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach budget prioritizes city employee raises
week of July 20, 2023

The Vero Beach City Council this week took up the first city budget without an influx of cash from the electric utility in possibly 100 years. Since the sale of Vero Electric to Florida Power & Light in 2018, the city had been on a programmed “glide path” to wean itself off the more than $7 million in direct and administrative transfers Vero used to harvest from the municipal utility each year to balance the books. Despite all the dire predictions from those who wondered how the city would get by without the cash from Vero Electric, the Vero Beach Police Department remains fully funded, and other city services remain intact. There’s even money to help municipal employees cope with inflation. “One of the top priorities for this proposed budget is a cost-of-living adjustment salary increase for all employees citywide,” City Manager Monte Falls said in his budget message to the City Council. READ FULL STORY


Retired engineer will ‘quarterback’ the planned Three Corners project
week of July 20, 2023

Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls has opted to retain – on a contract basis – a retired civil engineer who lives locally to manage the planned Three Corners development at the west end of the 17th Street Bridge. Peter Polk, founder and director of the Texas-based Occam Consulting Group, will serve as the city’s Three Corners project manager. He is expected to start on Aug. 1, and will be paid $8,000 per month. “We looked for people to work in-house, and it didn’t pan out,” Falls said last week. “Peter came to us early in that process, but he has his own consulting firm, and he didn’t want to be a full-time city employee. “He was the best guy, so we decided to go the contract route,” he added. “He’s local. He knows this community. He’s a good fit.” Polk, who has an extensive background in engineering and as a project manager, will answer to Falls and work closely with both him and Vero Beach Planning Director Jason Jeffries. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island may not get natural gas by the fall, as hoped
week of July 13, 2023

The Town of Indian River Shores utility franchise agreement with Florida City Gas that was supposed to be executed in May is not expected to be ready for a vote at the July 27 town council meeting, and that delay will likely present a major dilemma for John’s Island. In April, Mike Korpar, general manager of the John’s Island Property Owners’ Association, told Shores officials the goal was to get John’s Island piped for natural gas by the fall, except for Gem Island and Coconut Palm Road, where it will take two years to complete installation of gas lines due to extra permitting. If the town approves the franchise agreement in August, that would only give Florida City Gas about three months to have gas lines run by Thanksgiving in a community that generally shuns all-but-emergency construction during the height of season, so as to not inconvenience residents and guests. READ FULL STORY


Homeowners insurance nightmares haunt islanders
week of July 13, 2023

Residents as well as businesses with property in 32963 are getting hit by a triple whammy in the current homeowners’ insurance crisis. Not only are many residents facing whopping increases of as much as 100 percent or more in premiums – if they can get a policy at all – but others live in a development that has a homeowners association to take care of common areas. The HOAs are also being hit with huge increases that will inevitably be passed through to the residents in higher maintenance fees and or hefty special assessments. On top of that, the current real estate boom that has just about doubled home prices in many areas may be a boon to people’s net worth, but the additional coverage they now need to buy to insure their higher-valued properties may come as an unexpected shock. READ FULL STORY


Moss’ suit seeks compensation for ‘traumatic brain injury’
week of July 13, 2023

A year after she was hit by a slow-moving pickup truck on Cardinal Drive, County Commissioner Laura Moss – who said she suffered a “serious concussion” – is suing her own auto-insurance company in hopes of being reimbursed for her medical expenses and compensated for her injuries. The lawsuit was initially filed by the former Vero Beach mayor in circuit court in Indian River County on June 6, but at the request of the attorney representing Farmers Casualty Insurance Company, which is headquartered in California, the case was moved to U.S. District Court in Fort Pierce. Moss’ attorney, Matthew Thomas of the Graves-Thomas-Rotunda Injury Law Group in Vero Beach, said last week no court date had been set. “The person who caused the accident was not insured, but the auto policy purchased by Ms. Moss included uninsured motorist coverage,” Thomas said. “She filed this lawsuit because she wants to be made whole again, financially, and compensated for her pain and suffering.” Thomas said Moss was covered by the policy, even though she was not driving at the time she was struck, because the injuries she sustained were the result of an automobile accident. READ FULL STORY


Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club getting $20M in upgrades
week of July 13, 2023

Vero Beach has a lot of great clubs with first-class facilities and distinguished memberships and they might be forgiven for resting a bit on their laurels – but they don’t. The Moorings, Quail Valley, John’s Island, Riomar, Windsor, Grand Harbor and the Vero Beach Country Club all have undertaken multimillion-dollar upgrades in recent years – adding a “plus” to their ‘A’ grades. Now Orchid Island – a small but stunningly beautiful residential golf and beach club – is joining the party in a big way, with a $10 million array of additions and improvements to club facilities. Major golf course improvements, golf clubhouse renovation and expansion, and new pickleball courts, croquet lawn, basketball court, playground, and gazebo with a bar for outdoor socializing and small events all are on the schedule. Another $10 million in additional upgrades is in the pipeline, but planning for the second phase is still in early stages and longtime club general manager Rob Tench did not want to discuss specifics. READ FULL STORY


Col. Marty Zickert was veterans’ best friend
week of July 13, 2023

Retired Air Force colonel Martin James Zickert, 82, a tireless worker for Indian River County military veterans of all ages and service branches whom everyone called either “Marty” or “Colonel,” died on July 2 while traveling. His son announced he had “succumbed to injuries from a fall in Nashville.” Loved ones will gather for a memorial service at 9 a.m. July 29 at Vero’s Memorial Island Sanctuary for a memorial service with a dress code. “The one thing we are asking is no black,” son Michael Zickert said. “Dad was too colorful for black and would want us to celebrate him appropriately.” Later that day, Zickert’s favorite watering hole, Walking Tree Brewery, will host an event in his honor. Gregarious, witty, dedicated, loyal, direct and tireless, Zickert’s greatest talent was serving as a human catalyst. He could walk into a situation filled with chaos, assess it, organize it, marshal the needed resources and propel the project on to not only action, but success. Zickert led by example – never asking anyone to tackle a job he wouldn’t do himself. READ FULL STORY


City Council member Neville says he’s undecided on re-election bid
week of July 13, 2023

Vero Beach City Council member Rey Neville said last week he doesn’t know whether he will seek re-election in November, and he might not decide until shortly before the candidate qualifying period ends on Aug. 18. “I’ve been giving it a lot of thought, but I haven’t completely made up my mind yet,” Neville said. “It’s a real commitment, and I’ve done four years of it. But my decision could depend – to some degree, anyway – on who’s going to get into the race. “I want to see who else is running,” he added. “If somebody decides to run that I think would overturn some of the things we’re trying to do, I could jump in.” Might the fate of the proposed Twin Pairs lane reduction on State Road 60 through downtown Vero Beach get him on the ballot for a third term? Neville, who favors the controversial change and appears to be the swing vote on the current council, said he wasn’t expecting the question. READ FULL STORY


County looking to lure state funding for lagoon projects’ wish list
week of July 13, 2023

County staff hopes a draft lagoon management plan before County Commissioners this week outlining 79 projects – ranging from living shorelines and muck removal to weaning county residents off septic tanks – will give Indian River County an edge in competing for $3.2 million in state grant funding. The water-quality projects in the 51-page plan that the county and its consultant Tetra Tech will pitch are candidates for inclusion in a $100 million environmental initiative announced by Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 15. “The draft lagoon management plan brings together input received from multiple County Departments, a literature review, expert analyses, and guidance from regulatory agencies to have a cohesive plan reflecting the unique needs of the Indian River Lagoon within Indian River County,” staff reported. Fourteen of the lagoon projects in the plan are currently operational, six are under construction, four are shovel-ready and the rest are still conceptual. The four shovel-ready projects include two areas of seagrass restoration, the installation of an oyster reef and living shoreline at Lauren’s Island – located just south of the Barber Bridge and west of Riverside Park – and the evaluation of future muck removal. READ FULL STORY


Honey Minuse seeking return to City Council
week of July 6, 2023

Honey Minuse, who lost her re-election bid last year, wants to return to the City Council, where she believes her experience, perspective and passion are needed as Vero Beach prepares to shape its future. “We’re about to move ahead with several major projects that will have a tremendous impact on our community,” Minuse said last week, referring to the Three Corners development, construction of a new wastewater-treatment plant and creation of a master plan for the revitalization of downtown Vero Beach. “We need to make sure they’re done right,” she added, “and I have the institutional knowledge and passion for this city to see that they are.” Minuse, a longtime Vero Beach resident, lost her seat in November, after she was targeted by a local grassroots group opposed to the city’s plan to build a substantially larger boat-storage facility at the municipal marina. READ FULL STORY


Unusual malaria alert issued, but little to fear here
week of July 6, 2023

A statewide Florida malaria alert that attracted considerable attention on the nightly news and in social media this past week is the latest bizarre event of the 2020s, but for most 32963 residents, there’s no reason to invest in a mosquito net, or even to worry. On May 26, in Sarasota County on Florida’s Gulf Coast, a person tested positive for Plasmodium vivax malaria, prompting the county health department to issue an alert. Then a second person in neighboring Manatee County just south of Tampa tested positive, triggering a similar alert in that county. But what prompted the Florida Health Department last week to issue a statewide malaria alert? Each year, 40 to 70 Floridians typically test positive for malaria. What makes these two malaria cases so special? The answer: The two patients had not traveled outside Florida, but were infected with malaria by a local mosquito. READ FULL STORY


Village Beach Market’s next frontier: Downtown Fort Pierce
week of July 6, 2023

The Village Beach Market, which has been providing a variety of fresh, gourmet and prepared foods to 32963 residents for more than four decades, is about to finally open a store on the mainland – in downtown Fort Pierce. Barring any further delays, the Vero-based market will launch its Fort Pierce venture under the same name as its A1A store later this month. The exact date has not yet been determined. The new 8,000-square-foot store will be located in the historic One Eleven Building – site of the failed Fort Pierce Trader’s Market – on Orange Avenue, between 2nd Street and Indian River Drive. “Downtown Fort Pierce has a great vibe,” Village Beach Market owner Jason Keen said. “The workforce is already there, and there are a lot of activity and events, as well as some new developments on the horizon that will bring added value to the area. READ FULL STORY


Domination of south island market gives Moorings Realty Sales Company big lift
week of July 6, 2023

The Moorings Realty Sales Company is having a great year, dominating sales on the southern part of the island and getting ready to add another notable agent to its small but highly productive roster. “I did not expect this summer to be as strong as it is,” said Moorings Realty broker Marsha Sherry. “I thought it would steady, but I would say it is more than just steady! Our numbers speak for themselves.” Those numbers, drawn from MLS data covering the first half of the year up to June 26, are impressive. Operating with just three sales agents, the boutique brokerage had the most transactions by far not just in the Moorings community where it is located but on the whole south section of 32963, from 17th Street to the St. Lucie County line, an area that includes Castaway Cove and other substantial communities. “I am so proud of my agents,” said Sherry. “We are small but mighty!” READ FULL STORY


Makeover of Round Island Park means no lifeguards for 2 weeks
week of July 6, 2023

The oceanside portion of Round Island Park at the southern end of 32963 will be closed from July 18 through Aug. 1 for a quarter-million dollars of improvements in parking and landscaping. Pedestrians will still have access to the beach from the western portion of the park, but no lifeguards will be on duty during renovations. While the parking area is getting an overhaul, county workers will also be removing invasive exotic plant species and installing native vegetation at the park. “Round Island Oceanside Park is one of our most popular beach parks. This year it is getting a makeover with new paved parking, exotics removal, native landscaping, and soon there will be a new playground,” said Indian River County Parks and Recreation Director Beth Powell. After the new parking surface and pavers are laid, the oceanside park will be closed for another week in August for striping. READ FULL STORY


Vero fires back in dragged-out utility squabble
week of July 6, 2023

Any hopes that Indian River Shores and Vero Beach could amicably iron out their differences on water utility rates likely ended back in January when Vero mailed bills with double-digit rate hikes to town residents. But the city’s response to the Shores’ latest appeals court pleading in a breach of contract dispute shows how wide the chasm has grown. After losing an appeal before the Fourth District Court of Appeals, Indian River Shores requested clarification and rehearing, filed a request for clarification of “a matter of great public importance,” teeing up its case for a run at the Florida Supreme Court, arguing the ruling could gut utility franchise agreements statewide. Vero’s legal team rapidly shot back, urging the court to deny the Shores’ motion. “The Town’s Motion is a shining example of an improper rehearing request.” READ FULL STORY


Sous chef guilty of aggravated battery in knife attack
week of July 6, 2023

A sous chef at a luxury Vero assisted-living community has been convicted of aggravated battery with a weapon for a 2017 knife attack in the kitchen of the main dining room. Orville Reid, 52, was on trial for attempted second-degree murder, but was acquitted of that as the jury opted for the lesser charge. The victim, Clive Alcott, was Reid’s line cook and mentee at the community formerly known as The Isles of Vero. Reid admitted to striking Alcott in the head with a chef’s knife, but defense attorney Bobby Guttridge insisted Reid acted in self-defense against Alcott, who is 20 years Reid’s junior. The jury didn’t buy that explanation, but apparently didn’t think Reid meant to kill Alcott. Aggravated battery with a weapon carries maximum penalties of 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. READ FULL STORY


17th St. Bridge project delayed until September
week of June 29, 2023

The four-year project to rebuild the crumbling 17th Street bridge across the Indian River Lagoon is off to a bad start – or rather, no start at all, since the work, originally slated to begin May 30, has now been postponed until at least September. “We realize that September is the height of the hurricane season around here, so depending on what happens with the weather, there may be further delays of a few days,” said a site manager at the Vecellio & Grogan, Inc., the West Palm Beach-based contractor on the $22.3 million job, one of the largest bridge construction firms in the nation. It seems like those oft-cited supply chain problems are the culprit for the latest delay on the 17th Street bridge work in Vero Beach. “There were problems with materials acquisition, so the start has been postponed a bit,” said the manager. READ FULL STORY


Omicron variants seen target of next Covid vax booster
week of June 29, 2023

A COVID-19 work group at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after reviewing virus trends and vaccine efficiency data last week, has concluded that the next vaccine booster expected to be available this fall should target the newest Omicron virus variants which put people over age 65 and infants at higher risk for hospitalization. While it’s now almost impossible to obtain up-to-date statistics specific to our community, the Omicron XBB.1.5 variant was responsible for about 1 in 4 positive cases in the Southeast United States from June 11 through June 24. The emerging Omicron XBB.1.16 variant accounted for 1 in 5 positive cases during that same two weeks. The two most recent vaccine boosters were a bivalent formula, which included protection against the original strain as well as Omicron variants. Indian River County ranks fourth among Florida counties with 16.3 percent of local residents having have received this booster. Sumter County, which includes The Villages, is the most-boosted county at 24 percent, according to the CDC. READ FULL STORY


Builders’ confidence healthy here heading into summer and beyond
week of June 29, 2023

It was big – and encouraging – news for the economy last week when U.S. homebuilder sentiment turned positive for the first time in a year, rising for the sixth straight month to 55 on a scale of 100, showing increased optimism about the new home industry going forward. Here in Vero Beach, builder sentiment was even higher. “My confidence number right now is a 75 or 80,” said Bill Handler, president of GHO homes, the leading residential builder on the barrier island. “Things are going really well at the Strand.” The Strand is a large, luxury home subdivision in Indian River Shores. Handler added that buyers are already signing contracts before model homes are complete at Seaglass, another GHO subdivision on the island. “We’ve had a steady stream of new business over the past six months, with very strong sales in both January and February this year,” said Karen Kicinski, head of marketing at Lifestyle Homes, which is building houses at Bent Pine Preserve and other locations in Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff race rival sees ‘agenda’ behind big contributors to Thornton campaign
week of June 29, 2023

Sheriff’s Captain Milo Thornton’s early fundraising success in his campaign to replace his boss has impressed local elected officials, but one of his rivals in the 2024 race for sheriff has questioned the motives of some of the contributors who in two months have staked him to a $200,000 war chest. Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry, the runner-up to now-Sheriff Eric Flowers in the 2020 Republican primary, said members of the community are telling him “something doesn’t smell right” and that they find it “odd and suspicious” Thornton has been able to raise so much money so soon. “They believe there’s an agenda behind it – that people are contributing to his campaign to gain influence over the candidate,” Touchberry said. “Someone needs to say it.” READ FULL STORY


Two huge projects await Vero’s newly hired finance director
week of June 29, 2023

After six years of retirement – and with his wife at home in Port St. Lucie, where she takes care of their 2½-year-old grandson – Steve Dionne decided to go back to work. Last week, at age 63, he started his new job as Vero Beach’s finance director. “I put in my 30 years with the state and retired early, but I got tired of sitting on my porch and reading books, so when this opportunity came up, I applied for it,” Dionne said Monday. “This is a great place to work,” he added. “I’ve met some very nice and very talented people, and there’s a standard of success to live up to here,” he added. “Year after year, this office gets recognized with certifications from respected financial organizations. “But I’m well-rested, excited to be back at work and looking forward to contributing to the city’s mission.” READ FULL STORY


Amid complaints, stiffer penalties possible on vacation rentals
week of June 29, 2023

Under a plan being drafted by the new County Administrator John Titkanich, county code enforcement would impose stiffer penalties on owners of short-term island rentals in the unincorporated county at the north and south ends of the barrier island. The move comes in response to a stream of calls to county officials about revelers who rent residential homes for a week or weekend getaway violating county parking and noise ordinances, and keeping their neighbors awake at night. The decision to move forward with a new schedule of fines passed 4-1, with Board Chair Joe Earman dissenting. Before approving any changes to code enforcement, a public hearing will be held and the motion must be approved via super majority. A list of updated fees will be included when the item comes back to the board as exact dollar amounts have not yet been determined, Titkanich said. “The intent is not to be punitive … The level of income derived from these properties is pretty significant and making sure the fine is commensurate with that to prevent bad-faith actors from not regulating their properties. The real intent is to protect the quality of life of our residents in our community.” READ FULL STORY


Scarcity of golf memberships rough on newcomers
week of June 22, 2023

For newcomers to Vero who fall in love with the 32963 barrier island, one of the constraints on moving here at the moment is the long waitlists for golf membership at some of the top island clubs. “The wait for golf memberships at Quail is eight to nine years and I think The Moorings is over five years now,” said Dale Sorensen luxury agent Cathy Curley. “I haven’t had deals fall through because of interest rates or economic uncertainty, but clients aren’t buying in some cases because they can’t immediately enjoy the lifestyle they are used to,” Curley added. “When there is a shortage of club options, some people move on.” “The club waitlists have affected the real estate market a little bit,” agreed Marsha Sherry, longtime broker at The Moorings Realty Sales Co. “We try to find alternatives for clients – some clubs are offering different packages or limited membership – but I won’t say we haven’t seen some potential buyers move on, not just from The Moorings but from Vero because of waitlists.” READ FULL STORY


Two vaccines for RSV likely available in fall
week of June 22, 2023

Four new vaccines designed to protect against Respiratory Syncytial Virus are on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s agenda this week, with two vaccines expected to be available this fall to help older adults fend off the potentially dangerous virus. Respiratory Syncytial Virus, or RSV – discovered in the late 1950s – is a highly contagious, lower-respiratory infection that nearly went dormant during COVID-19 lockdowns, but the threat from RSV is now on the rise again here. Up north, RSV tends to be seasonal, ramping up in fall and peaking in the winter. But locally, RSV season runs 12 months of the year, and according to the Florida Department of Health’s weekly RSV report, the percentage of patients testing positive for RSV is increasing in Indian River and St. Lucie counties. The likelihood that a safe and effective RSV vaccine will be available for the first time this fall is an exciting development, since there is no specific, widely recommended treatment for RSV once a patient is infected – only supportive care of the lungs with oxygen and bronchodilators. More than 14,000 Americans die from RSV each year. READ FULL STORY


Inactivity on Three Corners development notable downer in state of the city speech
week of June 22, 2023

Of all the topics covered by Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno during his 45-minute “state of the city” presentation last week, he expressed disappointment with the progress of only one project. The Three Corners development. Specifically, Cotugno voiced his frustration with the city’s ongoing struggle to attract and hire the right person to manage a project that is expected to transform 33 acres on the mainland’s waterfront – at the west end of the 17th Street bridge – into a social, dining, retail and recreational hub. He said the national epidemic of people of applying for jobs and then abandoning the process without notice has disrupted the city’s timetable for formally issuing a request for proposals (RFP) from developers. READ FULL STORY


Is libel suit in the cards over reprimand of top Vero bridge player?
week of June 22, 2023

Bridge may be just a card game, but at the top of the game, players take it very seriously. Some would say far too seriously. The Vero Beach Bridge Club, a venerable 63-year-old institution that has become one of the top 10 bridge clubs in the country, is currently facing the threat of a lawsuit from its highest-ranking member, Reanette Frobouck. With more than 21,000 MasterPoints, far more than any other Vero club member, Frobouck is among the top 100 bridge players in the country. A petite 80-ish snowbird with homes in Orchid for the winter and Pittsburgh for the summer, Frobouck recently was given a reprimand and put on probation for three months for allegedly questioning the integrity and impartiality of a game director who happened to be one of the club’s new co-managers, George Weber. READ FULL STORY


New Riverside Park tennis director ‘eager to get started’
week of June 22, 2023

The new tennis director at Vero Beach’s Riverside Park Racquet Complex, hired by the United States Tennis Association’s Florida Section last week, arrived at work Monday with an open mind and committed to a wait-and-see approach. “There will be no immediate changes,” Margot Carter said as she prepared to take over the operations and management of the 10-court facility. “After a period of time observing the current state of activities, some additions surely will be made, but that will be dependent on the needs and requests of the community.” Her ultimate goal, though, is to increase court usage – especially in the afternoons and evenings – and implement programs to entice more people in the Vero Beach area to play tennis. And while she brings to the job an impressive tennis background, Carter said she’ll welcome suggestions. READ FULL STORY


Is Shores taking breach of contract dispute to Florida Supreme Court?
week of June 22, 2023

The Town of Indian River Shores seems to be laying the groundwork to take its breach of contract dispute against the City of Vero Beach to the Florida Supreme Court. After Circuit Court Judge Janet Croom ruled in favor of Vero Beach saying there was no breach of contract, and Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals affirmed Croom’s ruling – a precedent which could be wielded to gut the authority of utility franchise agreements across the state – the Shores’ attorneys have petitioned for a rehearing on the matter to clarify “a matter of great public importance.” At the crux of the dispute is a promise made in writing in October 2012 by Vero Beach to match Indian River County Utilities’ rates. The promise was made to gain competitive advantage over the county, which was also vying for the town’s utility business. READ FULL STORY


Second sister takes plea deal in eldercare theft case
week of June 15, 2023

With her sister serving 14 years in state prison for her part in stealing more than a half-million from an elderly John’s Island couple and their banks, 35-year-old former nursing assistant Sophia Monae Shepherd took a plea deal on Monday just as jury selection had begun for her criminal trial. Shepherd, also known as Sophia Brown, agreed to plead no contest to two felony charges, to serve eight years in state prison and to pay back $20,000 to the victims’ family, and $150,000 to American Express for the luxury items, trips and services she charged to the platinum card belonging to Michelina Martinelli and her late husband Alfred. The two octogenarians were in the sisters’ care as Shepherd and McGee were hired on as CNAs to work in the Martinelli home. McGee and Shepherd had access to the Martinellis’ credit cards to purchase needed items for the couple’s care and health. In addition to those essentials, they charged clothing, jewelry, shoes, electronics, casino junkets to South Florida, cruises, a trip to New York City, a hotel stay at The Plaza, the rental of a Rolls Royce and even cosmetic surgery. READ FULL STORY


Ira Hatch dies in prison; defrauded clients of millions
week of June 15, 2023

Convicted fraudster and disbarred attorney Ira Hatch, 76, died on May 31 in state prison while serving a 30-year sentence for stealing more than $4 million from 700 clients of his law firm and from his Vero Beach company Coastal Escrow. A former Castaway Cove resident who famously enticed escrow clients of the barrier island’s elite real estate professionals with lavish cocktail parties, Hatch was arrested in January 2008 after shuttering Coastal Escrow over Labor Day weekend 2007, leaving home buyers, attorneys, brokers and estates wondering where all the money they entrusted to him had gone. Following an eight-week criminal trial during the summer of 2010, Hatch hastily changed his plea while the jury was out deliberating. Convicted on first-degree felony charges, Hatch was sentenced to serve at least 85 percent of a 30-year sentence, minus 21 months credit for time served. READ FULL STORY


Land whoa! County sees multibillion surge in property values
week of June 15, 2023

Indian River County got much more valuable over the past year. The dollar value of property taxed to fill the county’s general operating fund jumped nearly $3 billion, from $23.3 billion to $26.2 billion, a bracing 12.4 percent increase, according to estimates released this month by Property Appraiser Wesley Davis. The tax roll numbers are impressive – $26 billion worth of real estate isn’t bad for a small, mostly rural county with a population less than 165,000. It translates to more than $150,000 worth of real estate for every man, woman and child, and many of the dogs and cats. But the taxable values are only part of the iceberg. The actual value of real estate in the county is likely twice what the tax rolls reflect, more like $50 billion, with a $5 billion or $6 billion increase from last year, though there is no official number. Homestead exemptions are the biggest reason for the discrepancy between taxable and actual value. READ FULL STORY


County Attorney resigns. Next stop: Kilimanjaro
week of June 15, 2023

As his 50th birthday rapidly approaches, County Attorney Dylan Reingold wants to reach for new heights – while he still can. That’s why he notified the County Commission last week of his intention to resign from his $194,000 job (plus benefits) to pursue his longtime dream of traveling to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa at 19,341 feet. Reingold, an Indian River Shores resident who has served as the county’s chief legal counsel for the past 10 years, said his last day in the job will be in late July or early August. His resignation comes one month after the commissioners unanimously approved a new one-year contract. “This is something that has been on my mind for a long time, but I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger,” Reingold said last week. “The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I need to do it now, while I’m still physically able and can enjoy it.” READ FULL STORY


‘Bed tax’ surplus to benefit county tourism
week of June 15, 2023

It’s been a banner tourist season for Vero Beach and last week, the Indian River Board of County Commissioners got to solve an easy government problem – what to do with higher-than-expected revenues from the 4 percent hotel “bed tax.” The Tourist Development Council’s $1.4 million budget was fully funded and then some by bed tax receipts.But with the $869,000 excess, the commissioners went with the staff’s recommendation to boost the tourist council’ 2023-24 budget by 17 percent. The tourist council then recommended allocating $214,420 – which would otherwise be cash-forward reserves – to the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce. Two commissioners, Laura Moss and Deryl Loar, were hesitant about handing the increase to the Chamber, instead suggesting the funds be banked for a potential economic downturn. READ FULL STORY


Despite chatter, a Trader Joe’s here is a no-go... for now
week of June 15, 2023

Maybe you heard the buzz last week about the possibility of a Trader Joe’s grocery store coming to Vero Beach. Turns out, the noise was nothing more than wishful thinking. According to City Planning and Development Director Jason Jeffries, the California-based chain has no plans to open a store here – not in the foreseeable future, anyway. “I don’t know where she came up with Trader Joe’s,” Jeffries said, “other than a lot of people have expressed a desire to have a store here.” The “she” to whom Jeffries was referring was is Irina Woelfle, a Vero Beach resident, founder of a local boutique public-relations and marketing firm, and creator of the “Let’s Talk Vero” website, which she uses to conduct surveys on high-profile development issues in the community. READ FULL STORY


‘Rapid response’on beach erosion puts county in better position to replenish
week of June 15, 2023

Having learned from prior storm seasons, Indian River County has retained engineers to rapidly document any beach erosion so the county in the future can be first in line for emergency sand, and for grant funding to replenish the shore. After two storms made landfall in Florida in 2022, affecting nearly every coastal county in the state, mined sand processed to beach-quality specifications became scarce, and so did the dump trucks needed to haul the sand to jobsites. Hundreds of millions in Florida Department of Environmental Protection funding for storm-ravaged beaches was announced at a moment’s notice by Gov. Ron DeSantis, but only projects that were surveyed, engineered and ready to go got the money. Mindful of this, the County Commission approved two future beach profile surveys, contracted with Morgan and Eklund, Inc., last Tuesday. The surveys, costing $120,000, can be conducted following “post-significant erosional event(s),” according to a staff report. READ FULL STORY


Ryan Butler appointed clerk of the court
week of June 15, 2023

Ryan Butler has been appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to be Indian River County’s Clerk of the Court and Comptroller for the next 19 months, filling out the balance of Jeff Smith’s term. Butler left the State Attorney’s Office in 2020 to become Smith’s chief deputy and general counsel. “Jeff knew he wasn’t going to run again. He brought me on to learn the side of the clerk’s office that I wasn’t familiar with from working in the court system,” Butler said. “Clerks have literally 1,000 statutory duties, but 70 percent of our personnel and our budget is on the courts side.” The other 30 percent of the job entails auditing all the county agencies, keeping inventories of county capital assets, and guarding against fraud and abuse of county funds and property. The agency also serves as clerk to the Board of County Commissioners. READ FULL STORY


Cleveland Clinic hospital regains its ‘A’ grade
week of June 8, 2023

Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital was one of 64 hospitals in Florida to earn top marks from a national hospital safety rating guide, moving from a “C” overall grade last fall to an “A” this spring, showing progress in infection control, surgical complications and drug documentation. Indian River County’s largest hospital earned a near-perfect score in the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade ratings for preventing patient falls and injuries, and for effective leadership in error and infection prevention. But the guide also pointed out a few areas that still need improvement. The hospital got marked down for poor doctor and employee communication, and for something that costs zero dollars and is seemingly a no-brainer more than three years into the COVID-19 health crisis – hand-washing. The Leapfrog Group rates nearly 3,000 hospitals nationwide each Fall and Spring in 30 different objective measurements divided into five main categories – infections, serious or fatal surgical complications, safety problems, practices to prevent errors, and the overall performance of doctors, nurses and hospital staff tasked with ensuring that hospitals do no harm to patients in their care. READ FULL STORY


Flowers launches campaign to be re-elected sheriff
week of June 8, 2023

Deryl Loar couldn’t help but notice two things about the news release issued last week by Sheriff Eric Flowers when he announced the launch of his campaign for re-election in 2024. First: Flowers didn’t mention Loar’s name even though Loar – who served three terms as sheriff before retiring from law enforcement 2 ½ years ago and running successfully for a seat on the County Commission – had handpicked and groomed him to be his successor. Second: Flowers portrayed the Loar-led Sheriff’s Office as being behind the times, ill-equipped and out of touch with modern policing – an agency that relied on antiquated approaches to everything from fighting crime to operating a jail to caring for its personnel. “He makes it sound like I was there for 12 years doing nothing,” Loar said. “I’m not thrilled with it, either. He talks about the previous administration. He was part of that administration.” Under Loar, in fact, Flowers became the third-highest-ranked deputy in the 500-member agency, rising from lieutenant to major and skipping past captain. READ FULL STORY


State toughens up term limits for local school boards. Now, it will be eight years
week of June 8, 2023

Last year’s imposition of 12-year term limits for Florida local school board members apparently was not limiting enough for state legislators, who doubled down in this year’s session to enact an eight-year term limit, signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. School board members already seated in office prior to Nov. 8, 2022, are grandfathered-in under the 12-year limits. The new eight-year term limits apparently would only apply to any new members elected in 2024 and beyond. Local school board Chair Dr. Peggy Jones said the new law is quite confusing and that she had sought clarification on the grandfather clause. But it would appear that school board vice chair Teri Barenborg and board member Jackie Rosario, both elected in 2018 and re-elected in 2022, would be eligible to run in 2026. Jones and the other two members first elected in 2020 would appear eligible to run in 2024, and if re-elected, again in 2028. Barenborg said she thought 12 years was the sweet spot for the term limit of school board members, balancing mentorship, knowledgeable board members and fresh thought. READ FULL STORY


No sign of real estate slowdown here: ‘The market is on fire’
week of June 8, 2023

The 32963 ‘season” is over, right? Ended shortly after Easter, right? Everyone’s gone from the island, right? The real estate market is taking an off-season breather, right? Not this year. “The market is on fire,” ONE Sotheby’s broker associate Cindy O’Dare told Vero Beach 32963 on Monday. “We just sold another house a couple of minutes ago, which makes 25 sales since April 1. “There is a line of buyers for every property, as long as it is priced right,” she said, adding that April and May have been busier than the first three months of the year. “I have definitely been working harder longer this spring,” said Cathy Curley, one of the top agents at Dale Sorensen Real Estate. “Usually in April I'm coming up for air, but this April I put on three new listings and had a total of five listings go under contract in April and May. I think this longer selling season is due to several factors, including more people staying in Vero full time and the snowbird ‘season’ getting longer and longer,” Curley added. READ FULL STORY


USTA Florida takes over Riverside Park tennis complex
week of June 8, 2023

Less than two weeks into its three-year takeover of the 10-court tennis complex at Vero Beach’s Riverside Park, USTA Florida has, as promised, begun resurfacing the four courts that weren’t refurbished by the city. The Orlando-based state chapter of governing body for tennis in America also has installed a new digital court-reservation system that can be accessed online at www.RiversideRacquetComplex.com. And a tennis director has been hired – at least tentatively. “The person has an extensive background in tennis and is currently in the employment verification process,” USTA Florida Executive Director Laura Bowen wrote last weekend in an email responding to questions from Vero Beach 32963. “Out of respect for their current employment, we are not making the candidate’s information public until everything is completed,” she added. “We should have an official announcement soon.” Once the new director is on the job, Bowen continued, additional programs and opportunities to play will be offered at the Riverside Park Racquet Complex, and USTA Florida is “planning a bigger community event in August.” READ FULL STORY


Penny increase to tourist tax could aid beach replenishment
week of June 8, 2023

With tourism numbers across the state exceeding predictions, Indian River County is looking at capitalizing on this surge to raise more money for beach replenishment. On Tuesday, the Indian River County Board of County Commissioners was scheduled to discuss a one-cent increase to the county’s tourist tax – up from the current 4 percent to 5 percent – which could bring in an additional $1 million per year. In the agenda item for the June 6 meeting, County Commission Chair Joseph Earman proposed adding the fifth cent’s revenue into the county’s beach restoration fund, though it could be divided in a variety of ways. “With a change to the County Code, this penny would be proposed to be added to the Beach Restoration Fund and it would reduce the temptation to use the 1 cent sales tax,” Earman’s memo reads. “Some additional research by staff will need to be done to determine how the additional penny can be divided appropriately.” READ FULL STORY


Progress slow but natural gas service will be on island soon
week of June 1, 2023

Indian River Shores and Florida City Gas officials say they now hope a franchise agreement and necessary easements will be ready for the town’s June council meeting, so construction work can begin soon after to connect John’s Island and other residential neighborhoods – plus the Ocean Drive business district – to natural gas service. Back in March, Shores Mayor Brian Foley gave the town staff two weeks to wind up the franchise agreement, but the contract was not presented to the town council for approval in April, or in May. Florida City Gas officials say regulatory factors alone hampered their team’s ability to complete the contract, but the company is “enthusiastic to provide an exceptional energy source to residents in Indian River Shores and the surrounding communities; and we’re working hard to make that happen.” READ FULL STORY


Vero’s strong real estate market draws national attention
week of June 1, 2023

Vero Beach is bucking the national home-price trend in an amazing way, with values still headed up from the highs reached during the pandemic boom. A major article in the Washington Post last week explored the continuing strength of home prices in Florida, even as prices falter in other parts of the country, where they have dipped as much as 15 percent in some previously hot markets. The article noted that real estate prices were up, not just year over year, but month over month this spring in 11 Florida markets, with Indian River County leading the way. “According to data from Moody’s Analytics, Sebastian and Vero Beach ... saw some of the biggest gains, with prices up nearly 6 percent between February and March, and 9 percent from last year,” the Post reported. Island real estate brokers confirm the trend. “Prices are still strong,” said Buzz MacWilliam, president of AMAC Alex MacWilliam, Inc. “We aren’t really seeing any declines.” “Prices are still going up,” said Berkshire Hathaway agent Chip Landers. READ FULL STORY


Record year for John’s Island philanthropy, with increased focus on affordable housing
week of June 1, 2023

John’s Island residents broke local philanthropic records this year with their contributions to the John’s Island Community Service League and the John’s Island Foundation, enabling the two groups to fund nearly $3 million in grants and scholarships. This spring, the John’s Island Foundation, which funds capital expenditures, granted $1,397,500 to 30 area agencies, and the Johns Island Community Service League, which funds operational expenses and programs, awarded a total of $1,507,000. Recognizing the scarcity of affordable housing in the county, more than half of the JI Foundation grants support shelter and housing expenses. Last year they gave $200,000 to the Coalition for Attainable Homes toward a public private partnership project with the county to build a triplex in Gifford, which is expected to open in November. This year, they granted $100,000 to the Coalition for an Accessory Dwelling Unit being built behind a house that the Coalition owns. It, too, is a public private partnership. READ FULL STORY


Tad Stone, steeped in experience, new Shores public safety chief
week of June 1, 2023

When Indian River Shores Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell retired sooner than expected last month, Town Manager Jim Harpring looked to someone he’d personally been through hurricanes and a pandemic with – Tad Stone – to fill the position. Now Indian River Shores Acting Public Safety Director, Stone had been hired on as Indian River County’s Assistant Fire Chief in August 2017 and a year later had been appointed the county’s emergency services director. Prior to that, he’d led the Seminole County and Osceola County public safety and emergency management departments. As Indian River County Emergency Management Director, Stone supervised about 10 times the personnel he now manages for Indian River Shores. Harpring at the time was undersheriff, and he and Stone worked in tandem to manage natural disasters, plus all the unprecedented challenges COVID-19 brought to their jobs in 2020. READ FULL STORY


Sign or no sign, new Publix store convenient for islanders still on track
week of June 1, 2023

The sign might be gone, but Publix’s plans to build a supermarket closer to shoppers on the northern half of the barrier island aren’t going away. A regional spokesperson for the Florida-based supermarket chain last week confirmed the company’s plan to build a Publix-anchored shopping plaza on the south side of State Road 510, less than a half-mile east of U.S. 1. “We do still have a store planned for this location,” Lindsey Willis, a Publix media relations manager for the South Florida region, wrote in an email. She did not, however, offer any details about the project, including how Publix plans to address the traffic congestion in that area – especially with DiVosta Homes building a new residential subdivision at the already-busy intersection. READ FULL STORY


School Board: No choice but to repeal race policy
week of June 1, 2023

Three years after the School Board voted unanimously to address institutional racism in the district by adopting a Racial Equity Policy – a bold move celebrated by local educators and Black community leaders – the policy has been repealed. By the current board. In another unanimous – albeit it 3-0, not 5-0 – vote. “I thought long and hard about whether I wanted to do it, but we really weren’t given any choice,” School Board Chair Peggy Jones said after the equity policy was rescinded at a special-call meeting last week. “I didn’t want to put the district at risk of being targeted by the state again.” Both Jones and fellow board member Brian Barefoot already are among the incumbents Gov. Ron DeSantis has targeted for defeat in the 2024 elections – because they supported districtwide mask mandates during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, Jones and Barefoot, along with Vice Chair Teri Barenborg, succumbed to DeSantis’ wishes by repealing an equity policy that included race-related terminology a year-old state law has made illegal. READ FULL STORY


Vero Council shifts meetings to mornings
week of June 1, 2023

Starting in August, the Vero Beach City Council will conduct its regular meetings at 9:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month. The council has been meeting mostly on the first and third Tuesdays, offering an assortment of starting times – 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. – in an effort to accommodate citizens who are unable to attend the usual morning sessions. However, council members recently voted unanimously to approve the change of weeks, primarily to avoid conflicts with County Commission meetings, which are held at 9 a.m. on the first and third Tuesday of the month. Mayor John Cotugno said the schedule change would allow council members and other city staffers to attend county commission meetings at which issues concerning Vero Beach were to be addressed. Likewise, commissioners and other county staffers would have the opportunity to attend Vero City Council meetings when necessary. The commission will continue to meet twice per month through the end of the year, except in October, when it is scheduled to meet on the 3rd, 17th, and 31st. READ FULL STORY


Insurance chaos challenges home owners and realtors
week of May 25, 2023

Home insurance woes have engulfed the Florida real estate market, and the 32963 barrier island is not immune. Rapidly changing laws and underwriting regulations, skyrocketing premiums and problems getting coverage at any cost are making life stressful for home owners, buyers, and realtors. But island agents are finding practical and psychological ways to adapt and get deals done despite an insurance market that “has gone bonkers,” in the words of Alex MacWilliam agent Shannon O’Leary. “It is the elephant in everybody’s living room,” said Douglas Elliman broker associate Sally Daley, who has come up with an ingenious way to sell houses with older, uninsurable roofs that is totally transparent, maximizes the seller’s payout and give the buyer peace of mind. “Insurance costs and availability are almost as important as the cost of the house nowadays,” said Berkshire Hathaway agent Chip Landers, who now starts every deal with a four-point inspection that looks at roofing, electrical, plumbing and HVAC to make sure there aren’t any insurance boobytraps. READ FULL STORY


Island criminal cases grind slowly through the courts
week of May 25, 2023

Hundreds of victims await justice for a massive theft of money from Holy Cross Catholic Church going back more than a decade, and a John’s Island widow and her family await their day in court to hold an Orchid woman responsible for the death of 89-year-old Christopher Ingraham. But the only 32963 case that seems finally ready for a jury trial this summer involves hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen from two John’s Island octogenarians nearly six years ago. Orchid resident Elizabeth Jewkes Danielsen, who was arrested while sunbathing at her Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club pool in January for the May 2022 vehicular Homicide of John’s Island resident Christopher Ingraham, is now facing two civil lawsuits as well. The family of Christopher and Frances Ingraham hired attorney Dan Ullian of Gould Cooksey Fennell law firm to sue both Elizabeth Jewkes Danielsen and her husband Paul Danielsen for negligence. Frances Ingraham, who sustained serious injuries when Danielsen’s Mercedes struck the Ingrahams’ Lexus, killing Christopher, is also suing the Danielsens separately from the personal representatives of the estate. READ FULL STORY


FPL’s apology for poor tree-pruning work not cutting it
week of May 25, 2023

The on-again, off-again war between residents trying to defend the island’s oak canopies and the professional tree-cutters trying to protect power lines took another surprising turn last week when Florida Power & Light (FPL) apologized for a botched tree-trimming job and offered to uproot and replace trees that may have been damaged beyond repair. Problem: The trees that might have to be replaced were 40-year-old stately live oak trees and FPL wants to give the residents a credit on their bills to enable them replace their oaks with trees like magnolias. Ironically, Ground Zero of the latest battle was a condominium complex on North A1A just south of the Indian River Shores town hall named Robles del Mar, which is Spanish for Sea Oaks. There, the FPL proposal and peace offering was a total non-starter. “I explained to them that our name is Robles del Mar (and what the Spanish words mean) and that we would like to stick to the magnificent oaks,” said Mary Power, the active president of the Robles del Mar Home Owners’ Association (HOA). “We want to maintain the name and the character of our grounds.” READ FULL STORY


Funding boost for legal self-help centers
week of May 25, 2023

New Access to Justice Legal Self Help Centers – designed to help low-income residents who are trying to deal with the legal system without a costly attorney – received unanimous support for future funding from Indian River County Commissioner at its May 16 meeting. Clerk of Circuit Court Jeff Smith told the commission that the initiative, which is designed to aid self-represented litigants, should help reduce court backlogs and costs. “There’s a lot of need for people to have assistance through the justice system that can’t afford it. We will be able to serve them and get them through the process. This is a great accomplishment. It’s a big thing for Indian River County,” added Smith, who will retire from his position June 30. Two confidential Self Help Centers, which will be outfitted with legal kiosks, are expected to become operational in July. Initially, one will be located in a first-floor office at the County Courthouse, and the other in an office at the United Against Poverty UP Center. In the long term, the goal is to provide additional centers in other parts of the county. READ FULL STORY


49 grads feted at St. Edward’s 50th commencement
week of May 25, 2023

With pomp and circumstance, the Class of 2023 at Saint Edward’s School celebrated a milestone anniversary with the school’s 50th Commencement ceremony. In his welcoming speech, Jack MacMullan, Associate Head of School/Head of Upper School, said it would have provided lovely symmetry if there were 50 students in the graduating Class of 2023, but alas, he quipped, it was a class of 49. MacMullan said the 2023 graduates had overcome many obstacles, most notably the pandemic, which had impacted their first three years of high school with frustration and uncertainty, highs and lows. “For the first time in a long time, this year felt like normal, with the return of numerous traditions and even the start of a few new ones,” said MacMullan. Head of School Stuart Hirstein recognized the “small but mighty” faculty, who do a remarkable job leading the school. Addressing the Class of 2023, he offered 12 pieces of advice, including that they should live life to the fullest, but in such a fashion as to make the lives of others better. READ FULL STORY


Brightline’s Orlando service delayed to Sept. 1
week of May 25, 2023

Brightline conducted 110 mile per hour test runs in northern Indian River County last week after announcing that the anticipated June 30 rollout of high-speed rail passenger service between Orlando and Miami would be delayed at least until Sept. 1. Brightline started selling tickets on May 17 for the three-and-a-half-hour trip between Orlando and Miami with Friday, Sept. 1, being the first date available on the company’s website. One-way tickets are selling for $79 and up for adults, according to a Brightline news release. Premium one-way fares cost $149 and up. The Sept. 1 startup date is two months later than Brightline anticipated in its January 2023 Revenue and Ridership Report when the company predicted “commencement of operations” by June 30. The daytime test runs at 110 mph ran across the new St. Sebastian River Railroad Bridge and through northern Indian River County between May 17 and May 19, the company said. READ FULL STORY


Music community mourns Jean McMullan
week of May 25, 2023

Vero’s musical community lost one of its champions with the passing of Jean McMullan, co-founder of the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, who died May 12 at her home in Asheville, N.C. McMullan, who would have celebrated her 97th birthday in June, visited Vero in April to enjoy the final Masterworks Concert of the 33rd season and made a brief appearance onstage to a standing ovation. She was predeceased in January 2019 by husband Andrew McMullan, an accomplished musician who until 2004 conducted the orchestra the couple founded from their Oceangate condominium in Vero Beach. Possessed of her own musical acumen, combined with savvy leadership skills, Jean McMullan held bachelor's and master’s degrees in education and music from the University of Connecticut and played for 16 years in the Portland Symphony in Maine. As a result of their enthusiasm, careful nurturing and the support of donors and friends, the ACO has enthralled audiences for more than three decades. It is now the oldest continuously performing professional orchestra on the Treasure Coast. READ FULL STORY


‘Hail Mary’ bid launched to save beach project
week of May 18, 2023

Indian River County is making one final push to get enough oceanfront homeowners to sign the easements needed to replenish beaches from just south of Castaway Cove to The Moorings using federal and state grant dollars. The previous four campaigns to collect sufficient signed easements have failed, so what’s the difference this time around? A personal touch. On May 2, county commissioners signed off on giving Sandpointe resident Doug Demuth 30 days to collect easement signatures with a door-to-door approach. The hope is that if Demuth can get four additional signatures, the county will have met its target to proceed with a $10,000 feasibility study. The study would then help county staff rework the project scope to eliminate the 14 northernmost properties from the replenishment area. READ FULL STORY


A1A construction divides neighbors into 2 camps
week of May 18, 2023

The lengthy construction project between the bridges to add sidewalks, bike lines and pedestrian crossings on the east side of State Road A1A has some island residents ecstatic about the eventual benefits, but many complaining about increased traffic hazards during construction. The $4 million project managed by District 4 of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) started last spring and is more or less on schedule to be finished this fall. Construction has been phased to reduce the impact on the community, according to FDOT Project Manager Humberto Arrieta, and occasional lane closures were limited to non-peak hours, between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to avoid the morning and evening rush hours and between 9 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. on weeknights. The rebuilding of A1A extends from Jasmine Lane just south of the 17th Street Causeway northbound along A1A past the Riomar Golf Course and the Central Beach residential area to Banyan Road, just north of Beachland Boulevard. READ FULL STORY


Islanders helping fill coffers of sheriff candidate Thornton
week of May 18, 2023

Nearly half of the $127,275 raised in April by political newcomer Milo Thornton for his 2024 campaign for sheriff came from island contributors. More is on the way. According to a news release issued by Thornton’s campaign, the 45-year-old sheriff’s captain had collected nearly $36,000 through the first five days of this month – and that was before he attended a fundraiser at the Quail Valley River Club last week. The fundraiser was his second at the island-based country club since he launched his campaign on April 6. Other well-attended fundraisers previously were held at Windsor Club and the Central Beach waterfront home of businessman Hans Kraaz. “A lot of people on the island were expressing interest in my campaign, but they wanted to wait and see if I was going to get out there and do the work necessary to earn their support,” Thornton said last weekend. “They wanted to meet me, hear what I had to say, and see what they’d be investing in,” he added. “They wanted to make sure the candidate wasn’t going to just sit back and let somebody else do all the heavy lifting. READ FULL STORY


‘Buzz’ created by AMAC rebranding pays dividends for longtime island realty firm
week of May 18, 2023

In the midst of the pandemic, Alex MacWilliam Inc., the oldest real estate brokerage on the barrier island, decided it needed to modernize its brand. In mid-2021, the company hired a top brand consultant and came up with a new look and fresh marketing approach, with a bold orange four-letter logo – AMAC – and strong emphasis on the terms neighbor and neighborhood. The initiative paid off. Based on data for the first four months of 2023, the company has gained substantial market share since the rebranding and its dollar volume is up nearly 20 percent over the first four months of 2022 – a lucrative period when the pandemic real estate boom was still underway. “Going into the year, I was afraid all the challenges in today’s economy would hinder our sales,” said company president Alex “Buzz” MacWilliam III. “Every day, we listen to the news and every day we are afraid of another bank failure or a recession or the debt ceiling and I thought all that would shake confidence and reduce demand for homes. READ FULL STORY


Veteran prosecutor lands judicial post
week of May 18, 2023

One of State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl’s few remaining seasoned prosecutors has been tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn, who retired in January after 32 years on the bench. Newly appointed Judge Anastasia Norman, 40, had been working major crimes cases for the State Attorney’s Office in Ft. Pierce. At the time of her application for the judicial post in February, she’d tried more than 150 cases since being admitted to the Florida Bar in 2007. Norman submitted an impressive set of recommendation letters from both the Martin and St. Lucie County sheriffs, and from 19th Circuit Public Defender Diamond Litty, whose defense attorneys she opposed in court. Retired Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans, Norman’s predecessor in major crimes, wrote a persuasive letter recommending Norman, too. “Anastasia will be an excellent judge. Very polite, very understated, and very smart. In essence, she has the temperament, the experience, and the intelligence necessary to be a great judge,” Evans said. READ FULL STORY


Who wants to be Vero’s finance director?
week of May 18, 2023

The job pays well, offers attractive benefits and is located in one of Florida’s most desirable cities. So why has finding Vero Beach’s next finance director been such a struggle? “Cindy Lawson is going to be very hard to replace,” City Manager Monte Falls said last week, as he continued his search for the right candidate to succeed Lawson, who retired last month after 12 years on the job. Lawson’s successor will work with Falls, a project manager and various consultants and contractors to accomplish two of the biggest projects Vero Beach has ever undertaken – the Three Corners development, and the construction of a state-of-the-art water reclamation facility at the Vero Beach Regional Airport. Those two projects could amount to expenditure of more than $200 million. Falls said he had interviewed three applicants – one from Anchorage, Alaska; and two from Florida, one from Lake Worth; and one from Port St. Lucie – and two others canceled their scheduled sessions. The city is still advertising for the position, he added, and no decision is imminent. READ FULL STORY


Bitter utility ruling has Shores mulling options
week of May 18, 2023

The Indian River Shores Town Council will hold a closed or “shade” meeting with its attorneys on May 25 to talk in private about what the town’s next move might be, in light of a disappointing ruling in favor of the City of Vero Beach by the Fourth District Court of Appeals last week. The three-judge panel which heard oral arguments from the parties on April 4 issued an opinion affirming the lower court’s summary judgment ruling that Vero did not violate a 2012 franchise agreement with the Town of Indian River Shores. The court emphasized that Vero has the authority under state law to set its own rates, and said the Shores did not present evidence to counter Vero’s claims that its utility was losing money by matching Indian River County rates as promised in the franchise agreement. Vero City Manager Monte Falls said of the win, “The City of Vero Beach is pleased with the decision of the Fourth DCA, which affirmed the earlier decision of Circuit Court Judge Janet Croom. Each of these decisions were correct on the facts and the law. We look forward to the Fourth DCA decision becoming final, ending this dispute and the unnecessary use of taxpayer resources.” READ FULL STORY


Thornton starts sheriff race with record war chest
week of May 11, 2023

Political newcomer Milo Thornton has established himself as the early frontrunner in the 2024 race for sheriff, having raised more than $160,000 in the first 30 days of his campaign. Never in the county’s 98-year history has a candidate for any local office collected more in contributions in the first month of candidacy. In addition to the $163,175 raised by Thornton’s campaign through May 5, supporters have donated more than $50,000 in monetary ($37,000) and in-kind (14,700) contributions to the “Friends of Milo Thornton” political action committee. That gives him a war chest in excess of $200,000. “The message is clear: I have the support of our community, and that support continues to grow,” Thornton said. “People are approaching me and asking if they can host events, because they want to hear what I have to say. “We have multiple events scheduled throughout the summer, and there are people telling me they’ve been waiting on this for years,” he added. “So I’m deeply grateful, honored and humbled by the support and affection I’ve received, and I’m committed to giving our community the responsive, professionally run Sheriff’s Office it deserves, one it can be proud of. READ FULL STORY


Reopening of sole island gas station a week away
week of May 11, 2023

Island residents who have been grumbling about the only 32963 gasoline station being temporarily closed will have to wait another 10 days before they can fill up their tanks close to home. The underground tank replacement project at the 7-Eleven convenience store and gasoline dispensary on North A1A in Indian River Shores, which started on April 10, is on schedule to be completed by the end of next week, a little over a month from when it began. The Shores town clerk, who said she has been getting quite a few calls from local residents about the project, has been providing periodic updates on the 7-Eleven closure in the town’s electronic newsletter, based on information received from the contractor, Wilson’s Petroleum Equipment, Inc. The convenience store next to the CVS drug store at the south entrance to the town has also been closed during construction, but the business is scheduled to reopen in about 10 days when the Mobil gas pumps are again ready to go. READ FULL STORY


Few issues here as Vero adjusts to post-Covid world
week of May 11, 2023

The federal COVID Public Health Emergency which was first declared on Jan. 21, 2020, and renewed 13 times was set to end today, but for most island residents the transition back to a more normal time should be pretty seamless – except for COVID-19 testing. The free supplies of at-home test kits through Medicare Part B are a now a thing of the past, and Medicare recipients may have copays on COVID tests administered by a lab or pharmacy, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps a database of vendors offering free COVID testing on its website. The emergency permitted the federal government to pre-order and purchase millions of doses of vaccine and medication with taxpayer funds, and to require insurance companies to cover certain testing, vaccines and treatments. For now, the CDC says, COVID-19 vaccines will remain free to adults and children, but the provider who administers the vaccine may charge for an office visit to get the vaccine, and there may be a copay associated with that visit. READ FULL STORY


Commercial real estate: Flailing elsewhere, but ‘pretty good’ here
week of May 11, 2023

Despite scary headlines in the national press about the dire state of the commercial real estate market, sales prices and lease rates for commercial property here are mostly stable and even rising in some sectors, according to three top commercial real estate brokers. Rising interest rates, increasing e-commerce and remote work don’t seem to be having the negative impact here that is causing consternation elsewhere. “Things are pretty good,” said Derek Arden, who owns a commercial property management company on the barrier island and is a broker with Landmark Commercial Realty Advisors, noting that, as of now, problems reported in the national press have not impacted the Vero market to any significant degree. “I don’t have any vacancies on Ocean, Cardinal or Beachland,” Arden said. “For the most part, lease rates on the island are rising,” with retail properties leading the way while office lags somewhat. “Commercial real estate in Vero Beach is doing OK,” agreed Mike Yurocko, vice president and broker, SLC Commercial, Inc. “Rental rates are holding their own." READ FULL STORY


New athletic director brings impressive credentials, winning attitude to St. Ed’s
week of May 11, 2023

St. Edward’s has hired a new athletic director with an impressive track record at an elite Fort Lauderdale college preparatory school to create winning teams here, while teaching essential life skills to student athletes. Eileen Pliske, associate athletic director and girls lacrosse coach at Pine Crest School, quickly rose to the top of 21 applicants for the post at St. Ed’s, according to head of school Dr. Stuart Hirstein. “I know the president of Pine Crest very well, and Eileen was highly recommended. She’s got the emotional IQ and I think she’s going to do very well here,” Hirstein said. “Our mission is really about the whole child. It’s the academic piece, of course; it’s the athletic, the arts. I think we have around 70 percent of our kids participate in athletics and you learn as much on the playing fields as you do in a classroom.” Pliske will take over for Greg Zugrave, who served in the role for the previous two years. Current associate athletic director/athletic trainer Jeremy Gillan will retain his role with the school as it transitions into new leadership. READ FULL STORY


Flescher not high on sheriff’s field, but won’t join race
week of May 11, 2023

Longtime County Commissioner Joe Flescher said last week he still doesn’t believe any of the current candidates for sheriff – including incumbent Eric Flowers, who hasn’t yet filed to run but has said he will seek re-election – possess the attributes needed to successfully lead the 500-member agency. But he will not enter the race. “After much contemplation, I will not be a candidate for sheriff in 2024,” Flescher said Saturday in a phone interview. “It was a very tough call for me because of my deep concerns about the leadership, management and direction of Sheriff’s Office, as well as the men and women who serve in the agency and the community they work to keep safe. “I believe I have the tools required to do the job,” he added. “However, given the great challenges confronting the county, I feel the citizens of this community are best-served by me continuing on my current path and working for them in the office they’ve entrusted to me. My place is here.” Flescher, who was elected to a fifth term as commissioner last year, made the decision to not run for sheriff last weekend, after wrestling with the possibility for more than a month. READ FULL STORY


Work starts (3 years late) on bridge at south end of island
week of May 11, 2023

After nearly three years of delays and $50 million in cost overruns, construction started May 1 on a Bridge Replacement Project at the southern tip of our barrier island which will upgrade access for residents seeking to cross over to the mainland in Fort Pierce. Florida Department of Transportation anticipates completing the $111.5 million project in late 2027, replacing a drawbridge built in 1963 with a new high-rise bridge, said Samantha Kayser, a spokeswoman for the project. An average of 10,940 vehicles per day traverse A1A at the southern end of the island, according to a Fall 2022 St. Lucie County traffic report. Among them are hundreds of homeowners who live on the island both in St. Lucie County and a dozen miles to the north in unincorporated Indian River County, Vero Beach, and Indian River Shores. The new bridge will have an 85-foot vertical clearance and a 125-foot-wide channel, Kayser said. The old drawbridge has a 25-foot clearance when closed and a 90-foot-wide channel. READ FULL STORY


New COVID cases hit lowest number since March 2020
week of May 4, 2023

With just one week remaining of the federal COVID-19 health emergency, the number of new weekly infections locally has plummeted to 27 cases, the lowest number since March 2020, and Florida as a whole has also seen steady declines in new cases since a one-week bump after spring break. That number does not include positive results on popular at-home, rapid COVID tests, as those cases are not reported to the Florida Department of Health unless the infected person seeks medical care. What’s strange about the low number of 27 cases is that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker, seven people were hospitalized here with COVID-19 illness during the same week that only 27 people tested positive. So either a great many people are testing positive on home test kits and never seeking medical care, or the small number of people who are testing positive tend to be getting much sicker and ending up in a hospital Emergency Department. On Monday, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Erin Miller said “we have seven COVID patients today, none of which are in ICU.” READ FULL STORY


Reopening on hold as problems plague ‘new’ Seaside Grill
week of May 4, 2023

One year after the old Seaside Grill served its last burger, the only thing coming out of the iconic Jaycee Park eatery that’s rare these days is good news for islanders waiting for a reopening date. New Seaside owners Andy Studebaker and Wiley Wong (AG Ventures), who originally expected to reopen the restaurant last fall following a planned $100,000 renovation of the aging building, have encountered one surprise problem after another. First they discovered the kitchen’s 30-year-old commercial hood would need to be completely replaced; then they ran into issues with the roof; further exploration uncovered more complicated roof issues, requiring special permits. Meanwhile, Studebaker and Wong were paying the City of Vero Beach –the building’s owner – $8,000 per month as detailed in their 10-year lease (with 20 years of renewal options). But in January, Studebaker and Wong requested and were granted by the City Council a three-month rent deferral as the permitting process dragged on and new roof structure problems were revealed. And as the initial rent deferral period came to an end, City Manager Monte Falls requested that Studebaker and Wong provide the City Council with a project update at its April 18 meeting. READ FULL STORY


Breeze Airways, popularity here flying high, will expand service to Northeast
week of May 4, 2023

Three months after Breeze Airways arrived in Vero Beach, the budget airline has decided to expand its service to offer daily flights to and from Hartford, Conn., and Westchester County, N.Y., starting in September. Breeze currently flies up to five times per week to those destinations, as well as to Norfolk, Va., but company officials were so impressed by the strong response to its service here that they’ve added flights. “We always have high expectations when we enter a new market, so we were hoping we’d be successful,” Breeze spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones said last week. “But, yes, our flights are selling really well there.” The initial success could prompt Breeze officials to add other destinations, but Edmondson-Jones said he wasn’t aware of any plans to do so this year. “That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, though,” he added. “Right now, our schedule goes through mid-November. We’ll see what happens after that.” READ FULL STORY


DiVosta launching 200-home subdivision near Cleveland Clinic
week of May 4, 2023

DiVosta Homes is launching a new 200-plus home subdivision just a stone’s throw from Cleveland Clinic, complete with a new road that will connect 41st Street to 37th Street right in front of the hospital. The project, named Costa Pointe, will be built on prime real estate east of U.S. 1 that was once citrus groves and now lies just north of the growing 37th Street medical corridor. “There isn’t a lot of new home supply here and Costa Pointe is in a great location, close to healthcare and the beach,” said Brent Baker, Southeast Florida Division President for PulteGroup, DiVosta’s parent company. DiVosta already has two large subdivisions underway in Indian River County – the Preserve at Waterway Village and Harbor Isle – but Baker believes there is demand for another one. “Migration to Florida is continuing and we are seeing very healthy demand throughout the region, especially in Vero Beach,” Baker told Vero Beach 32963. “Our communities at Waterway Village have really established our brand here. The realtors know we have a great product and the ability to execute on our projects.” READ FULL STORY


Eisenhut opts for business opportunity over sheriff’s bid
week of May 4, 2023

Less than a week after saying it was the “right time” to get into the 2024 Sheriff’s race, retired federal agent Jim Eisenhut has decided to pursue a potentially lucrative business opportunity instead. Eisenhut, a Vero Beach High School graduate and former sheriff’s deputy who went on to spend 20 years as a special agent with the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, said he and his brother have bought five “Scent-Hound” dog-grooming franchises they plan to operate in the Orlando area. The first two shops are scheduled to open this summer, and he said it wouldn’t be fair to “dump all that work” on his brother, who was willing to accept the added burden to accommodate the demands of a political campaign. “I needed to take the time to very seriously consider running, because as much as I want to be sheriff and serve this community, I was already involved in our business ventures,” Eisenhut said last week. “I tried to find a way to do both, but if I ran for sheriff, I wouldn’t have the time or energy to help get these franchises going,” he added. “We have a substantial investment in them, and I just couldn’t do that to my brother. It’s just not the right time, because I’m not going to run for sheriff if I can’t give 110 percent.” READ FULL STORY


‘Partner with a Principal’: Residents educated on school workings
week of May 4, 2023

The county school district’s new ‘Partner with a Principal’ program puts prominent local residents in the hallways for a day with a public school principal to build understanding in the community about educators and students. Superintendent Dr. David Moore witnessed a similar program when he worked in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, so he recommended trying it here. “The goal is really for our community to gain a deeper understanding of how schools operate and the challenges that our principals are facing,” said school district grant writer Amie Rutherford. “They learn about the various programs and initiatives that are being implemented, just so that we can really have an appreciation for the work that they do and really provide us with valuable feedback and insight that can help improve our schools.” Sebastian Elementary became the first of six schools to participate in early April, pairing Ballet Vero Beach Artistic Director/CEO Adam Schnell with Principal Letitia Whitfield. Kyleigh Savoie, a community health advocate with the Substance-Abuse Free Indian River Coalition, partnered with Wabasso School, David Dyer with Rosewood Magnet, former Vero mayor Harry Howle with Gifford Middle School, Matt Tanner with Vero Beach Elementary, and Vero Beach Mayor John Cotugno with Citrus Elementary. READ FULL STORY


Vero police chief: More cops needed in face of growth
week of April 27, 2023

As the county’s population surges toward 170,000, Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey plans to ask the City Council to include in his fiscal 2023-24 budget the funding to hire three more police officers. While the population of Vero itself is ot growing, Currey said the additional police officers are needed to help meet the increasing demands placed on his department by county residents who come to the city to work, shop, dine, socialize, use the city’s parks and airport, attend shows and sports events, and conduct business at the courthouse and government offices. “The more people who move to our county, the more we’re going to see these people in Vero Beach,” Currey said. “It’s something we’ve been talking about for a while now – because the county is going to continue to grow, and we’re the county seat. “And when people are here, regardless of where they came from, we’re responsible for their safety and protection,” he added. “We still have to do our jobs.” Currey said the addition officers would allow his department to do those jobs more effectively and efficiently as it responds to more calls for service, sees more traffic on city roadways and provides a police presence at the Vero Beach Regional Airport terminal for more commercial flights. READ FULL STORY


Covid emergency wanes, but some still hospitalized
week of April 27, 2023

With two weeks remaining of the COVID-19 federal health emergency, and facemasks now optional at the county’s largest hospital for the first time in three years, the number of new infections in Indian River County remains low for April, but local residents are still being hospitalized for complications of COVID illness. As of Monday, “currently, there are seven patients in-house who are COVID-positive with none in the ICU,” Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Erin Miller said. Since March 2020, one fourth of the county’s residents have reported testing positive for the COVID virus at least once. This number is likely significantly larger, as it does not capture positive test results on popular and widely available home COVID test kits. Should a person test positive on a rapid, self-administered swab test at home and never seek medical care, their case would not be included in the aggregate numbers. Meanwhile, Cleveland Clinic announced that wearing a mask is now optional for patients and hospital visitors. “We are able to safely make this change as COVID-19 case levels and hospitalizations have remained low, and vaccines and new tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are readily available,” a spokesperson said. READ FULL STORY


Home sale profits will launch foundation honoring husband
week of April 27, 2023

Longtime John’s Island resident Margaret “Peggy” Griswold just finished an eight-figure spec home in JI with a deeply personal purpose in mind. Instead of using the profits from the sale of the house – just listed for $12,500,000 by Luke Webb with John’s Island Real Estate – to bolster her own portfolio, she told Vero Beach 32963 she will use the proceeds to start a foundation in honor of her deceased husband. Henry Bridgman Griswold was a World War II veteran severely wounded in Northern Italy while fighting with the famed 10th Mountain Division that drove the Germans out of the Po Valley in the closing months of the war. The 7,400-square-foot house on a waterway that connects to the Indian River Lagoon – designed by Gregg Anderson, developed by Mrs. Griswold and built by Vic Lombardi, owner of Waters Edge Estates – was completed in March. “It’s a beautiful, exceptionally well-constructed, upscale yet understated coastal house,” said Webb. “Mrs. Griswold did a wonderful job of working with the architect and builder to come up with the perfect blend of form and function in a superb custom home. READ FULL STORY


In the cards: Vero woman gets top post at American Contract Bridge League
week of April 27, 2023

In a move that underscores the importance of Vero Beach in the bridge world, the organization that regulates all competitive bridge in North America has named a local woman, Bronia Jenkins, as its new chief executive officer. Jenkins, 54, will move from her home in Vero Beach to the Memphis, Tenn., metropolitan area to take up her new position effective May 1. The American Contract Bridge League (ACBL), which oversees all competitive bridge in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Bermuda, has its headquarters in Horn Lake, Miss., a Memphis suburb. In making the announcement, Joann Glasson, president of the ACBL’s Board of Directors, said the board “unanimously and enthusiastically” endorsed Jenkins’ selection. “We wanted something different,” Glasson said, “and they (the board’s search committee) did a fabulous job finding Bronia. She is a breath of fresh air.” The local Vero Beach Bridge Center has decided to honor Jenkins on her appointment with a meet-and-greet during the mid-afternoon break of the regular duplicate game next Monday, May 1, starting at 1 p.m. READ FULL STORY


DNA evidence leads to arrest of suspect in New Year’s attack on Ocean Drive
week of April 27, 2023

Vero Beach police have arrested a local man with a prior sex-crime conviction for a New Year’s Eve attack of a local woman outside an Ocean Drive hotel, after DNA evidence matched the suspect interviewed by detectives days after the crime. On April 13, three and a half months after the attack occurred, registered sex offender Robert Leetrell Coleman Jr., 30, was charged with sexual battery in relation to the case. His bail is currently set at $150,000. As of press time, he was still in custody at the Indian River County Jail. “It does generally take several months to get results back from the lab once we have evidence sent in,” said Detective Lee Evans. Coleman emerged as a suspect in the case after police reviewed security footage from Sol Mar Cocktail Lounge in Portales de Vero, where police say he was seen speaking to the victim at the bar. One of the establishment’s bartenders recognized Coleman and identified him to police, according to the warrant affidavit. READ FULL STORY


FDOT finally set to start work on new bridge at southern end of the island
week of April 27, 2023

Construction is finally scheduled to start in May on a new high bridge over the Indian River Lagoon in Fort Pierce that will replace the ancient drawbridge that long has served as the A1A southern gateway to our barrier island. The Florida Department of Transportation scheduled an open house meeting on the $111.5 million construction project for today (April 27) from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. at the River Walk Center in Fort Pierce. FDOT plans to construct a new high-level fixed bridge that will directly link U.S. 1 to the barrier island, traversing the Florida East Coast Railway tracks and Old Dixie Highway. Construction is expected to be completed in late 2027, FDOT’s traffic report said. The new span is needed to replace a deteriorating drawbridge that was built in 1963. The new bridge will provide a navigational clearance of 85-feet for a 125-foot-wide section of the Intracoastal Waterway channel, FDOT records show. READ FULL STORY


Big ‘Break’: Island lures record wave of tourists
week of April 20, 2023

Northerners seeking the idyllic Florida getaway for a break from the cold have flocked to Indian River County in record numbers this winter, packing our island hotels, restaurants, beaches and roadways. The surprising surge in pandemic-weary tourists that the county saw at Spring Break time a year ago turned out to be only a taste of what was to come. This year, bed tax receipts levied on guests staying in hotels here got off to an amazing start, with both January and February topping the record that had been set in March 2022. While final March numbers are not yet available, another new record appears a certainty, and the county said bed tax revenue for the first five months of the current fiscal year through Feb. 28 is up 47 percent over 2022. “We’ve had some really strong months lately. It has been really intense,” said Indian River County Internal Audit Director Ed Halsey. “Tourism is way up; it’s improving all the time.” The beach itself is the main attraction for family-style spring breakers here, and Vero Beach Lifeguard Association president Patrick Sullivan said parking lots at the city’s protected beaches, Jaycee Park and South Beach Park, have been perpetually full over this season. READ FULL STORY


Career federal agent joining race for sheriff
week of April 20, 2023

Barring any last-minute complications, the next entry into the 2024 sheriff’s race will bring a world of experience – from Vero Beach to Iraq, from Chicago to Japan, from Washington, D.C., to Pakistan, even to Afghanistan. Jim Eisenhut, a Vero Beach High School graduate and former deputy who went on to spend 20 years as a federal agent assigned to the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service, is expected to formally announce in the coming week that he’s running for sheriff. “I’ve got a few more meetings this week, then I’ll make a final decision, but this is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Eisenhut, 53, said in a phone interview last weekend. “The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office was the foundation on which I built my career, and Vero Beach is my hometown – the place where I grew up, the place I came home to from overseas assignments,” he added. “I have a real passion for this community. “So I’ve been taking a hard look at getting into this race, and I think it’s the right time for me to get in.” READ FULL STORY


For ‘car guys’ driving Vero’s red-hot luxury garage market, bigger is definitely better
week of April 20, 2023

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, large, luxury garages for boys with toys were coming into vogue. Now, with all those new post-pandemic toys out there, there is no sign of the garage boom abating, in Vero Beach and across the country. As partners Joe Schulke and Vic Lombardi gear up to start the second phase of their $25-million Motorhaus 2.0 luxury garage project, they have the benefit of important new information about what 32963 buyers want. What they hear is: ‘Bigger is better.’ “Our biggest units sold first,” said Schulke, managing member at the engineering firm Schulke, Bittle & Stoddard, LLC. “We are sold out of the 24-foot by 55-foot first-phase units and we have adjusted the second phase to build more big garages, including some that are even bigger.” The second phase was planned to include 32 garages with eight 55-foot units, but now will consist of 26 units with 14 of the big units, including some that are 25 feet by 60 feet, which amounts to 1,500 square feet. Three of the big garages are already reserved, before ground has been broken. READ FULL STORY


Appeals process in utility case gives Vero cash windfall
week of April 20, 2023

As Indian River Shores and Vero Beach await the outcome of the town’s appeal of a ruling in the city’s favor in a breach of contract dispute over reuse irrigation water rates, how Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals interprets state statute could have broad implications on the enforceability of utility franchise agreements across Florida. The three judges who heard 30 minutes of arguments from each side now have as long as it takes to weigh the complex civil case. “After the judges confer, a decision is made, and an opinion may be written. Each case presents its own issues and difficulties; in most cases the decision is made within 180 days from the conference,” Shores Town Attorney Pete Sweeney said last week. Since a ruling is not expected anytime soon, and Vero benefits from the status quo of Shores utility customers paying rates they feel are unjust, time is definitely on Vero’s side. READ FULL STORY


New COVID infections remain low here
week of April 20, 2023

With the official COVID-19 public health emergency scheduled to expire in three weeks, the weekly number of new infections remains low locally and in most of the country, but COVID complications killed more than 1,700 Americans the first week in April. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports five people were hospitalized here for COVID-19 illness last week. Eight people were hospitalized the previous week and Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Erin Miller said on Monday, “There are nine COVID-positive patients in-house this morning; none of which is in ICU.” Since COVID patients still occupy fewer than 2 percent of the county’s staffed hospital beds, Indian River County remains in the CDC’s green zone, or Low COVID Community Level category. Public health officials attribute the lack of a major winter surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths this past winter to newly formulated “bivalent” booster shots taken by roughly 54 million people in 2022, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may authorize an additional booster shot for those who want to feel extra protected. READ FULL STORY


Brightline work delays Twin Pairs study
week of April 20, 2023

The engineering firm Vero Beach hired to help determine the feasibility of reducing lanes along the Twin Pairs through downtown was scheduled to begin work next week, but the recent rains could delay the start of the project until May 1. The project, which the City Council approved last month, was postponed out of concern the Brightline-related railroad-crossing closures in the area would distort the data. City Public Works Director Matthew Mitts said engineers in the local Kimley-Horn & Associates office decided to delay the traffic counts until the railroad crossings at 23rd Street, 26th Street and the 14th Avenue diagonal reopened. The crossings, which have been closed since March 23, were scheduled to reopen tomorrow (Friday), but Brightline, citing factors that included weather, notified city officials Monday that its work there might not be finished until the end of next week. “Those closures can drastically alter the downtown traffic pattern,” Mitts said, “so we’re going to wait until the crossings are open and things are back to normal.” READ FULL STORY


Islanders eager for natural gas service will soon get wish
week of April 13, 2023

Florida City Gas is ready to begin building out its distribution lines in barrier island communities next month, with John’s Island being a huge and eager market for natural gas service. The under-river crossing at Wabasso was completed this winter and now the first stretch of the pipeline along A1A through Indian River Shores is in the ground and completed as well. “Florida City Gas has received the official ‘in-service’ letter from Peninsula Pipeline Company (PPC) notifying the company that the pipeline was placed into service as of April 1. Now that the pipeline is active, FCG will begin a methodical process of installing local regulator stations,” said Florida City Gas Sr. Director of Business Development Marc Seagrave. Seagrave said the four regulator stations, including one in Indian River Shores, will reduce pressure between the main pipeline and gas customers throughout the distribution system and serve as a connection point. “This system will serve residential communities and business districts throughout the barrier island. The timing for the installation of the FCG facilities will begin in May and the locations where system installations will occur will gradually increase over time as communities and business sign-on, and as permits are received followed by gas system installations,” Seagrave said. READ FULL STORY


Will poor planning sink our shot at state funding for lagoon?
week of April 13, 2023

One hundred million dollars in state funding for Indian River County’s namesake lagoon will soon be up for grabs, but the county may get passed over due to not having a fully developed and approved Indian River Lagoon Management Plan with local matching funds committed to shovel-ready projects. The bare-bones outline of a plan to protect and restore the lagoon has been in the works for five years, but county staffers say it’s nearly a year from being finished, and the Board of County Commissioners is rightly concerned that when state funding becomes available on July 1, many projects which could benefit will be bogged down in the development phase of the plan. “I want to get this done tomorrow,” said Commission Chairman Joe Earman at last week’s commission meeting. “It’s kind of frustrating for me – presenting plans and trying to move ahead to see some real stuff being done. Time is of the essence and to me this ought to be probably the No. 1 priority on our list of things to do upon the thousand other things we have.” READ FULL STORY


17 ‘extraordinary’ luxury homes set for Grand Harbor riverfront
week of April 13, 2023

Vero’s slim inventory of new waterfront homes and Grand Harbor’s ongoing renaissance both will get a boost in the next week or so when a developer breaks ground on 17 luxury homes on the western shore of the Indian River Lagoon across from Bee Gum Point. A second phase of the project on the Grand Harbor riverfront is slated to bring 18 condos to market. A sales trailer was set up at the site at the end of March and Orlando developer Shane Acevedo told Vero Beach 32963 that he just paid his impact fees and will receive a building permit from Indian River County “any day now.” “This will be the first new direct riverfront subdivision built in Vero in many years,” said Dale Sorensen Real Estate broker associate Rita Curry, whose team has the listings. “Inventory is still tight in every category, including new houses on the river, and we have had hundreds of inquiries about these homes. “We were a sponsor of the [USTA] women’s tennis tournament Grand Harbor hosted in January and had more than 300 people sign up for information, just at that event.” READ FULL STORY


Brightline plans to reopen downtown Vero railroad crossings within a week
week of April 13, 2023

Brightline anticipates completing construction on improvements to three railroad crossings in downtown Vero Beach by April 21 in anticipation of starting high-speed passenger train service between Orlando and South Florida in June. The railroad crossings at 23rd Street, 26th Street and 14th Avenue are set to reopen at 7 p.m., Saturday, April 21, according to Brightline’s latest construction and testing advisory. Brightline closed the three downtown Vero Beach railroad crossings on March 23 to construct a second track in the Florida East Coast Railway right-of-way and install a variety of safety features. “Brightline is more than 90 percent complete with construction to Orlando,” said company spokeswoman Katie Mitzner last week. The $2.7 Billion construction project includes improvements to the FECR tracks between West Palm Beach and Cocoa and new high-speed train tracks along the Beachline Expressway/State Road 528. The project also includes improvements to 156 railroad crossings, including 31 in Indian River County. Among the additions are new crossing gates, pedestrian gates, signals systems, pavement markings and roadway profiles, Mitzner said. Despite closing three downtown Vero Beach railroad crossings, Brightline conducted test runs at 79 mph last week through 16 railroad crossings in southern Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


Wabasso Causeway: Long-awaited bridge work to get underway
week of April 13, 2023

An updated construction project designed to make the high-span portion of the Wabasso Causeway safer for cyclists and pedestrians is scheduled to finally get underway later this month and end this summer after the $1.4 million state project hit some snags in 2021. Florida Department of Transportation officials say no vehicle lanes will be closed during the day, but that single-lane closures may occur overnight between 6 p.m. and 7 a.m. except for Friday and Saturday nights, holidays and during special events in the Vero Beach area. “Business and residential access will be maintained at all times,” the agency stated in a letter about the construction. The first phase of the long-awaited bridge improvements will include installing a pedestrian and bicycle railing next to the westbound lane on the north side of the C.R. 510 Wabasso Beach Road bridge. A second phase will mirror the railing next to the eastbound lane on the south side of the bridge. READ FULL STORY


‘Passing baton’: Longtime owner to sell Twin Oaks Tennis Club
week of April 13, 2023

Longtime Central Beach resident Alain Mignolet never thought he would sell the Twin Oaks Tennis Club where he has taught many of Vero’s most promising junior players since the early 1990s. But at age 68, after more than three decades of owning and operating the club, health concerns – combined with the right price at the perfect time from an enthusiastic buyer – convinced Mignolet to accept Kaye Manly’s offer. So, if all goes as planned this week, Twin Oaks will have a new owner ready to spend big money to completely renovate the cozy, seven-court complex on Sixth Avenue, just north of 12th Street. “Barring any unexpected delays,” Manly said last week, “we’ll close on Friday and I’ve got a landscaper scheduled to come by on the 15th.” Neither Manly nor Mignolet would divulge the selling price of the 1.9-acre property and business – the club has more than 75 current members – but Mignolet said money was not the deciding factor. In fact, he said he received four “reasonable” offers from prospective buyers, including one who followed him from the clubhouse to the parking lot, waving a check. READ FULL STORY


Covid hospitalizations doubled in week
week of April 13, 2023

Florida did not report new infection data last week to the federal COVID-19 tracker, so it’s tough to tell if numbers are up or down, but locally, hospitalizations at press time for complications of COVID illness had doubled from just one week ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID Data Tracker cited five new hospitalizations over the past week, and on Monday Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said, “We have eight patients in-house today with COVID. None of the eight patients is in the ICU.” That number is way up from four people hospitalized with COVID one week prior. Two weeks ago, the number of new infections doubled in a one-week spike after spring break for public schools and colleges. Typically a rise in hospitalizations follows roughly two weeks behind a marked increase in new infections. With the federal COVID-19 emergency set to end on May 11, most areas of the country are managing a fairly low rate of new infections per capita. The United States’ seven-day rolling average of new cases – a statistic that soared to more than 200,000 cases per day during the Delta-variant surge in 2021, and to more than 800,000 cases per day in early 2022 as Omicron variants spread like wildfire – is now less than 20,000 per day. READ FULL STORY


Shores buys high-tech portable ultrasound machine
week of April 13, 2023

Indian River Shores residents who have a medical emergency at home or in the town may benefit from a recently purchased piece of technology that isn’t typically available in the back of an ambulance. The Shores invested $5,000 in a portable General Electric ultrasound machine and is training paramedics how to use it to save lives of patients in transit to the hospital. Not the previous generation’s clunky ultrasound machine attached to a big screen, this ultrasound wand links by Bluetooth signal to any smart phone or tablet to display a clear image of the scan. Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell told the town council how the new hand-held, wireless ultrasound would be used to improve care. “If we get a call and somebody has an aortic aneurism or some other type of bleed, we can diagnose that immediately. It enhances our ability to keep you alive and get you where you need to be.” Having this diagnostic tool will enable the Shores’ paramedics to give the hospital’s emergency room a better idea of what kind of care will be needed. “It will also be used to make the decision of whether to MedEvac a patient or not,” Rosell said. READ FULL STORY


Traffic ‘Nightmare at 17th Street’ haunts A1A drivers
week of April 6, 2023

One of the worst traffic jams in island memory left hundreds of South Beach residents fuming last Wednesday when FPL workers installing a pole created a backup on A1A that extended from the 17th Street Causeway intersection all the way south past St. Edward’s School. “At 11:30 today, I departed the Moorings for a meeting at McKee. I reached 17th and A1A at 12:30," wrote frustrated Moorings resident Wayne Sandlin in an email entitled “Nightmare at 17th Street.” “When I returned from my meeting two hours later, the same mess was still in effect.” FPL has routinely been replacing aging power poles up and down A1A to harden against storm damage, but this time the combination of high season, spring break and an overtaxed, two-lane stretch of highway caused the perfect storm. The stop-and-go traffic backup was exacerbated when St. Ed’s students were dismissed from school for the afternoon and parents joined the seemingly endless line of cars. “We were not made aware that FPL was replacing power poles on A1A south of 17th Street until we started receiving complaints,” Vero Beach Police Department Capt. Matt Monaco said. READ FULL STORY


Voucher increase seen as boost for private schools
week of April 6, 2023

A controversial new law puts a private-school education within financial reach of hundreds or potentially thousands more Indian River County students this fall, as the expansion of Florida’s school choice vouchers makes every school compete for students. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law House Bill 1 last week expanding the state’s successful school choice program to allow any kindergarten through 12th-grade student who is eligible to attend one of Florida’s public schools to apply for a scholarship worth about $7,700 per student to pay for tuition and fees at the school of their parents’ choosing. Should the private school cost more than $7,700 or whatever the final per-year amount of funding turns out to be, parents would be responsible for the balance. St. Edward’s School, the barrier island’s only private school, already accepts school choice scholarships for students with unique abilities and financial need, so it would be in the pipeline to be referred students eligible for the expanded Florida Empowerment Scholarship. “We already have a constantly evolving, robust marketing plan in place that focuses on the Saint Edward's School experience. We cover many different marketing funnels to reach the greatest number of families in our community and beyond,” said Director of Marketing Monica Jennings. READ FULL STORY


City manager seeking a ‘quarterback’ to oversee Three Corners development
week of April 6, 2023

Determined to find a proven “quarterback” to lead Vero Beach’s much-anticipated efforts to develop its Three Corners properties, City Manager Monte Falls has begun interviewing candidates for the project manager’s job. He met with four applicants last week, and he was scheduled to meet with three more this week. The city plans to contract with a developer to create a dining, social and recreational hub on the mainland’s waterfront – on 33 acres at the west end of the 17th Street Bridge – that Falls has optimistically said could open during the summer of 2028. That developer will work with the project manager, whose sole job will be to oversee that development from start to finish, Falls said, adding that he expects to have someone or some firm hired by June. One applicant – former St. Lucie County deputy administrator Alphonso Jefferson – didn’t show up for his interview last week and later told Falls he already had accepted another position. “We’re happy with who’s on our list, but if we get another good applicant or two, we’ll talk to them, too,” Falls said last week. “But if, after we get through these interviews, there’s somebody we’re convinced is right for the job, we’ll make an offer. READ FULL STORY


‘Virtual subdivision’ bringing 18 new homes to island market
week of April 6, 2023

What do you call a collection of 18 new residences – some large, some cottages, some condos – all being built to the same exacting standard by the same island builder, but tucked into island neighborhoods stretching from Riomar to Central Beach to the Bermuda Club? A virtual subdivision, according to Palm Coast Development and Douglas Elliman, who are marketing them as a portfolio to the house-hungry 32963 island, where demand continues to outpace supply, with inventory about half what it was in a typical pre-pandemic April. The 18 residences include a pair of cottages at the north end of Club Drive, a large single-family home in Riomar Bay II, three charming side-by-side, single-family houses on Azalea Lane in Central Beach, and 12 big riverfront condo units in two new buildings in the Somerset Bay Condominium development. They range in size from 3,000 square feet to 4,800 square feet and in price from $2.4 million to $6.85 million, with an aggregate value of more than $50 million. Despite their geographic and price diversity, the properties are being presented like a subdivision, with a single hardcover book highlighting details of all the residences and a unitive marketing push online and in print, extending to the far reaches of the Douglas Elliman real estate network. READ FULL STORY


COVID infections, hospitalizations fall
week of April 6, 2023

After a one-week spike, the number of new local COVID-19 infections are back down to pre-spring break levels, and hospitalizations fell sharply, too. The Florida Department of Health reported Friday that 59 people had tested positive for the COVID virus during the week ending March 30, down from 110 cases the previous week. The current case positivity rate for test results reported to the health department is 8.5 percent, lower than the 10 percent benchmark public health officials look at to determine when community spread is on the rise. Local hospitalizations dropped from 11 patients admitted with three patients in critical care last week to four patients hospitalized on Monday and only one in critical care. “We are definitely trending in the right direction,” Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said of the weekly statistics. Across the nation, the Midwest and Great Plains states, plus Maine reported the highest number of new infections per 100,000 population. Florida ranked in the category with the least cases compared to population, with fewer than 20 new cases per 100,000 people compared to a national average of 42 new cases per 100,000. READ FULL STORY


Jim Welles, founder of dog park, was pooches’ best friend
week of March 30, 2023

I received spe-shull permission to write this because it’s about a local human who’s been buh-loved by hundreds and hundreds of dogs an humans for many years: Mr. Jim Welles, founder of the Vero Beach Dog Park, who passed away March 16. As you probly know, the park – that 5-acre green space along the river, with trees, ackshull fire hydrants, faucets with water bowls, benches an shade canopies for our humans – is FREE for every dog an his or her human. An it’s open 7 days a week, sun-up to sun-down. Major Cool Kibbles. I learned of this sad event from Welles’ faithful pooch companion, Emmy, who shared that, “one of the greatest joys in my Dad’s life was our dog park. After he became too ill to go there, he finally decided to move back north to be with his human family. We were all right there with him to the very end.” Me an the Dog Park humans have been receiving numerous notes, emails and woof-mails expressing sympathy an saying how much they loved and appreciated Welles, and there’re more than 500 similar comments on social media. READ FULL STORY


Weak legislation dashes hopes for utility customers
week of March 30, 2023

A piece of legislation intended to curb the financial excesses of municipal electric, water and sewer utilities has been watered down in the Florida House to the point that it offers no protection for Vero utility customers located outside the city limits in South Beach and Indian River Shores. The mere skeletal remains of House Bill 1331, if it passes the Florida House, Senate and is signed into law, will only serve to limit municipal utilities that charge outside customers surcharges of more than 25 percent and transfer more than 10 percent of their utility revenues into their city general funds to keep property taxes low. Though Vero once assessed a 10 percent surcharge on outside customers, that practice is a thing of the past. With regard to Vero’s direct transfers into the city’s general fund, the 6 percent currently transferred would be well beneath the 10 percent cap, which represents the average rate of return that investor-owned utilities are permitted to take in profits by the Florida Public Service Commission. READ FULL STORY


Land prices soar in agricultural areas west of Vero Beach
week of March 30, 2023

While big real estate sales on the island recently have been in the limelight, the party has been going on out west of Vero as well where agricultural land prices have soared. More than 18,000 acres of field, forest and grove land changed hands in the past two years – an aggregate area more than twice the size of the City of Vero Beach. Prices rose 100 percent or more in some sections, according to county property records, and there have been blockbuster deals for as much as $76 million. “Land prices are good,” said Jeff Cusson, a senior advisor with SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate, who has among his current listings the 5,849-acre Corrigan Ranch. “A lot of ag land east of I-95 has doubled in value and is now $40,000 to $50,000 an acre. It is surprising how much that area has gone up.” “I think ag land prices have all gone up as part of the general rise in the real estate market, and because people are still wanting more space and acreage after COVID and commodity prices are strong,” said county Property Appraiser Wesley Davis, a fourth-generation Indian River County farmer. “It is economics 101.” READ FULL STORY


Longtime county official, passed over for top administrator post, will retire
week of March 30, 2023

County Community Development Director Phil Matson said he would have served for at least another five years if he had been hired to be the new county administrator. He wasn’t. So less than a month after learning he was no longer a candidate for the administrator’s job, Matson said last week he will retire on April 12 – the date of the next meeting of the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, where he spent more than 20 years as staff director. He planned to notify his staff and the county’s Human Resources Department this week. However, Matson said his decision to retire was not directly connected to the County Commission’s decision to hire an outside candidate – former Cocoa City Manager John Titkanich – to run the county’s day-to-day operations. “Sure, I was disappointed I didn’t get the administrator’s job, but I was very flattered to be considered and that’s not the reason I’m leaving,” Matson said. “Believe me when I say: I made this decision with a heavy heart, because this community has been great to me and my family. READ FULL STORY


New Covid infections jump sharply here
week of March 30, 2023

New COVID-19 infections more than doubled this past week from the prior week, and local hospitalizations were also up sharply as public health officials pondered the potential benefits of yet another vaccine booster shot for senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems. Indian River County reported 160 new cases for the week ending March 22, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker – up from the 60 cases reported by the Florida Department of Health for week ending March 16. The county remains in the CDC’s Low COVID Community Level category because only 2.5 percent of staffed hospital beds are occupied by COVID-infected patients. Seven people were admitted to the hospital last week for complications of COViD-19 illness, according to CDC data, and as of Monday, current hospitalizations had nearly doubled from the previous week’s count of six hospitalized, including one in the ICU. “Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has 11 total COVID-positive patients in-house this morning, three of which are in critical care,” hospital spokesperson Erin Miller said. READ FULL STORY


New County Administrator eager to ‘prove my mettle’
week of March 30, 2023

New County Administrator John Titkanich, who agreed to a three-year contract that will pay him an annual salary of $205,000, is scheduled to start work on April 17. The County Commission last week voted unanimously to approve the deal, which, according to records, also includes a $4,200-per-year car allowance, 20 days of vacation annually, a retirement plan with up to a 5-percent matching contribution and 20 weeks of severance pay if he is terminated without cause. The total cost of the package – salary and benefits based on current rates – is more than $960,000, or nearly $321,000 annually. The contract may be renewed 90 days before it expires. Titkanich, 57, called the contract “fair and equitable to both parties,” though he admitted he initially sought a five-year term. He said he was eager to “come in, prove my mettle and show my worth by leading the organization in a way the community and the commission can take pride in.” Before voting on the contract, Commissioner Laura Moss questioned the length of the deal, saying, “It strikes me as being a bit short – that it should be at least five years.” READ FULL STORY


Bills advance to protect municipal utility customers
week of March 23, 2023

The Florida Legislature is moving two bills through committee that would clamp down on how municipal-owned electric, water and sewer utilities use money derived from customers who reside outside the city limits. House Speaker Pro Tempore Chuck Clemons of Alachua County made this issue a priority on the Energy, Communications and Cybersecurity Subcommittee he serves on because the issue hits home for his constituents. Outside-the-city electric customers served by Gainesville Regional Utility (GRU) are facing even bigger problems than Vero Beach Utilities customers were in the summer of 2009 when rates soared, and that fall when city officials first invited Florida Power & Light to talk about purchasing the aging utility. Dicey power generation investments, massive transfers into the general fund and punishing rate disparities drove Clemons to ask for two meetings just on the topic of municipal-owned utilities before the 2023 session opened. Indian River Shores and South Beach utility customers spoke before Clemons’ committee and reminded legislators that the plight of ratepayers is a statewide problem – and not to forget about water-sewer customers. READ FULL STORY


Central Beach: New homes rising under old oaks
week of March 23, 2023

If it seems to you that new houses are being built everywhere in Central Beach, you aren’t wrong. Some streets – Dahlia, Azalea and Holly, for instance – have as many as three new homes in progress at the moment. The county issued 20 permits in 2022 for total home demolitions between Live Oak Road in the north and Iris Lane in the south, and Vero Beach Planning and Development Director Jason Jeffries said the city has been approving “a steady 20 to 25 residential site plans per year” in the neighborhood, including a handful of houses going up on the few remaining empty lots. Add to that a similar number of major, whole-house renovations that transform worn-out 1960s bungalows into like-new homes, and that adds up to a lot of pickup trucks parked beneath the live oaks on Monday mornings. Most new homes are being built by people who bought an outdated house with the intent to tear it down and build a beautiful new home on the lot in which to live. But there are spec houses, too, and transformative renovations by both residents and developers. READ FULL STORY


Five years after attack, trial again delayed
week of March 23, 2023

Five and a half years after a typical day for the dining room staff at the Isles of Vero luxury assisted living community turned into a violent knife attack, the accused has yet to be tried for attempted second-degree murder. The trial of 52-year-old Orville Roy Reid of Vero Lake Estates was set for next week. But due to a scheduling conflict with an overlapping trial, jury selection for this case was reset for May 4. The case has now been continued 31 times. As the kitchen staff prepared and served lunch to the community’s residents in September 2017, police say Reid, whom they described as Jamaican, struck his co-worker Clive Alcott three times in the head with a large kitchen knife in front of three servers present in the kitchen, turning the blood-spattered floor, walls and driveway into a crime scene. The accused assailant chased Alcott out of the building, according to witnesses, then fled the scene northbound on 66th Avenue in his gray Mazda SUV. READ FULL STORY


Chamber’s 2019 ‘Volunteer of the Year’ headed for prison
week of March 23, 2023

A former marketing specialist and Vero Beach socialite who was the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce’s “2019 Volunteer of the Year” and participated in fundraisers for abused children is going to prison – for having a five-month sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy. Valerie Esposito, 40, accepted on Monday a plea deal that will keep her behind bars for at least the next 2 ½ years. Circuit Judge Robert Meadows endorsed the agreement and sentenced Esposito to 70 months in state prison for “unlawful sexual activity with a minor” and 60 months for “lewd solicitation of a child by computer.” The two sentences will run concurrently, however, which means Esposito could be released from prison as early as the summer of 2026 – because the Florida Department of Corrections will give her credit for her time served at the County Jail, where she has spent most of the past three years. Esposito, who was arrested in October 2019, was facing the possibility of spending decades in prison if convicted. But during plea negotiations, prosecutors agreed to drop two of the four original charges and settle for a reduced sentence. READ FULL STORY


New GM at Sea Oaks brings love of arts to the community
week of March 23, 2023

As one highly regarded general manager retires from Sea Oaks Beach & Tennis Club after 37 years of service, the barrier island membership community welcomes a distinguished and innovative replacement in Kevin Sibbring. The incoming general manager and COO brings a stellar 17-year track record to Sea Oaks from Lakeside, Ohio, and the 1,400-acre Timber Pines club community north of Tampa to fill the shoes of longtime leader Pamela Dawson. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, and now in his second career, Sibbring, 62, got his start in community management in 2006 after serving as president of The Lakeside Association in Ohio, a historic, year-round Chautauqua community. That’s where Sibbring honed his skills in programming and hospitality, or what Sibbring refers to as servant leadership to his community. “We produced a 12-week program focused on arts and education and recreation. Chautauquas were kind of a mind, body, spirit thing before the term ‘wellness’ was ever created,” Sibbring said. “It was 85 nights of evening entertainment. I’m passionate about the arts and that’s what really excites me about moving to Vero Beach.” READ FULL STORY


Brian Barefoot files to seek re-election to School Board
week of March 23, 2023

Refusing to be bullied by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Moms For Liberty, School Board member Brian Barefoot filed the necessary paperwork Monday to run for a second term. “No one is going to tell me whether I can run or not – least of all the Moms For Liberty and not even the governor,” Barefoot said as he left the county’s Supervisor of Elections Office. “I got into this three years ago with the goal of trying to help improve public school education in this county,” the John’s Island resident added. “We’ve made some progress, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. I want to make sure we do it.” In February, the governor publicly released an enemies list that contained the names of 14 school board incumbents he wants to see defeated in next year’s elections. The list included Barefoot and Peggy Jones, the local board’s current chair. Both responded by saying they would seek re-election, anyway. READ FULL STORY


Covid here is at post-pandemic low
week of March 23, 2023

New COVID-19 infections here were near their lowest point since the start of the pandemic last week, but outbreaks of influenza increased. Grade-school and college spring break visitors might be behind the elevated instance of late-season influenza, as a rash of harsh winter weather up north and in California drove travelers to Vero’s beaches. Flu season peaked around Thanksgiving, with Influenza A H3 being the predominant flu strain so far this year, and the 2009 strain Influenza A H1N1 still circulating and causing nearly 40 percent of flu infections this winter. Influenza B has been almost nonexistent since the start of the 2020 pandemic. On the COVID front, only 60 people tested positive here last week at a lab or medical office that sends data to the Florida Department of Health. That number does not include people who used an at-home test kit to find out whether or not they’d been infected with COVID. Countywide the test positivity rate listed on the bi-weekly state report was 8.8 percent. Public health officials, early on in the pandemic, told communities that the goal was to keep the positivity rate for each community lower than 10 percent. READ FULL STORY


3 years later: Covid lingers, but in Vero life has moved on
week of March 16, 2023

This week marks three years since the abrupt closing of local bars and gyms over concerns that both types of indoor gathering places could spread the COVID virus, and though Vero bars and gyms are back open and thriving, unfortunately we are still trying to keep an eye on COVID-19 trends and statistics. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 illness were way down this week compared to last week, but we have no clear fix on what’s happening with new infections locally as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported receiving no case information for the week ending March 9 from the Florida Department of Health. “There are five COVID-positive patients at Indian River Hospital this morning, none in ICU,” said Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Erin Miller on Monday. That is down by more than half from the 12 people hospitalized at the same time the previous week. The number of Influenza cases causing hospitalization also has declined statewide this month, though for the past two weeks, serious cases of Respiratory Syncytial Virus (or RSV) have been increasing in Indian River County. It’s believed RSV spreads the same way as COVID, and patients typically become ill two to eight days after exposure. People with RSV are contagious while they are symptomatic. READ FULL STORY


2 Vero lawyers on short list for judicial vacancy
week of March 16, 2023

Vero Beach attorneys Jeff Battista and Bill Long, along with three other Treasure Coast residents, are now on the short list of candidates to replace retired Judge Dan Vaughn on the bench. Also moved forward by the 19th Circuit Judicial Nominating Committee were Martin County lawyer Brennan Keeler, who represents a Palm Beach County police union, plus two St. Lucie County residents — Lillian Ewen, who serves as a 19th Circuit General Magistrate, and Anastasia Norman, a major crimes prosecutor for State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl’s office in Fort Pierce. Of the two Vero hopefuls, longtime criminal defense and divorce attorney Battista definitely has more, and more varied, experience. Battista, 52, has practiced law for 23 years as an assistant state attorney, a private criminal defense attorney and a family law attorney, handling divorces and custody disputes. Battista also serves as a hearing officer for traffic court when local citizens fight a citation. He joined the Grall Law Group after his former law partner Nicole Menz was appointed a county judge. This is Battista’s sixth time in the running for a local judicial seat. READ FULL STORY


Another $40 million island listing to attract world’s wealthiest
week of March 16, 2023

There has been a revolution in 32963 listing prices this season. In five short weeks, between the end of January and beginning of March, four homes came on the market that have a combined asking price just shy of $190 million. Between them, the houses have 34 bedrooms, 44 baths, 36 garage spaces, six swimming pools, 850 feet of ocean frontage and more than 70,000 square feet under roof. They include a $60-million spec home being built by a star team out of Miami; another grand $60-million house in the estate section that comes with 5 acres of land; a $29-million home in Sandpointe with more than 300 feet of ocean frontage; and now, just listed by Sally Daley at Douglas Elliman, a $40-million estate across from St. Ed’s that includes two 2,000-square-foot guest houses, along with a 13,050 main house and 155 feet of ocean frontage. This flurry of mega-listings has pushed Vero Beach quite suddenly into the highest echelon of the global real estate market, catching the eye of UHNWIs (ultra-high net worth individuals) across the country and around the world who are looking for trophy properties to park their wealth or enjoy a seaside lifestyle. READ FULL STORY


Twin Pairs traffic study gets green light
week of March 16, 2023

The first phase of a new Twin Pairs traffic study to ascertain the feasibility of reducing State Road 60 to two lanes in each direction through downtown Vero was scheduled to begin this week and take three months to complete. Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls said the study’s initial phase, which will cost more than $50,000, will involve collecting and analyzing traffic data with a goal of providing enough information to determine whether further evaluation is needed. Falls said splitting the study into two phases could identify a “critical failure” early in the process and render the more-costly latter phase unnecessary. “If the capacity was not there to support the lane reduction, it would be highly unlikely” the Florida Department of Transportation would allow such a change, Falls told the Vero Beach City Council at last week’s meeting. The City Council voted 4-1 to spend up to $165,000 for the new traffic study, but acting on Falls’ suggestion, the members committed to only the first phase of what otherwise would be a comprehensive evaluation to determine the impact of reducing the heavily traveled, east-west corridor to four lanes – two in each direction. READ FULL STORY


Embattled sheriff restructures top staff after resignations
week of March 16, 2023

Responding to two sudden resignations in his command staff, Sheriff Eric Flowers restructured his leadership team with a flurry of promotions, including the appointment of two new deputy chiefs. Deputy Chiefs Kent Campbell and Kyle King are now the No. 3-ranked members of the Sheriff’s Office, serving beneath only Flowers and Undersheriff Thom Raulen. King replaces Lonnie Rich, who retired two weeks ago – just days after being suspended with pay. Campbell, who rejoined the agency last year after retiring in December 2021, filled the position vacated last April when Milo Thornton was inexplicably demoted to captain after an 11-week, in-house investigation cleared him of alleged wrongdoing. Among the 15 other deputies promoted were four new captains and four new lieutenants. The shakeup included the demotion of Capt. Tony Consalo to lieutenant, but, according to agency sources, Flowers rescinded the demotion after Consalo offered to retire at the end of the month. Consalo, 59, will become the third member of Flowers’ upper echelon to retire in the past six weeks. He’ll join Rich, 52, and Capt. Pat White, 46, who turned in his papers in early February. READ FULL STORY


Three from Vero are hoping to be named to bench
week of March 9, 2023

Three local Vero lawyers were set to be interviewed this week among a field of nine Treasure Coast residents hoping to gain the governor’s favor, and an appointment to the bench in the 19th Judicial Circuit. Three of the applicants are men and six are women. One reports assets worth more than $1 million; another is still burdened by nearly $300,000 in student loans. Longtime beachside criminal defense and divorce attorney Jeff Battista, who joined the Grall Law Group after his former law partner Nicole Menz was appointed to replace Joe Wild as County Judge, has applied for a sixth time to become a judge. In addition to his private practice, Battista serves as a hearing officer for traffic cases. Battista, 52, was born in Pennsylvania and has lived in Vero Beach for 23 years. He graduated in the top 3 percent of his class from West Virginia University with a degree in accounting, then went on to earn his Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida Levin College of Law with a 2.88 grade point average. READ FULL STORY


Remains found may be those of missing woman
week of March 9, 2023

Is it possible that Susy Tomassi’s body had been submerged in the mangroves near the Oslo Road boat ramp for the past five years? Could the massive search that ensued after the 73-year-old woman’s high-profile disappearance in March 2018 simply have missed her? How did her body get there? Sheriff’s detectives hope to get answers to those questions and others after a fisherman found skeletal remains about 150 yards north of the boat ramp last Friday. According to a Sheriff’s Office statement, detectives believe the remains belong to Tomassi – who was last seen behind the Publix at U.S. 1 and Oslo Road – because of jewelry and other personal items located near the site. READ FULL STORY


Covid cases down, hospitalizations up
week of March 9, 2023

New COVID-19 infections here were down 25 percent this past week, decreasing from 98 cases to 73 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health. But COVID hospitalizations here doubled. “We have 12 COVID-positive patients in-house, one of which is in intensive care,” said Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Erin Miller on Monday. Florida remains among the top five states for the number of total daily cases, and for greatest number of daily cases in relation to population. But statewide, in terms of hospitalizations per capita for COVID illness, Florida ranks pretty well with a declining statistic of seven hospitalizations per 100,000 residents. So far, the predicted “tripledemic” of COVID, Influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus has not materialized this winter. Influenza outbreaks across Florida have been declining, and the number of flu cases statewide is rated as low this week. READ FULL STORY


Third-generation realtor ‘wildly bullish’ on island market
week of March 9, 2023

Plenty of people are worried about the real estate market right now. But Premier Estate Properties agent Lange Sykes told Vero Beach 32963 he “is wildly bullish on the future of Vero Beach real estate,” especially on the barrier island. He sees 2023 as similar to 2013 – a time when the real estate market still felt shaky in the wake of the Great Recession and dramatic decline in property prices that began in 2008. Then as now, people were worried about the strength of an uncertain recovery and fearful about what the future might bring. Those fears were unfounded. Between the first quarter of 2013 and first quarter of 2020 – just prior to the pandemic real estate boom that exploded between fall 2020 and summer 2022 – property values in Florida increased by 70 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. “That same opportunity is here again, right now, and I am encouraging my clients to acquire property,” Sykes said. READ FULL STORY


Vocal support for School Board pair targeted by DeSantis
week of March 9, 2023

Community leaders are stepping up to defend School Board Chair Peggy Jones and School Board Member Brian Barefoot after Gov. Ron DeSantis targeted the former Sebastian River High School principal and the former Indian River Shores mayor for electoral defeat in 2024. Local NAACP President Tony Brown, School Board Vice Chair Teri Barenborg and former School Board member Mara Schiff were among those who rallied around Barefoot and Jones last week, after they were included on DeSantis’ list of 14 Florida school board incumbents who, according to a Fox News report, didn’t protect parents’ rights and did not shield students from “woke” ideologies. The report stated the hit list was compiled after the governor’s aides met with Republican leaders in the Florida Legislature and representatives from the Moms For Liberty, an ultra-conservative group co-founded by island resident and former county School Board member Tiffany Justice. READ FULL STORY


Standoff on sand projects may cost county big bucks
week of March 2, 2023

The county may lose millions in critical funding to reinforce dunes and beaches from just south of Castaway Cove to The Moorings if a handful of oceanfront homeowners don’t consent to have the work completed this fall. So far, the county has failed to convince them, and if workers cannot start placing sand on beaches when the turtle nesting season ends in November, state and federal funding for the replenishment project will be lost, County Commission Chair Joe Earman said. Up and down the 32963 island’s 22 miles of beaches, most oceanfront residents eagerly await their turn to have crews shore up their storm-chewed beaches with sand, and projects have progressed more-or-less on schedule. But a portion of the barrier island called “Sector 7” is the exception. Deemed critically eroded several years ago, the South County replenishment project can’t move forward without property owners signing easements to permit the county access to the beach in front of their homes from the mean high waterline westward. READ FULL STORY


Piper flying high after navigating supply headwinds
week of March 2, 2023

Piper Aircraft, the county’s largest private employer with 1,100 locals on the payroll, announced last week it had enjoyed a successful 2022, delivering 15 percent more airplanes than the previous year, despite confronting supply-chain and workforce shortages. The company, which was founded in 1937 and opened its Vero Beach plant in 1959, began this year with a backlog of orders for both its M-Class lineup – including its flagship M600/SLS model, a high-performance, six-seat, single-engine turboprop – and its wildly popular trainer aircraft. The M-Class backlog is projected to reach deep into 2024, the announcement stated, while the trainer aircraft backlog is expected to extend into 2025 and beyond. In addition, Piper saw existing flight school customers – such as ATP Flight School in Stuart; Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Tulsa, Okla.; and American Flyers, which has locations in Pompano Beach, New Jersey, Texas and Arizona – grow their fleets. READ FULL STORY


Vero, Shores law enforcement eye new drones after state bans Chinese model
week of March 2, 2023

When local law enforcement agencies took to the air a couple of years back with drones, they quite naturally wanted what everyone regarded as the state of the art – drones made by the Chinese company DJI. The Vero Beach Police Department and the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department began using them to search for missing persons, to size up a crime scene, or to track suspects fleeing on foot or a bicycle. But DJI, which had become the industry standard for police statewide, raised more than a little suspicion when it began donating drones to American law enforcement agencies. The images captured by these free drones were sent to “cloud servers,” and Florida government officials feared the gifted drones and the detailed footage shot of hundreds of American cities and stored in the cloud could easily be hacked for espionage purposes. So in 2021, the Florida Legislature outlawed the use of Chinese drones by government agencies. “We had to suspend our drone program, and we’re currently looking for a new type of drone,” said Vero Beach Police Capt. Matt Monaco. READ FULL STORY


Hot island market attracts another major real estate brand
week of March 2, 2023

Another top real estate brand arrived on the island last week when Engel & Völkers opened a stylish, Euro-modern office on Beachland Boulevard a block west of Sexton Plaza, debuting with an evening event for some 200 people. Claire Higgins, broker of the franchise operation, and her husband and business partner, Robert Higgins, told Vero Beach 32963 that they and the corporate leadership of Engel & Völkers Florida know they are entering a highly competitive real estate market. They believe they can succeed in part because of their brand’s strong international reach and because of what Claire Higgins calls “the new Florida,” where they see the pandemic migration continuing for the foreseeable future. “We will get our share,” said Robert Higgins, a veteran of the restaurant industry. READ FULL STORY


Net gain: Positive changes in store at Riverside Park courts
week of March 2, 2023

Tennis players in Vero Beach can expect to see some improvements this spring at the 10-court Riverside Park complex on the barrier island. “The first thing they’ll notice,” said Laura Bowen, executive director of the United States Tennis Association’s Florida Section, “is that there will be a human being there all day, and maybe more than one.” In the coming weeks, USTA Florida plans to recruit and hire a full-time head tennis professional and other staff for the Riverside Park Tennis Complex. Local tennis players also might see four of the courts being resurfaced, though Bowen said the association hadn’t yet hired a contractor and the work probably won’t start until later in the spring. These positive changes – along with new programs designed to get more people playing there – are part of USTA Florida’s takeover of the operations and maintenance of the city-owned and long-underutilized facility. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations here stay low
week of March 2, 2023

As Vero Beach enters its fourth year since the Florida Department of Health announced the state’s first two cases of the novel coronavirus, the rate of infections and hospitalizations for COVID-19 illness remains low. “We have six patients in-house with COVID this morning. No patients of the six are in critical care,” Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said on Monday. COVID hospitalizations are up slightly from the four hospitalized the previous week, but six patients hospitalized and zero in the ICU are pretty good numbers considering Vero’s swollen population right now with snowbirds and spring break visitors in town. Indian River County reported 98 new infections among those who got tested through labs that submit test results to the health department, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up slightly from 86 new cases the previous week, but still fewer than 100 people testing positive the week before. These figures do not include people who showed positive for COVID on an at-home test kit. READ FULL STORY


Renewed and improved Jones Pier area set to welcome visitors in May
week of March 2, 2023

The Jones’ Pier Conservation Area will welcome visitors once again this spring, with a replica fruit stand as its hub, the pier set to re-open in May, and a pioneer history museum in the works. “The fruit stand was one of the first things we did on the site,” said Wendy Swindell, an Indian River County conservation lands project specialist. The fruit stand was a replica of the one the pioneering Jones family operated in the 20th century. “It was completely in disrepair when we started working on this project in 2017, so we applied for a grant with the Department of Historical Resources and they funded building a replica,” Swindell said. “The fruit stand was planned as sort of a hub for the site. “The thought was, on the weekends we could open up the doors to the fruit stand and perhaps we would sell native plants,” she said. Renovations to the century-old Jones Bungalow House will be ongoing when Jones Pier reopens to the public. “It took us a while to get a contractor on board to elevate the house,” Swindell said. READ FULL STORY


Appeals court hearing extends utilities conflict
week of February 23, 2023

The Town of Indian River Shores will get another opportunity in April to make its case that Vero Beach breached a 2012 utility franchise agreement by not matching Indian River County Utilities’ reuse irrigation water rates as promised in a 15-year contract. Circuit Court Judge Janet Croom ruled in favor of Vero last year, saying the city had not run afoul of the utility contract and was protected by state law, but Shores officials disagreed, so they appealed the case to the next higher state court, the Fourth District Court of Appeals. The matter before the panel of appeals judges will be whether Vero violated the 2012 franchise agreement when it kept Indian River Shores’ reuse irrigation water rates the same after Indian River County Utilities reduced its reuse irrigation water rates significantly in 2019. READ FULL STORY


Second $60M listing further enhances island’s cachet
week of February 23, 2023

Less than a month after a $60-million oceanfront compound came on the market in the barrier island’s Estate Section, garnering attention worldwide, a second $60-million listing has popped up a quarter mile south of the first one. The latest blockbuster listing, located at 2150 S. A1A, is generating another burst of publicity for the barrier island around the globe and creating lots of buzz in South Florida where a majority of Vero’s luxury buyers now come from. But rather than merely doubling the attention drawn to the 32963 market, island brokers say it is a case of one plus one equaling three – or four – in terms of upping Vero’s profile among the ultra-wealthy. During the pandemic boom, the barrier island entered a new real estate category, emerging as a $20-million-plus market for the first time, with multiple record-breaking sales at or above that figure. But $60-million buyers are different from $20-million buyers and the back-to-back big listings have made Vero light up on the map those buyers look at when they’re seeking real estate investments. READ FULL STORY


Elderly woman’s death adds to grim toll of A1A fatalities
week of February 23, 2023

An elderly Indian River Shores woman went out for a walk on the sidewalk along A1A on Saturday afternoon and never made it back home. As she attempted to cross to the east side of the road near the entrance to the Del Mar condominiums, she was struck by a Dodge Charger. “Immediately a couple of cars pulled over on the side of the road,” a witness who had been walking her dog at the time of the crash told Vero Beach 32963. “The woman was not moving ... she was in the fetal position.” It was the fourth fatal crash on the island in less than two years. One man was killed in a two-car collision, one struck riding a bicycle, and one run down walking his dog (Click here to read update on that story). The witness to the latest A1A fatality, who asked not to be identified, told our photographer the woman was “put in an ambulance, and it seems like she died in the ambulance because when they drove off, they didn’t have sirens or anything.” READ FULL STORY


Loar finds his voice on County Commission
week of February 23, 2023

County Commissioner Deryl Loar said he has heard the growing rumors that he’s weighing a 2024 run for sheriff – the position he held for 12 years before retiring from law enforcement in early 2021. “People ask me every day, and a lot of them say they want me to run,” Loar said during a phone interview last week. “I’ve even heard from a few people at the Sheriff’s Office, and that’s flattering. “But unless something catastrophic happens, I don’t see it,” he added. “I enjoy what I’m doing now.” As of Monday afternoon, only two candidates had filed to run – Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry and 2020 candidate Deborah Cooney, who lost to Loar’s hand-picked successor, Eric Flowers. Flowers, though, has struggled noticeably in his first term as sheriff, particularly in his second year, when his extramarital affair was publicly exposed, his deputies were involved in two controversial shootings, and he inexplicably told a TV reporter where the agency’s school resource officers store their AR-15 rifles. “That’s not how I trained him,” Loar said. READ FULL STORY


New Covid cases fall sharply here
week of February 23, 2023

The number of new COVID-19 infections last week declined 28 percent locally and 20 percent statewide, again defying predictions of a winter surge of the illness. The case count locally dropped from 120 new cases to 86 new cases for the week ending Feb. 16. About one in four or nearly 43,000 people in Indian River County have reported a positive COVID-19 test to the Florida Department of Health since March 2020, but the real number of people infected could be twice that, with the widespread use of at-home COVID test kits, plus people with very mild or no symptoms not getting tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported eight people were newly hospitalized with COVID illness locally, down 33 percent from 12 hospitalizations the previous week. Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Erin Miller said on Monday, “We have four COVID-positive patients in-house this morning, none of which are in critical care.” That’s down drastically from nine patients hospitalized with COVID illness last week. READ FULL STORY


Justice still far off for man struck and killed on A1A in 2021
week of February 23, 2023

The vehicular homicide charge against Fort Pierce resident Jamie Jarvontae Williams, whose speeding car struck and killed South Beach resident Michael Gianfrancesco while he was walking his dog along A1A on Memorial Day 2021, seems likely to take many more months – if not years – to resolve. But a frequently heard question is why the 29-year-old Williams – who also has been charged with violation of probation – hasn’t at least been tried for that since numerous law enforcement officers documented his presence in Indian River County the night of the fatal crash? Convicting Williams for crossing out of St. Lucie County and driving into Indian River County without first getting his probation officer’s permission, and for failing to report having contact with law enforcement officers the night of the crash, would seem a slam-dunk case. But State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said Williams’ violation of probation trial will not take place anytime soon because it’s not as simple as proving he was outside St. Lucie County without permission. “Not when there’s a simultaneous criminal case going on,” Bakkedahl said. READ FULL STORY


Riomar draws national attention as top luxury market
week of February 16, 2023

Long seen as one of the best neighborhoods on the island, Riomar has come into its own as a world-class real estate destination. With a series of record-breaking sales and an average home price that is up more than 100 percent in just the past two years, Riomar was recently lumped in with La Jolla, one of the dreamiest parts of the California Dream, and elite Colorado resort town Telluride in an article about top luxury markets in Forbes Global Properties. “At this time three years ago, the average listing price in Riomar [including Riomar Bay] was $1.75 million. Today, the average is $4 million,” Forbes Global reported at the beginning 2023. When Vero Beach 32963 checked active listings a week ago on Feb. 8, the transformation in valuation was even greater, with an average listing price of $5.78 million for the 12 homes and lots in Riomar and Riomar Bay shown online at Realtor.com and similar sites. READ FULL STORY


Legislature edging toward checks on utilities like Vero’s
week of February 16, 2023

Just as many island homeowners are opening their mail to find higher water-sewer bills this month from the first round of at least four steep Vero Beach Utility rate hikes, the Florida Legislature finally seems inclined to force local-government-owned utilities like Vero’s to justify their rates to the Florida Public Service Commission. No bill has been introduced yet, but there’s bipartisan support from leaders across the state for reining in the power of municipal utilities that serve customers outside their political boundaries, especially if the utility – like Vero’s – siphons off revenues to hold taxes down for city residents. The Florida House Energy Communications and Cybersecurity Subcommittee has held two meetings to seek information from state utility regulators, legal experts, local officials and utility customers about these government-owned utilities and how they operate. The committee chair invited Vero Utilities customers from the Town of Indian River Shores to speak at the Feb. 9 meeting in Tallahassee. READ FULL STORY

Could Vero’s utility transfers finally get state scrutiny?
week of February 16, 2023

If the Florida Legislature clamps down on municipal utilities that use money from customers outside the city limits to defray city dwellers’ property taxes, Vero Beach’s financial practices – while perfectly legal the way the law reads today – could get some scrutiny at the state level. In the City of Vero Beach’s last fiscal year prior to the 2019 electric sale, the water-sewer utility had an annual budget of $16.3 million. From that, the utility made a $974,000 contribution to Vero’s general fund, and also was charged $732,000 to cover the cost of running City Hall. Of that $1.7 million, customers outside the city limits paid approximately 40 percent or $682,000. In 2019, with the electric subsidy gone, City Hall expenses were re-allocated to the various city departments. For the 2022-23 fiscal year which began Oct. 1, the water-sewer utility was budgeted to have revenues of $17.4 million, make a $1.03 million direct contribution to the general fund, plus be charged $1.38 million for City Hall operations. Thus, though the water-sewer utility’s budgeted revenue rose by 6.7 percent between 2018 and 2022, the total transfers were hiked 42 percent to make up for revenue the city was no longer getting from the electric utility. READ FULL STORY


Publix moving ahead with new option for north island residents
week of February 16, 2023

Publix is preparing to build a supermarket closer to shoppers on the northern half of the barrier island. The site plan for the new store – to be located on the south side of State Road 510, less than a half-mile east of U.S. 1 – has been approved, and county officials say the supermarket chain hopes to begin construction later this year. Ryan Sweeney, the county’s chief of current development, said that Publix representatives believe the planned 34,000-square-foot store will become the grocery-shopping destination for island residents as far south as Indian River Shores. Currently, the nearest Publix supermarkets to island shoppers coming across the Wabasso Causeway are at the intersections of U.S. 1 and Barber Street in Sebastian, and U.S. 1 and 53rd Street, near Grand Harbor, north of Vero Beach. “Based on what we’ve been told,” Sweeney said, “this store will feature many of the upscale offerings you find at the Miracle Mile location, which serves a lot of island residents further south.” READ FULL STORY


The Elite Airways saga: Chapter 739
week of February 16, 2023

The ‘will-they-be-back-or-won’t-they’ Elite Airways saga continues. The major announcement which Elite president John Pearsall in December promised was coming shortly after the calendar turned to 2023? Still no announcement. The only semblance of news posted on the airline’s website ? Last Friday, the log-in line at the top of the home page read: “Elite Airways will be announcing new service soon!” The website’s previous post was a message stating that the carrier’s reservation system was offline and undergoing an “upgrade and maintenance.” Asked by Vero Beach 32963 if he would comment on the new posting, Pearsall responded Monday with a text message saying, “No, thank you. We will let you know soon.” Hard to tell what “soon” means. READ FULL STORY


Interviews scheduled for Vaughn’s judicial seat
week of February 16, 2023

The 19th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission announced on Monday that it will interview applicants in March for the judicial seat that opened up when Judge Dan Vaughn retired. Interviews are scheduled to be conducted on March 8, and possibly on March 9 if more time is needed, at the Martin County Courthouse. On Feb. 6, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Michael Dadko and Nina Ferraro to serve on the Judicial Nominating Committee. Vaughn, who was elected in 1990 and served on the bench for 32 years, lives in St. Lucie County and most recently presided over the felony criminal docket in Indian River County, but also worked around the circuit covering civil and other courts. Vaughn was only two years into his six-year term when he retired in January. Qualified applicants can reside anywhere in the 19th Judicial Circuit, which includes Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee counties. The candidate chosen would serve out the balance of Vaughn’s term and, if they chose to run, would be on the 2026 ballot. READ FULL STORY


Now is the time to stock up on Covid home test kits
week of February 16, 2023

As the number of new weekly COVID-19 infections continues to decline across most of Florida – with local numbers holding steady at 120 cases – the time to stock up on COVID home test kits and get a booster shot is now, before federal regulations change in May or supplies run out. The federal public health emergency declared for COVID-19 is set to expire. Unless it’s extended, test kits, vaccines and medications used to treat COVID illness will eventually shift to being sold on the “commercial market” without government stockpiles or subsidies. Some things won’t change immediately on May 11, provided that the federal government still has these products in stock purchased under contract during the emergency declaration. “As long as federally purchased vaccines last, COVID-19 vaccines will remain free to all people, regardless of insurance coverage. Providers of federally purchased vaccines are not allowed to charge patients or deny vaccines based on the recipient’s coverage or network status,” the Kaiser Family Foundation reported. READ FULL STORY


Accused detailed alleged theft of Holy Cross funds
week of February 9, 2023

The former administrator of Holy Cross Catholic Church, accused of opening an off-the-books bank account with since-deceased Pastor Richard Murphy and diverting more than a half-million dollars of parishioners’ donations for her own benefit, detailed how the alleged thefts were accomplished in a recorded phone interview with a Vero Beach Police detective. If the 35-minute conversation between Deborah True and Vero Beach Police Detective Kyle Edder is admitted into evidence in True’s criminal trial for felony grand theft of church funds, it could sound pretty damning to a jury. Police say the secret bank account was used to pay True directly and to pay off her debts over a period of six years, and that True knew the money came from church donations. Murphy, who died in March 2020, and True signed paperwork to open a PNC checking account in June 2012. They were the only authorized signers on the account, which True eventually admitted to closing after Murphy’s death – supposedly to protect Murphy. READ FULL STORY


Oyster Bar Marsh: A scenic new trail for walkers, bikers
week of February 9, 2023

The Oyster Bar Marsh Conservation Area, a project more than two decades in the making at the southern end of 32963, formally opened to hikers and bicyclists last week. The public now has access from dawn to dusk to the 3-mile Oyster Bar Marsh Trail, which circumnavigates a 132-acre mangrove wetland impoundment stretching from a parking area on the western side of A1A to the Indian River Lagoon. The trail includes amenities such as educational signage and boardwalks through mangrove forests. There is a covered observation deck at the center of the impoundment as well as a lagoon overlook, five trailside benches, and a parking area that boasts native landscaping and a mini-botany trail. The project, a public-private collaborative effort, had its beginnings in 2001 when the county purchased more than 100 acres using funds from the initial $26 million Environmental Lands Bonds Referendum narrowly approved by voters in 1992, plus a matching grant from Florida Communities Trust. Another 30 acres was purchased over a number of years by the Land Trust using donor-raised funds. The Land Trust contributed additional funding for the planning and design work of the impoundment and public access areas. READ FULL STORY


‘Nice’ start: Vero-bound fliers clearly on board with Breeze Airways’ service
week of February 9, 2023

A lot of island residents travel back and forth quite a bit between Vero Beach and the Northeast, and many prefer to fly first class. If the comments from this past weekend’s first travelers on Breeze are any indication, they can expect the same – or even better – amenities on the new airline now serving Vero that they find on the major carriers that fly out of West Palm Beach or Orlando. Despite its self-styled moniker as a low-fare airline, Breeze has little in common with other such carriers like Spirit, Frontier, or even Southwest that are famous – or infamous – for bare-bones service in the air. Breeze flies twice a week between the Vero Beach Regional Airport and White Plains in the Westchester County northern suburbs of New York City, and three times a week to Bradley International Airport, which serves the metropolitan areas of Hartford, Conn., and Springfield, Mass. Breeze doesn’t classify its seats as economy, premium economy or first class (if available) like other airlines. In keeping with its branding as the “nice” airline, Breeze calls its seats “nice” (the equivalent of economy), “nicer” (economy with extra legroom like the emergency exit row seats), and “nicest” (the equivalent of first class). READ FULL STORY


$29M mansion leads sudden surge here in ‘stratospheric’ listings
week of February 9, 2023

When the grand oceanfront house in Sandpointe once known as Casablanca Maria hit the market here a couple of weeks ago, listed for $29.5 million, it was a real estate event in itself, but also part of an important trend in the highest echelons of the island market. Built in the early 1990s by heirs to the William C. Brown publishing fortune, the house sits on 3 acres with 336 feet of oceanfront and fully embodies a style, ambiance and essential quality that listing agent Cindy O’Dare calls “Palm Beach splendor.” If it happens to sell for the asking price, it will set another new record on the barrier island. Just as noteworthy, the 11,600-square-foot, 16-room home – which hadn’t been on the market since 1996 – was the fifth eight-figure property to be listed in 32963 in the past few months. Three more priced between $8 million and $9 million popped up on the MLS in the same period READ FULL STORY


‘It’s a battle’: Sand demand stalls private beach projects
week of February 9, 2023

With the county’s timeline unknown for replenishing severely eroded beaches on the north barrier island, the oceanfront community of John’s Island hoped to shore up its beaches in the weeks ahead privately – but found there is currently not enough sand or dump trucks to go around. “Right now, it’s a battle to get sand. I wish we could have done it, but if sand is not available, you can’t do it when something is not there,” said Mike Korpar, general manager of the John’s Island Property Owners Association. Korpar said John’s Island lost 30 to 40 feet of dunes in the aftermath of this fall’s two hurricanes, leading steep, 6- to 8-foot escarpments along the oceanfront and creating a need for about 50,000 tons of sand. John’s Island found itself unable to acquire the needed sand, hire truckers and obtain the needed permits before sea turtle nesting season begins on March 1, at which point no construction can be done on the beach. “What we’ll do is evaluate our beaches over the summer — hopefully, we have no more storms this year — and reevaluate our beaches in the fall and determine what we need to do, if anything, at that point in time,” Korpar said. READ FULL STORY


Rise in new COVID-19 cases here offset by a drop in hospitalizations
week of February 9, 2023

New COVID-19 infections statewide declined significantly over the past four weeks, but Indian River County saw an uptick in positive COVID tests jumping 23 percent from 97 cases to 120 cases reported to the health department for week ending Feb. 2. Fortunately, COVID-19 hospitalizations locally are down, despite the slight increase in new infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker reports that 11 people were newly hospitalized this past week, down from 14 the previous week. Numbers are down at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, too. “We have seven COVID patients in-house at Indian River Hospital, none in ICU,” said Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell on Monday. That’s down from nine hospitalized COVID-positive patients the previous week. According to the CDC COVID Data Tracker, 496 people had covid tests performed through a medical office, pharmacy or lab over the past week, resulting in a 24 percent overall case positivity rate for last week. Anything over 10 percent is somewhat concerning, but because Indian River County has substantial capacity in its healthcare system to handle people hospitalized for COVID-19 illness, the Vero Beach area remains in the CDC’s Low COVID Community Level category. READ FULL STORY


Breeze Airways chief has high hopes for Vero service
week of February 2, 2023

With an “inaugural celebration” involving banners, local dignitaries and other hoopla, Breeze Airways is set to begin its self-styled “nice” regular passenger airline service this weekend between the Northeast and Vero Beach, a destination the airline’s founder says he’s never visited but heard a lot about. The first Breeze plane, an Embraer jet that can hold 118 passengers, was to touch down at the Vero Beach Regional Airport Friday afternoon from Westchester (N.Y.) airport, and after the landing and take-off party, return that evening to Westchester with its first load of Vero passengers. The following day, Saturday, a brand-new A220 Airbus jet with a capacity for up to 137 passengers will make the round-trip to Vero Beach from Bradley Field, the international airport serving the Hartford, Conn., and Springfield, Mass., metropolitan areas. With its brightly colored blue-and-purple jets, Breeze will offer service between Hartford and Vero Beach twice a week, on Thursdays and Saturdays, and twice a week to Westchester as well, on Fridays and Mondays. The flights to Westchester also continue on to Norfolk, VA. READ FULL STORY


Retired jurist Vaughn was case study in fairness
week of February 2, 2023

Right up to the moment he hung up the black robe for the last time, Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn gave the taxpayers of Indian River County and all of Florida’s 19th Judicial Circuit his full effort and attention to ensuring that justice was done. On the bench, Vaughn displayed a rare combination of meticulous attention to detail, exhaustive knowledge of Florida law and good-hearted humanity toward jurors, victims and their families, and even to the beleaguered defendants who wound up in his courtroom. Realizing that any normal person gets really nervous in a courtroom, Vaughn had a habit of repeating important instructions three times. He thanked jurors profusely for serving and it was during the jury selection or voir dire process that Vaughn sought to put prospective jurors at ease by letting let his humorous side show. But to the attorneys who practiced before him, Vaughn never joked about the law. Prosecutors and defense attorneys got exactly the treatment they deserved – respect for being prepared, thorough and quick on their feet to represent the state or their client, or a rebuke for being lazy, careless and not following the rules. READ FULL STORY


Vero man’s disappearance devastates anguished family, friends
week of February 2, 2023

The night before 27-year-old Johnny Peters went missing, he enjoyed a casual meatloaf dinner with his brother Freddy and friend Steven Stewart at the Peters brothers’ Vero home, then the three sat around a fire pit in the backyard, with good vibes flowing. It would be the final time Stewart saw Johnny Peters, his friend since Vero Beach High. Stewart spoke to his former classmate the next day on Jan. 9. Johnny told him he was at the beach having a beer. He was last seen at Waldo’s at the Driftwood Inn, then on a nearby beach. The Peters boys were raised in Central Beach before parents Fred and Amanda Peters moved to Indian River Shores, so the eateries and watering holes of Ocean Drive were Johnny’s home turf. Nothing unusual there. “Everything seemed normal, from dinner to the phone conversation,” Stewart said, adding that the trio planned a golf outing that following Tuesday. But after that phone call, Johnny Peters never returned to the Vero residence he shared with his brother. Pictures of Johnny flooded the social media of friends, families and others who knew him. Social media users said he had a “heart of gold,” and that his family is heartbroken. READ FULL STORY


Buyers expected to pony up for new Polo Grounds homes
week of February 2, 2023

As the season gets underway at the Polo Grounds west of town, with matches now through mid-April, there is an extra sense of excitement in the air. Besides horses thundering over the turf in front of hundreds of spectators on Sunday afternoons, a bunch of new homes are coming to the residential loop around the field that will bring the subdivision closer to buildout. Vero Beach development partnership Belle Z LLC just announced a new offering of 10 lot/home packages, with 3,500-square-foot Anglo-Caribbean homes listed for $1.3 million or $1.4 million, depending on the model. Two other builders also are active in the 46-lot subdivision, with one-off new homes under construction, and other builders have purchased vacant lots. Developed by polo enthusiast George Kahle, the development got off to a good start, beginning in 2001, with finished lots selling for up to $200,000 and million-dollar homes going up around the perimeter of the 17-acre polo field. Success continued until 2006, with a burst of activity and rising prices in the final year or two of the housing boom then underway. But development screeched to halt during the during the Great Recession and never picked up again. Some properties went back to the bank and lots sold for as little as $55,000. READ FULL STORY


Covid cases here steady; hospitalizations dip
week of February 2, 2023

Though public health experts are still predicting a winter COVID-19 surge, the number of new infections locally reported to the Indian River County Health Department last week remained steady at fewer than 100 cases. A much larger number of 205 cases for week ending Jan. 19 reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seems to have been erroneous, as it conflicted with the state-reported number of 98 cases, and the CDC lists only 97 new cases for week ending Jan. 26. Hospitalizations are also trending downward, with the CDC reporting 14 people newly hospitalized with COVID-19 illness, down from 16 the previous week, and 20 the week before. Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Erin Miller said Monday morning, “We have nine COVID-positive patients in-house today, zero of which are in critical care.” That number is down from 13 the previous week. Indian River County remains in the Low COVID Community Level category this week based upon hospital capacity and COVID-positive patients requiring hospitalization. The Florida Panhandle and the Tampa-St. Petersburg metro area are also in this green zone, with most of Florida in the yellow Medium COVID Community Level. Only a few rural counties in North Florida are in the High COVID Community Level. READ FULL STORY


Orchid woman arrested in fatal island crash
week of January 26, 2023

More than eight months after the death of 89-year-old John’s Island resident Christopher Clark Ingraham from injuries sustained in the two-car crash on A1A in May, a 60-year-old Orchid woman has been arrested and charged with three serious felonies for striking the Ingrahams’ car from behind at 87 miles per hour in a 45-mile-per-hour zone and operating a vehicle with an estimated blood alcohol level of three times the legal limit. Elizabeth Lawrence Jewkes, aka Elizabeth Danielsen, was surprised by police on Jan. 19 while sunning herself at her condo’s swimming pool. Officers first went to her residence in the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club with the help of security, and found her husband Paul Danielsen in a swimsuit with a blue-and-white striped towel wrapped around his waist but Elizabeth Danielsen not at home. Paul Danielsen, a California attorney, asked Capt. Al Iovino about the charges being filed against his wife and discussed the logistics of her turning herself in. Iovino explained that she would need to spend the night in jail, waiting for her first appearance the next morning. When Danielsen inquired about his wife’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash, and Iovino told him it was upwards of .15 (.08 is Florida’s legal limit), the lawyer lowered his head and covered his face. READ FULL STORY


Stephen Faherty: A tireless fighter in electric battles
week of January 26, 2023

Stephen Joseph Faherty Sr., 83, a driving force in the long battle to free the barrier island – and ultimately all of Vero Beach – from the outrageous bills generated by Vero Electric, died last week after a multi-year battle with lung disease. Faherty was a great man with what seemed like a rather simple, and singular goal. All he wanted was to live long enough to be able to walk down his driveway in The Moorings, open his mailbox and find an electric bill that wasn’t inflated to subsidize Vero’s bloated city government. Steve achieved that goal in 2019, after a dozen-year struggle, at significant cost to his own health. Steve’s obituary doesn’t begin to describe what he powered through every day to forward the cause of affordable electric rates for all of his neighbors. For the past decade, Faherty was dependent upon oxygen to some degree – at first as a supplement via a concentrator he wore in a pack. But soon he relied upon oxygen tanks for every single breath. READ FULL STORY


Deal locks in South Beach residents to Vero utility services for 30 years
week of January 26, 2023

South barrier island residents who live outside the Vero Beach city limits are now locked into receiving their water, wastewater and reclaimed water services from Vero for at least the next 30 years, paying the same rates as island customers who live in the city. On the same Tuesday morning the City Council voted unanimously to adopt the new franchise agreement – which includes a 15-year renewal clause triggered by the written consent of both parties – the County Commission engaged in a sometimes-testy debate before voting 3-2 to approve the new contract. Commissioners Joe Flescher and Deryl Loar dissented, saying there was no reason to rush into an agreement of that length, especially one that lacks rate certainty. In fact, Loar attempted to derail discussion of the topic, making a motion to table it. Flescher seconded the motion. But the other three commissioners voted against them. “I would say the rush is that we’ve been operating without an agreement for five years,” Commissioner Susan Adams said, adding that negotiations between the city and county had been ongoing for “at least six years,” and that it was “irresponsible” to not address the proposal recommended by the staffs of both local governments. “We need to close this out and move on.” READ FULL STORY


Planned estate’s $60 million price tag raises Vero’s profile ever higher
week of January 26, 2023

In a mere 10 years, Vero Beach has gone from a quiet retirement community dismissively called “Zero Beach” by some to national and even international renown, widely known to wealthy homebuyers and superstar brokers in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and London as the Hamptons of Florida. Evidence of Vero’s continued ascent into the real estate stratosphere came last week when a Miami development team announced plans for $60-million, ultra-luxury spec home at 2040 S. A1A in the Estate Section south of The Moorings. The home, called Villa Paradiso, is being co-developed by Haute & Boss, a Miami-based construction management and development firm, and Nathan Sax, who the Wall Street Journal identifies as a South Florida developer. The 21,000-square-foot, tropical-modern estate will be the highest-priced property ever listed north of Palm Beach, according to Ander & Co., the well-oiled public relations firm supporting the project launch. Indeed, $60 million is more than twice the record price paid for a house in 32963 – but the developers are confident they can make a market for the home they have designed, betting heavily on the allure of Vero Beach to bring in buyers. READ FULL STORY


Paid airport parking could be needed if Breeze Airways is big hit
week of January 26, 2023

Breeze Airways’ first commercial flight into Vero Beach next Thursday night is a sellout – and more are expected. “Breeze representatives have repeatedly told me that ticket sales for flights into and out of Vero Beach have been more robust than they expected,” Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher said last week. “They’re not only happy with the early response, but they’re also excited about their future here.” The low-fare carrier announced in October it would begin offering passenger jet service – connecting Vero Beach to Hartford, Conn., Westchester County, N.Y., and Norfolk, Va. – starting on Feb. 2, and airline officials said they would add flights and routes if Breeze’s initial service is successful. That success, however, could prompt airport officials to consider charging Vero Beach passengers service fees and installing a paid-parking system to generate revenue to cover the costs of future expansion of and improvements to the city-owned facility. Scher said City Manager Monte Falls asked him to project what changes might be needed if Breeze is as successful as airline and airport officials hope, and he gave him a list that included paid parking. READ FULL STORY


County returns to ‘Low COVID’ status
week of January 26, 2023

There was good news and bad news about the incidence of new COVID-19 infections locally last week – and it was contradictory. The number of new cases locally reported to the Florida Department of Health was down sharply, falling 42 percent from 169 cases to 98 cases. But for the same week ending Jan. 18, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 21 percent rise in new cases here to 205. Next week’s numbers should tell us whether COVID-19 infections in our community are in fact rising or trending downward. But on the encouraging side, the CDC bumped Indian River County back down into the Low COVID Community Level category marked in green this past week, and the percentage of staffed hospital beds here required by COVID-positive patients decreased slightly to 3.6 percent with 16 people hospitalized locally with COVID, down from 20 the previous week. Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell reported on Monday “Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has 13 patients in-house COVID positive, and one of the 13 is in ICU.” That’s the same number of patients as last week. READ FULL STORY


County sees rise in Covid-related hospitalizations
week of January 19, 2023

A hike in local hospitalizations for COVID-19 shifted Indian River County from the COVID green zone into the Medium COVID Community Level as determined by federal public health officials, but the post-holidays rise in new infections here leveled off this past week. Most of Florida is in the same “medium” category as Vero, with pockets of higher areas of community spread in Miami-Dade, and in North-Central Florida. The number of new infections statewide increased by only 29 cases from the previous week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Locally the numbers edged up very slightly from 162 to 169 new cases. But the CDC says 20 Indian River County residents fell ill enough with COVID to be hospitalized last week – that’s up from 11 people newly hospitalized the previous week, or an 81 percent increase in hospitalizations. “We have 13 COVID-positive patients in house currently, none are in ICU,” Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said on Monday. That’s up 30 percent from the prior week when the hospital’s COVID ward had 10 patients. READ FULL STORY


‘Empowered’: Abuse victim’s book aids healing
week of January 19, 2023

Jeffrey Pickering, president/CEO of the Indian River Community Foundation, can vividly recall the panic attack he experienced on Oct. 16, 2017. It unleashed a flood of disturbing images from a quarter of a century earlier; of being sexually abused as a teenager by his Orlando-based pediatric orthopedist. Over the past five years, Pickering has worked to heal his own psyche, while also working to have the license of the still-practicing physician revoked and advocating for improved laws to protect other children. His horrifying experience, the healing process, and his quest to help others are outlined in his book, “Better at the Broken Places,” for which there will be a book signing at 6 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Vero Beach Book Center. “I spent a good couple of years trying to not only deal with it emotionally, but to make sense of what I could do, once I figured out that this doctor was still practicing,” says Pickering. “I couldn't sleep, thinking that it was a possibility with other people. And I didn’t have any proof whether it was or wasn’t.” READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Bridge Club puts part of its building up for sale
week of January 19, 2023

The Vero Beach Bridge Club, a 63-year-old institution that has made Vero one of the best-known cities in the bridge world, has decided to try to sell part of its building across the street from Crestlawn Cemetery. The decision was made this past week by the 700-member club’s new Board of Directors, now headed by President Denis Conlon, a retired business executive from Philadelphia, who had previously served two terms as board president prior to the COVID pandemic. COVID has played havoc with the game of bridge all over the country and the world, and has seriously depressed attendance at brick-and-mortar bridge clubs – including the one in Vero – as well as tournaments. The rise of online bridge during the pandemic has added to the challenge. “We don’t want to be one of the many clubs that will not survive,” Conlon said in reference to the fact that almost half the clubs registered with the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) before the pandemic have not reopened and probably never will. “We are not in any danger of closing. This move is designed to assure our future for years to come,” Conlon said. READ FULL STORY


Food truck (temporarily) fills beachside void
week of January 19, 2023

While the reopening of Jaycee Park’s iconic eatery, the Seaside Grill, remains on pause pending county permits, beachgoers this winter will still be able to grab a midday bite to eat. In the southeast corner of the parking lot, just a few steps from the now shuttered restaurant, a brightly painted food truck is “open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week until the Seaside Grill reopens,” according to Tony Zorbaugh. Next to the truck is a shade canopy and a couple of tables. Zorbaugh is executive director of The Source, a local nonprofit dedicated to “changing the face of homelessness” by providing job training for homeless individuals, enabling them to “rejoin the community.” When Zorbaugh became aware of the Seaside Grill ongoing opening delay, he saw an opportunity for his organization to fill a community need while offering hands-on job experience for The Source’s members. As a bonus, it’s a way for the community to support The Source’s mission. READ FULL STORY


County offices not immune to difficulty in filling vacancies
week of January 19, 2023

Local businesses aren’t the only employers struggling to find workers, even as the COVID-spawned “Great Resignation” starts to wane amid fears of a recession. Many Indian River County government departments also are alarmingly short staffed, forcing supervisors and staffers to take on more work. “We’re busting our tails to keep up,” Interim County Administrator Michael Zito said last week. “It’s a tough situation – being down people and, as the county continues to grow, trying to meet a greater demand for services. “We have an inordinately large number of vacancies.” As of Monday morning, the Job Opportunities Page on the county’s website listed 37 openings, the most prominent of which was the county administrator’s position vacated by Jason Brown on Dec. 31. Brown, 48, worked in several county departments for 25 years and was appointed administrator in 2016. He announced in October that he planned to resign at the end of the year, citing the “stress” that accompanied the position, to take a job as senior accountant in the County Clerk of Court’s Office. READ FULL STORY


Dale Sorensen Real Estate, despite ‘puzzling’ year, tops $1.4B in sales
week of January 19, 2023

Despite 12 roller-coaster months that Dale Sorensen Sr. called “puzzling and challenging,” his real estate company had another stellar year in 2022, closing approximately $1.42 billion in sales out of its eight offices in Indian River, Brevard and St. Lucie counties. That number included nearly $400 million on the 32963 barrier island, where the family-run business had a leading 26 percent market share, and well over a billion in Indian River County. The year was puzzling in part because it started in the midst of a still-accelerating hyper-boom, with home prices on a steep upward trajectory and sales through the roof, and then slowed dramatically, dropping from 90 miles an hour to about 30 almost overnight. With little warning, the pandemic tidal wave that flooded the island market with eager buyers for 20 months or so, starting in the fall of 2020, flattened out on the beach in May and June, its power finally and somewhat mysteriously spent. Sorensen, who has been in real estate and development for more than 50 years, said he has never seen the real estate market shift as abruptly as it did in the summer of 2022. READ FULL STORY


Surge in Covid infections here continues trend
week of January 12, 2023

The number of new COVID-19 infections climbed sharply for the second week locally, paralleling the 32 percent surge in cases statewide in the period ending Jan. 5. Meanwhile, a new mutation of the virus is gaining steam across North America. In Indian River County, new cases of COVID reported to the health department jumped from 124 to 162 cases this past week, a hike of 36 percent. Eleven people were newly hospitalized with COVID illness over the past week here, with COVID-positive patients using 2.6 percent of the staffed hospital beds countywide, the CDC reports. “We have 10 COVID-positive patients, one of which is in critical care (not ventilated),” Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said Monday, reporting numbers consistent with the previous week’s hospitalizations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker, Indian River County is still in the Low COVID Community Level category, but nearly all of the rest of the state of Florida has now advanced to the Medium or High COVID Community Level. READ FULL STORY


County Supervisor of Elections begins bid for fourth term
week of January 12, 2023

Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan filed to run for a fourth term last week, saying she wanted to make sure she qualified before embarking on her office’s preparations for what is expected to be a huge turnout for the 2024 general election. “Obviously, I enjoy what I’m doing, but I also wanted to jump in early so I can have all the groundwork for the campaign done and have my petitions approved in advance,” Swan said. “I didn’t want to have to run an election while I’m running for re-election.” Swan, 63, is a longtime Vero Beach resident who has worked in the county’s Elections Office since 2004. She was appointed supervisor of elections in March 2011, when then-Gov. Rick Scott selected her from a field of 13 candidates to replace Kay Clem, who resigned three months earlier citing health issues. During her 18 years in the Elections Office, Swan has served in various other capacities, including voter outreach coordinator, qualifying officer and assistant supervisor. She has been involved in the planning, management and oversight of 39 elections in this county. READ FULL STORY


Work begins on pipes that will bring natural gas to island
week of January 12, 2023

Florida City Gas began laying pipe last week alongside the Wabasso Causeway to bring natural gas service over the next year and a half to residents potentially as far north as Windsor, and as far south as the Vero Beach oceanside business district. It will take about two months for Peninsula Pipeline Company to connect the mainland gas supply with distribution lines on the northern part of the island, and the A1A piping project should reach Indian River Shores sometime in the next month, said gas company spokesperson Briana Soriano. “From the main line, Florida City Gas will begin its expansion throughout the island and to interested neighborhoods and will continue for at least four years following the completion of the PPC mainline. We currently have plans to expand service to the new Seaglass development by GHO Homes, and we are targeting new construction projects in and around The Strand development,” said Marc Seagrave, the director of development and business strategy for NetEra Energy Inc., the parent company of Florida City Gas as well as Florida Power & Light. READ FULL STORY


‘Spirit’ is willing as distiller vows to make world’s best rum here
week of January 12, 2023

An entrepreneur with a colorful background and stellar career as a craft distiller has enthusiastic county support for a “farm to bottle” rum distilling operation that he says will produce the finest “ultra-premium” rum, starting with hundreds of barrels of white rum in 2024. Located on a historic 900-acre ranch on Route 60 four miles west of I-95, Bhakta Spirits will grow its own sugarcane, ferment and distill the cane juice, age the rum in wooden casks and then bottle and sell it, controlling the entire process from planting cane to pouring the first drink. “This will be the first farm to bottle [rum distilling operation] in the country and we will make the best rum in the world, right here in Indian River County,” said company founder and owner Raj Bhakta. The “best rum the world” boast sounds like something any ambitious entrepreneur might say, but the bold claim of Bhakta, 47, who moved to Vero from Vermont in 2017, living first on the island and then at the ranch where sugarcane is already growing, is backed up by an exceptional track record in craft distilling. READ FULL STORY


Indian River Shores voters face Jan. 24 deadline to weigh in on ballot questions
week of January 12, 2023

Registered voters in Indian River Shores have less than two weeks left to consider 11 yes or no questions about proposed changes to the town charter, and return their mail-in ballots. The deadline for receipt of the ballot is Jan. 24, and that is not a postmark deadline. Voters may hand in the ballot at the Election Office in-person should they wait until the last minute. “Voters may either mail their ballot via the USPS, FedEX, etc. or deliver their ballot in person to the Elections Office by 7 p.m. on January 24, 2023 (Election Day),” Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said. As of Monday afternoon, about one eighth of the distributed ballots have been returned. “Our Quick Turnout View is posted on the homepage of our website and is updated daily. We mailed 4,109 ballots and to date we have received back 531 voted ballots 12.9 percent turnout,” Swan said on Monday. The town is prohibited from spending taxpayer dollars to promote any certain outcome in the voting on the 11 charter amendments, but voters had been asking town officials for more information, so former members of the Charter Review Commission hosted an informal meeting to explain why they proposed the various amendments and what the local impact would be. A small crowd showed up for this event. READ FULL STORY


Pros headline King of the Hill tourney
week of January 12, 2023

There was no reason for former tennis star Mikael Pernfors to feel anxious, playing in a local charity doubles tournament against three other teaching pros last year. But he was. More than 40 years after hitting his way into the top 10 in the world rankings and reaching the 1986 French Open final, the longtime Vero Beach resident couldn’t help but try to calculate whether he had won enough final-round games to take the trophy at the annual King of the Hill event. “I find myself coming out here to have a good time, and I had a great time,” Pernfors, now 59, told the crowd after winning the 40-and-over division title last winter. “But I start counting games and I get nervous, which I guess means I love this game.” Pernfors is back in the field for the 28th annual King of the Hill tournament, scheduled to begin next Thursday (Jan. 19) at The Boulevard Tennis Club with first-round play in the 16-player Open Division. READ FULL STORY


Ancient Chinese game of Mah Jongg gains fans here
week of January 5, 2023

While it’s not likely to overtake duplicate bridge as this area’s most popular table game anytime soon, the ancient Chinese game of Mah Jongg – in its American version – is showing signs of making a strong post-pandemic resurgence in Vero. One of the big Mah Jongg games here is held on Monday afternoon at the Elks Club, and attendance – while reckoned in the dozens compared to considerably larger numbers for tournaments at the Vero Beach Bridge Center – is now back to more than 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that the Vero Beach Bridge Center, which has seen attendance seriously decline in the pandemic, has offered the Mah Jongg players some of the unused space in its huge building, a former bowling alley across from Crestlawn Cemetery, but they have declined. “The bridge ladies and the Mah Jongg ladies just don’t get along very well,” explains Lorraine Bell, who learned the original Chinese version in London while her husband was stationed there for a Swiss bank. Bell is so into the game that her car has a vanity license plate that spells MAJ-ONG. READ FULL STORY


Breeze Airways advances start of Vero service
week of January 5, 2023

Breeze Airways won’t begin commercial passenger service in and out of Vero Beach Regional Airport on Feb. 15 as it initially announced. Instead, flights will start here on Feb. 2. “We were able to launch a bit earlier,” Breeze spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones said last week, “so we did.” Early last week, in fact, the carrier’s website was offering Feb. 2 flights connecting Vero Beach and Hartford, Conn., for round-trip fares as low as $128. Round-trip flights between Vero Beach and Westchester County, N.Y., on Feb. 3 were selling for as low as $148. The fares for both routes were based on standard seating, which Breeze refers to as “Nice.” The airline also offers “Nicer” seats, which provide slightly more legroom, a snack and one checked bag, as well as “Nicest” seating – the carrier’s version of first-class accommodations, which includes two checked bags. Fares increase with the levels of seating and service. A round-trip flight in the “Nicest” section can cost $738 per person. READ FULL STORY


Covid starts 2023 with rise in cases, hospitalizations
week of January 5, 2023

Indian River County ended 2022 with a 26 percent uptick in weekly new COVID-19 infections, and began 2023 with a 120 percent increase in the number of people hospitalized for COVID illness. Cases reported to the Florida Department of Health rose from 98 during Christmas week to 124 during the week of the New Year’s holiday. Seven people were newly hospitalized last week, and as of Monday, according to Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Erin Miller, “Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has a total of 11 COVID-positive patients in-house today, two of which are in the ICU.” That’s more than double the five people who were hospitalized just before Christmas Eve. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.3 percent of staffed hospital beds locally are being used by COVID patients. Testing also increased by 17 percent last week, and the county’s case positivity rate was 16.81 percent, with 10 percent being the threshold public health officials aim for counties to stay under. READ FULL STORY


Surge in condo prices on island currently outpacing single-family homes
week of January 5, 2023

The overall housing market has cooled considerably since the peak of the pandemic boom, but condo prices on the island and mainland continue to show strong price appreciation, outpacing single-family homes, according to brokers and online data. All the stats haven’t been compiled for December yet, but in November the median price of a condominium in 32963 was up 34 percent compared to a year earlier, from $540,000 to $725,000, while houses were up only 11 percent year-over-year. Countywide, median condo sales prices in November were up a whopping 54 percent, year over year, while house prices were flat, according to ONE Sotheby’s most recent market report, which zeros in on counties and select ZIP codes from Miami to Jacksonville. House prices are still up year over year, too, but they declined slightly month to month during late summer and fall, so they aren’t keeping pace with condos – which have more than doubled in value in the past two years and aren’t quite done with their phenomenal run. Ironically, the epic jump in island house prices during the boom is the main force pushing condo appreciation higher. READ FULL STORY


Strunk Funeral Home owners seek to disqualify circuit judge
week of January 5, 2023

The owners of Strunk Funeral Home & Crematory are asking an appeals court to disqualify Circuit Judge Janet Croom from presiding over “any further proceedings” in the company’s legal battle over ownership of the properties on which it conducts business. In its filing with Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach just before the holidays, Strunk claims Croom’s relationship with two Vero Beach attorneys connected to the case puts her ability to be impartial in question. The appeal was filed two weeks after Croom – without explanation or comment – denied a Strunk motion accusing her of being “biased” and requesting that she recuse herself from the case. Croom issued her denial less than three hours after the Strunk motion was filed on Dec. 8. A week earlier, she ordered the company to post a $3.1 million bond within 20 days and pay into the court registry $25,800 per month in rent until the case is resolved. In the latest development, though, Croom granted Strunk’s request to give the company until Jan. 6 to post the bond. By then, though, the owners had already filed their appeal in West Palm Beach. READ FULL STORY


Grand opening of Three Corners may be five years off
week of January 5, 2023

And the grand opening of the much-anticipated Three Corners dining, retail and recreational hub on the mainland’s waterfront will be …Summer of ’28? Wait, what? It’s going to be more than five years before we see what a developer does with the Master Concept Plan that the Vero Beach City Council approved for those prized 33 acres on the banks of the Indian River Lagoon, at the west end of the 17th Street Bridge? Really? Well, no – not necessarily. The wait could be even longer. The summer of 2028 projection presented by City Manager Monte Falls at the City Council’s Dec. 16 special-call workshop meeting was optimistic, based on the assumption that there are none of the delays that often hamper such developments. It also assumes none of the five city elections between now and then produces council majorities that aren’t as excited about developing the Three Corners parcels as those who’ve enthusiastically embraced the project since it was proposed. READ FULL STORY


‘World-class’ aquarium coming to the Indian River
week of December 29, 2022

Brevard Zoo is more than halfway through a $100-million fundraising campaign to build an extraordinary aquarium and lagoon science center across from the cruise port in Cape Canaveral, and it is turning to 32963 philanthropists to help push it over the top. “When you hear the details of their plan, all you can say is ‘wow.’ It is just amazing,” said Marine Bank president Bill Penney, who is helping the zoo arrange “show and tell” meetings with potential donors. “I believe the aquarium will be a transformative regional project.” far as I know, it is the only aquarium in the country that will spring up in the midst of the ecosystem it aims to rescue,” said Keith Winsten, executive director of Brevard Zoo and the East Coast Zoological Society, which operates the zoo and will build and run the aquarium. “Most aquariums are big concrete boxes that have to deal with winter, but ours will be much more immersive, putting people into the ecosystems instead of having them looking at animals through acrylic barriers,” Winsten told Vero Beach 32963 last week. READ FULL STORY


Arrest of driver in fatal crash expected soon
week of December 29, 2022

The long wait is nearly over for John’s Island residents seeking justice for their elderly neighbors whose car was struck from behind on A1A in Indian River Shores in May by a black Mercedes Benz heading in the same direction at a high rate of speed. Chris Ingraham, an 89-year-old avid golfer, succumbed to his injuries from the crash and died at the hospital. His 82-year-old bride Frances was badly injured but survived the ordeal. The driver of the Mercedes was also injured and taken to Lawnwood Regional Medical Center where a blood sample was taken as part of a crash protocol to determine if she was impaired by drugs or alcohol. Shores Deputy Public Safety Chief Mark Shaw said officers have been working on the case for almost eight months with State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl’s prosecutors. “Her husband is a lawyer,” Shaw said, adding that the husband has called at least twice asking for a status report on the case. “They know it’s coming. He said she wants to turn herself in when we get the warrant.” READ FULL STORY


Covid up around Florida, but still relatively low here
week of December 29, 2022

Looks like we’re going to end 2022 in the green zone. South Florida, North-Central Florida and two thirds of the I-4 Corridor are now yellow caution areas on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID virus map, and Miami-Dade County has shot past caution to bright orange. But the number of new infections in and around Vero Beach remained steady over the past week, and hospitalizations decreased – leaving Indian River County still in the green zone for Low COVID Community Level, with fewer than 100 new cases of COVID-19 per week. For the week ending Dec. 15, 12 people were hospitalized with complications from COVID illness, but only a handful of people were set to spend Christmas in a hospital bed battling COVID. “We have five COVID positive patients in-house today, none in critical care,” said Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Erin Miller just before Christmas Eve. That’s a 58 percent decrease in hospitalizations from the previous week. Across the state, 309 people were hospitalized with COVID illness. READ FULL STORY


Baird sentenced for stalking ex-girlfriend
week of December 29, 2022

Former county administrator Joe Baird has been sentenced to one year of probation, after being found guilty of stalking his ex-girlfriend following the most recent breakup of their tumultuous, eight-year romantic relationship. As a condition of his probation, Baird, 65, is prohibited from having any contact with the woman. County Court Judge Robyn Stone handed down a guilty verdict on the first-degree misdemeanor charge after an eight-hour, non-jury trial on Dec. 16, ruling the evidence presented by a state prosecutor proved Baird stalked the woman earlier this year. However, Stone then granted Baird’s motion to withhold adjudication of guilt, which means court records will show he was sentenced to probation on the stalking charge, but he was not convicted. Assistant State Attorney Felicia Holloman said Stone agreed to the withhold of adjudication after considering Baird’s age, absence of prior criminal history and his adherence to the no-contact order after his arrest in June. If he successfully completes his probation, she added, Baird could seek to have the case expunged from court records. READ FULL STORY


Criticism mounts of impending Vero utility rate hikes
week of December 22, 2022

Vero Beach’s new “One Rate” utility plan, designed to put all of its water-sewer customers on the road to steeper rates in January, hasn’t even gone into effect yet and it’s attracting criticism from outside-the-city customers to the north and south. On Tuesday, South Beach customer Doug DeMuth asked the County Commission to intervene on behalf of out-of-city residents whose homes have been stuck on Vero’s utility system without a valid franchise agreement for the past five years. “The City of Vero Beach staff continues to post rate information without a detailed engineering design construction estimate for their new wastewater treatment plant in place. This puts the cart before the horse. They need to provide the public with an detailed project cost, its degree of accuracy and its impact on our future rates,” DeMuth said. “I ask that the Board of County Commissioners to look into this situation and publicly inform county rate payers about what their future rates will become,” DeMuth said. READ FULL STORY


Elite Airways says it still plans to resume flights to Vero shortly
week of December 22, 2022

Elite Airways president John Pearsall said last weekend he expects the carrier to resume commercial jet service at Vero Beach Regional Airport early next year. “We intend to return first quarter 2023,” Pearsall texted Saturday in response to questions from Vero Beach 32963. Elite will issue a press release “right after New Year’s,” Pearsall wrote, adding that the announcement will include an explanation as to why the boutique airline hasn’t flown since June 30. Pearsall’s remarks surprised Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher, who said Monday he’s “anxious to find out what Elite’s future plans are.” He said last week he hadn’t heard from Pearsall since the Elite executive visited the airport a month ago and told him, “Everything is in place. We’re ready to go.” Scher said he told Pearsall during that conversation what conditions Elite must meet before the airline will be allowed to resume service here – pay the $6,600-plus it owes the city in overdue fees, and provide proof of insurance. The city was notified in August that Elite’s insurance had expired. READ FULL STORY


The wait for the Seaside Grill to reopen goes on
week of December 22, 2022

Hungry Vero residents and their holiday guests will not be breakfasting or lunching at the Seaside Grill this Christmas season. Scores of eager fans chomping at the bit for the reopening of their beloved eatery in Jaycee Park will have to wait longer than originally anticipated. A couple of recently discovered issues are being assessed, and neither the lessee, GC Ventures, nor the lessor, Indian River County, currently knows how long that wait will be. Since receiving the keys this past July, Studebaker (co-owner with partner Wiley Wong) and his local crew have worked on what he initially called “more of a facelift.” But late in the summer, the county determined a more extensive kitchen equipment update would be required. Shortly thereafter, according to Studebaker, an inspection revealed that the hood – a vital element in a commercial kitchen – would have to be replaced. READ FULL STORY


Orchid Island building boom bringing new generation of members to the club
week of December 22, 2022

A building boom is underway at the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club, where real estate prices are up 65 percent since before COVID and demand for homes has never been stronger. Westmark, builder/developer of Palm Island Plantation, is the main player in the current Orchid building boom, with six new homes going up on one street near the front gate and three more underway elsewhere in the community. Banov, a Vero Beach architectural and building firm, Croom Construction, and other companies also have homes under construction or in the planning and permitting stage. The new homes, mostly valued between $1.6 million and $2.5 million, have all been sold, so they won’t bolster the island’s anemic inventory, but they are bringing new life and energy to the ocean-to-river development, which was built along the Atlantic shore and around an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course. “When you drive around the community and see all the new construction and extensive renovations, you can feel a sense of vibrancy and excitement in the air,” said Orchid Island Realty broker Anne Torline. READ FULL STORY


No holiday surge yet in covid infections here
week of December 22, 2022

Heading into Christmas week, the number of COVID-19 infections locally held steady at 98 new cases, but COVID hospitalizations here rose 33 percent from the previous week. Prior to Thanksgiving, Indian River County was reporting between 60 and 70 new cases per week. That jumped to 97 the week ending Dec. 1. The next week saw 93 cases, then 98 for the week ending Dec. 15. Hospitalizations were up from nine last week. “We have 12 COVID-positive patients in-house today, one of which is in critical care (not on mechanical ventilation),” said Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Erin Miller on Monday. According to the Florida Department of Health’s monthly reporting, six Indian River County residents died from complications of COVID-19 infection from mid-November to mid-December, bringing the county’s pandemic death toll to 767. READ FULL STORY


Jaycee Park and Conn Beach get infusion of sand
week of December 15, 2022

Just a month after Hurricane Nicole swept ashore south of Vero, clawing sand from the Jaycee Park and Conn Beach dunes and forcing closure of the adjacent section of Ocean Drive, the beachfront road is again open to traffic and walkers have been allowed to return to the heavily trodden boardwalk. “Conn Beach has been restored as much as possible for now,” said Vero Public Works Director Matthew Mitts. “Some access points and parking will remain closed. We are evaluating options to rebuild in a more resilient manner, but no decision has been made at this time,” he added. While a steady parade of dump trucks brought in load after load of sand, which was used to shore up the dunes along this stretch of Vero’s oceanfront, the city is limited to emergency dune repairs. Large-scale, engineered sand projects on the city’s beaches falls under the county’s jurisdiction. Meanwhile, the Central Beach boardwalk at Humiston Park remains closed. “We have directed users at Humiston to use an access at Flamevine Lane just south of the park for the time being. Signs directing patrons are to be installed shortly,” Mitts said. READ FULL STORY


Council solidly backs new boat storage facility
week of December 15, 2022

The Vero Beach City Council again rejected the efforts of a citizens group to stop the planned expansion of the municipal marina, voting 4-0 last week to uphold the development order issued by the Planning & Zoning Board. The council’s action was in response to an appeal filed by the Vero Beach Preservation Alliance, which wants the city to further reduce the size of the already-approved, 21,355-square-foot, dry-storage boat facility. The new structure would come close to tripling the size of the existing 7,850-square-foot building, only 6,150 square feet of which is dedicated to storage. But Vero Beach Marina Director Sean Collins said the city will have no trouble finding boat owners looking for a place to store their vessels. “Based on the inquiries we’re getting, I’ll have that new building filled before we break ground,” Collins said Monday, adding that he’s already engaged in the permitting process. “We might regret not staying with the larger building.” The initial plan called for a 25,700-square-foot boat barn, but in an attempt to appease alliance members last summer, the City Council compromised and opted for the mid-size structure. READ FULL STORY


What, me worry? Few here get new Covid booster shot
week of December 15, 2022

While public health officials worry about a possible “tripledemic” of COVID-19, influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus this winter, only one in nine Indian River County residents has bothered getting the new formulation booster shots designed to protect against two of the most contagious Omicron subvariants. Two thirds of local residents completed an initial course of vaccine to be considered “fully vaccinated” by 2021 standards, but only one in six of those people have opted to get the latest booster shot, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of new COVID-19 cases locally remained fairly steady last week at 93 new infections from what seemed like a post-Thanksgiving spike of 97 new infections reported to the Florida Department of Health. The number of tests performed increased by 31 percent last week – likely due to influenza and RSV presenting symptoms that caused people to get tested to rule out COVID-19 infection. But still, Indian River County had a positivity rate of 11.35 percent. The goal is to have a single-digit positivity rate, under 10 percent. READ FULL STORY


What will Santa bring? For Vero Beach Regional Airport, a U.S. Customs facility
week of December 15, 2022

Corporate Air is close to breaking ground on a $20 million expansion at Vero Beach Regional Airport that will include a U.S. Customs facility – complete with interrogation rooms and holding cells – and six 20,000-square-foot hangers for private jets. Corporate Air is a fixed base operator, or FBO, that provides fuel, aircraft maintenance, hangar space, charter flights and related services for customers who fly in and out of town on private or corporate planes. Founded as a one-man operation in 1986 by company owner and president Rodger Pridgeon, the company has been on a growth spurt over the past 10 years as Vero Beach has gained luster as a second- or third-home destination for the kind of people who fly private. The pandemic supercharged that growth. “With airline restrictions and cancellations, we saw an increase in people flying private, people who had been flying first class who still needed to travel and could afford to buy or charter a plane,” Pridgeon told Vero Beach 32963. READ FULL STORY


Plans moving ahead for new Sebastian Inlet bridge
week of December 8, 2022

State transportation officials will host public meetings next week to explain plans to replace the 57-year-old Sebastian Inlet bridge so the public knows what to expect when the project gets underway in 2026. Several alternatives were considered, but the working design calls for a new bridge twice as wide as the existing structure. Bridge clearance will be 51 feet – a full 12 feet higher than the existing 39-foot clearance. Not only will the center be higher, but the north and south bases of the bridge will be raised to prevent flooding from storm surge. The vehicle lanes will remain 12 feet wide in each direction, but eight-foot bicycle lanes will be added on both sides of the bridge. Beyond that will be a cement barrier on each side, then a 12-foot path to be shared by pedestrians and cyclists who don’t feel comfortable braving the bike lane next to traffic. The $95.2 million bridge is expected to last 75 years once constructed. The eastern half of the bridge will be used for two-way traffic while the existing bridge is demolished and the western half of the new bridge is constructed. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 infections locally surge last week
week of December 8, 2022

The number of new COVID-19 infections locally surged last week, rising 54 percent to 97 cases here, according to the Florida Department of Health. Statewide, cases rose by the same percentage, jumping from 12,155 to 18,761. The number of local people hospitalized here with COVID doubled, according to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Erin Miller. “At CCIRH, we have 12 covid patients in our care as of this morning, none of which are in critical care,” she said Monday.” That’s up from six people hospitalized the previous week. It’s unclear if these increases are the first sign of the widely predicted winter surge, or are simply the result of people traveling by air or train to visit family over the holidays, and gathering in larger groups than they normally might to eat turkey. While influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus are also sending people to the hospital Emergency Department this month, Cleveland Clinic’s chief medical officer, Dr. David Peter, said Monday that thus far “we have not had a large uptick or surge in RSV and flu cases. “We have seen slightly more cases since Thanksgiving, but it has not had any real impact on hospital operations,” Peter said. READ FULL STORY


Veritable mountain of backlogged felony cases awaits trial here
week of December 8, 2022

After the holidays, Circuit Court Judge Robert Meadows will take over Indian River County’s criminal docket, inheriting a veritable mountain of backlogged felony cases. “I’ll have 1,100 cases on my docket, and that’s being conservative,” Meadows told Vero Beach 32963. Meadows is taking on the challenge from Judge Dan Vaughn, who managed the bulk of the felony cases as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on hearing schedules and suspended jury trials entirely for seven months. Bad as the current backlog is, it could have – in Meadows’ view – been a lot worse. “Dan Vaughn knows how to move a docket,” Meadows said, and credited him with doing an amazing job of adapting to ever-changing COVID-19 restrictions on criminal courts. Virtual proceedings may have helped keep civil, probate and other courts on track, Meadows said, but “you could not use Zoom for criminal proceedings except for first appearances and arraignments. Once you got past first appearances and arraignments, everything had to be in person.” READ FULL STORY


Island’s biggest homebuilder saving oaks to preserve Vero’s ‘Old Florida’ ambiance
week of December 8, 2022

Near the end of a roller coaster year for the construction and real estate industries, GHO Homes continues to move forward at its two largest island projects, opening a model home at the Strand this month and getting ready to “go vertical” at Seaglass, across from Disney’s beach resort. GHO bought the 47-home Strand community in Indian River Shores from Lennar in 2021, after the mega-homebuilder failed to gain traction with the project. GHO president Bill Handler told Vero Beach 32963 his company has sold 13 homes in the upscale development since then and has 26 for sale. Handler said buyers have come from “all over,” including most recently a purchaser from Alaska who becomes one of the snowiest of island snowbirds. There are nine inventory homes at various stages of permitting and development in the Strand, including three that will be complete in the first quarter of 2023, with the first one deliverable in February. Handler said buyers picking out lots and ordering new homes instead of purchasing from inventory should expect to get the keys about a year after a contract is signed. READ FULL STORY


Island beaches need major infusion of sand
week of December 1, 2022

Replenishing the barrier island’s 22.4 miles of beaches mangled by Hurricane Nicole, and by Hurricane Ian six weeks prior, will not be quick or cheap. Indian River County Natural Resources Director Eric Charest told the county’s Beach and Shore Preservation Advisory Committee last week that the county’s shoreline has been labeled a Category 4 for “very significant erosion,” and said federal and state officials are aware of the extent of the damage. “We’ve been on the beach with FEMA and with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” Charest said. “We weren’t finished with Hurricane Ian surveys when Hurricane Nicole came,” Charest said. There are no immediate plans for large-scale beach projects to replace the depleted sand before the 2023 Hurricane Season, except for two pre-planned sand dumps by the Sebastian Inlet District on the extreme north end of the island. Engineering, permitting and funding large-scale dune and beach replenishment will take more time than is available this season. But owners of individual properties in peril due to erosion, and homeowner/condo associations, can apply for emergency dune repair permits from the county. County beach parks can be used for equipment access, Charest said. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 here seen up slightly during holidays
week of December 1, 2022

As we enter our third Christmas holiday season since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, new infections are holding steady locally while hospitalizations are up slightly. The number of new positive cases reported to the Florida Department of Health per day remained in the single digits, with 63 new cases for the week ending Nov. 23, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker. The CDC says eight Indian River County residents were newly hospitalized with COVID last week, up from six hospitalizations the previous week. Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Erin Miller said on Monday, “Indian River Hospital has six COVID-positive patients in-house today, none in ICU.” The CDC uses data from up to 15 different university research teams and labs to predict surges of serious COVID-19 illness. Each of those sources gives the CDC a forecast, and those forecasts are color-coded and plotted on a graph as an ensemble model, much like the brightly colored hurricane “spaghetti model” forecast tracks. READ FULL STORY


Instant buildings: Tilt-wall construction a traffic stopper
week of December 1, 2022

Turns out tilt-wall construction is more than just a super-strong building technique, producing steel and concrete structures that, barring redevelopment, will stand for centuries. It’s also a dramatic spectacle. “It literally slowed traffic out on 41st Street. You could see them hitting the brakes when they looked over,” said John Zuefle, construction superintendent at Indian River Motorhaus 2.0, a luxury garage project where four buildings totaling 70,000 square feet went up in just four days last month. It isn’t every day that commuters see a 140-foot-high, 350-ton crane swinging concrete panels weighing tens of thousands of pounds into position on pre-poured foundations where construction workers fit them together with steel beams and bolts like oversize building blocks. The drama was heightened for Zuefle and project developers Joe Schulke and Vic Lombardi, who had been preparing for the high-stakes construction choreography for months. “There is no margin for error with tilt-up construction,” said Lombardi, owner of Waters Edge Estates and one of the top high-end homebuilders on Vero’s barrier island. “Everything has to be exact.” READ FULL STORY


Medical Examiner to get state-of-art facility
week of December 1, 2022

Indian River County commissioners voted unanimously last week to approve paying up to $5.5 million in design and construction costs to help build a new, state-of-the-art Medical Examiner’s facility for the four-county region that includes 32963. St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee counties will cover the remaining costs of the projected $20 million facility, which will be built on Indian River State College’s main campus in Fort Pierce. “This is a much-needed project,” County Commission Chairman Joe Earman said, adding, “It will be a great asset to the four-county area.” Dr. Patricia Aronica, medical examiner for the 19th Judicial District, said the facility is needed to meet the growing demands on her office as a result of the steady influx of new residents. The existing 9,500-square-foot structure, built on the college’s campus in 1975, is too small, ill-equipped and outdated to accommodate the agency’s needs. “The bottom line is, we have outgrown this building,” Aronica told members of the Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin county commissions during a joint meeting at the college last year. READ FULL STORY


Building boom getting underway on Central Beach oceanfront
week of November 24, 2022

A minor building boom is getting underway along the Central Beach oceanfront, with three new homes totaling more than 22,000 square feet planned, permitted or under construction. The much coveted Veromar neighborhood – which includes a dozen single-family oceanfront homes and lots stretching north from The Village Spires condominium towers to the Jaycee Park boardwalk – recently has been the hottest seaside area on the barrier island. Nine of the 12 multimillion-dollar properties changed hands in the past three years, including three prime oceanfront lots, and two of the properties have sold twice since 2019, making a total of 11 sales worth more than $50 million in the enclave. Now, buyers who purchased the lots, where the sand might as well be gold given the land’s value, are moving ahead with construction of substantial homes with lots of bedrooms, bathrooms and swimming pools, the latest addition to 32963’s built environment. READ FULL STORY


Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry to run for sheriff
week of November 24, 2022

Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry is running for sheriff again. Touchberry, 58, who filed the required paperwork with the Supervisor of Elections Office last week, was the runner-up to now-Sheriff Eric Flowers in the 2020 Republican primary. He joins Deborah Cooney, who claimed no party affiliation, as the only candidates to file thus far, though Flowers has said publicly he does plan to seek re-election. Cooney filed to run in December 2020, one month after losing to Flowers in a landslide election, but she has done nothing publicly the past two years to improve her longshot chances of unseating the incumbent sheriff. Touchberry, though, sees himself as a stronger candidate now, having raised his stature beyond being a small-town police chief. In fact, he was inducted as president of the 1,000-member Florida Police Chiefs Association in August. He also believes the name recognition he received during the 2020 campaign, along with his 33 years of law-enforcement experience in the county, will make him a formidable challenger in 2024 – especially if COVID isn’t a factor. READ FULL STORY


As holidays begin, COVID-19 spread locally is very low
week of November 24, 2022

As families gather together over turkey and stuffing to celebrate Thanksgiving, and to prepare for the holiday season, it’s time to be thankful that – at least right now – the spread of COVID-19 locally is very low. The number of new infections reported to the Florida Department of Health was down 28 percent from the previous week, with fewer than nine cases per day for a total of 62 new cases during the week ending Nov. 17. Hospitalizations remain low with only four people hospitalized for COVID-19 illness in Indian River County last week, but statewide, the virus is still making people very sick. Hospitalizations across Florida this past week were an average of 177 per day for all 67 counties, or about 1,239 for the week. Last year on the eve of Thanksgiving, the numbers looked even better than this year, with only about 40 new weekly cases. But by New Year’s Eve cases had risen to 800 per week, and by mid-January that number mushroomed to 2,200. READ FULL STORY


Former Mayor Winger: He fought to ‘Keep Vero Vero’
week of November 24, 2022

Before his passing last week at age 84 from cancer, Castaway Cove resident and former Vero mayor Richard “Dick” Winger made his mark on his adopted hometown, fighting to “Keep Vero Vero,” to protect the Indian River Lagoon and to maintain city roads and utility infrastructure. Winger was a friend to all animals, from bees and bats to dogs and cats. An avid sailor, he shared his love of the sport with local youngsters and used his pulpit as mayor to promote sailing to anyone who would listen. Whether he was on the popular side of a contentious issue, or fighting an uphill battle against the conventional wisdom, Winger proceeded with equal fervor, battling for two decades for what he thought was right for the city. First elected in November 2011, Winger served two full terms on the Vero Beach City Council, and was mayor from November 2013 through November 2015. Then when the city found itself struggling with several complex issues, from the establishment of a stormwater utility to the planning of the Three Corners project and the new wastewater treatment plant, Councilman Joe Graves resigned with nearly eight months left in his two-year term. Winger offered his services again and was appointed to serve out the remainder of Graves’ term until November 2021. READ FULL STORY


Off-leash dog beach runs into firestorm of Shores opposition
week of November 24, 2022

Now-retired County Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan’s plan to establish an off-leash, dog-friendly beach park has run into a firestorm of opposition from Indian River Shores residents and town officials. While O’Bryan insists the plan is still viable, it probably won’t be at a beach access within the Shores town limits. “We’re running into a problem with the town and some of its residents who are opposed to the idea, so we might need to look at Treasure Shores Park,” O’Bryan said last weekend, referring to the little-used beach on the island’s northern tier. “It’s a county beach, so we can regulate it,” he added, “and there’s nothing to the immediate north or south, so you don’t need to worry about neighboring communities. “There aren’t any lifeguards, either, so you don’t see many people swimming there.” When O’Bryan pitched the concept of an off-leash, beach park last month, he suggested two locations – the county-owned beach access areas at Seagrape Trail or Turtle Trail. READ FULL STORY


GT Rhodes closing its doors after 41 years
week of November 24, 2022

By month’s end, one of the most familiar and popular clothing shops on the island, GT Rhodes Menswear, will close its doors, ending a successful 41-year run. Located at 1008 Beachland Blvd., just west of the Ocean Grill in historic Sexton Plaza, the shop with the iconic gold-lettered sign has always offered fine resort wear and formal attire for men. On a recent morning, while customers browsed the remaining inventory in the open side of the shop, behind a bare counter on the other side stood Gerre Rhodes, file folders and cellular phone in hand. Looking at the empty space where racks, shelves and displays were gone or disassembled, she reminisced about her four decades as a business owner. “Why would you want to do that?” was the most frequent response when she announced to husband Tom, family, and friends back in 1981 that she was opening a clothing shop on the beach carrying exclusively men’s clothing. “My friends wondered why I wouldn’t rather run a women’s clothing shop,” she said. READ FULL STORY


No sign locally of covid uptick seen elsewhere
week of November 17, 2022

Hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19 locally declined by nearly one third this past week, and the number of new COVID infections here reported to the Florida Department of Health remained steady in the high 80s. With 89 new cases the week ending Nov. 3 and 87 new cases this past week, Indian River County is not seeing the uptick in community spread of the virus occurring in other parts of the country. But a relatively small number of people got tested last week with the hubbub of Hurricane Nicole. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported only 498 COVID tests at local labs, so the county’s positivity rate was higher than 17 percent. Five people were admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 illness last week, according to the CDC Data Tracker, but as the week ended, the total number of COVID-positive people in the hospital declined from 16 the previous week. “Indian River Hospital has 11 COVID-positive patients in-house, none in the ICU,” Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Erin Miller said on Friday afternoon. READ FULL STORY


Real estate mystery: More homes coming on market, but island prices so far remain strong
week of November 17, 2022

There is a bit of a real estate mystery on the barrier island. Inventory has increased dramatically since its March low, up 250 percent to about 180 properties, and sales of single-family homes and condos so far in 2022 are only about half what they were at this point in 2021. Yet, prices in 32963 are stable or still climbing. Looking just at single-family homes, the supply on the island has more than tripled since March, up from a low of about 30 to more than 110 last week, but home values remain strong. “Prices in John’s Island were up 10 to 20 percent in the first half of 2022 [on top of huge gains in 2021], and we have maintained it,” said John’s Island Real Estate broker Bob Gibb. “The market hasn’t given up anything on prices and I don’t expect it to.” “If you have a blue-chip property, a beautiful home in JI or The Moorings or something move-in-ready on the ocean or the river anywhere on the island, you can ask more for it today than you could a year ago,” said high-end expert Cindy O’Dare, broker-associate at ONE Sotheby’s International Realty. READ FULL STORY


Mardy Fish Tennis Championships moving to Timber Ridge
week of November 17, 2022

The Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation Tennis Championships are moving again. After a four-year run at The Boulevard Tennis Club, the $15,000 men’s tournament will be played April 24-30 at the Vero Beach Tennis Club, located in the Timber Ridge community on Oslo Road. The United States Tennis Association Pro Circuit event, which features singles and doubles competition, has been played in Vero Beach since 1995 and is widely regarded as one of the best-run, entry-level tournaments in the world. According to the foundation’s executive director, Lynn Southerly, the tournament is moving for “financial reasons” – after donating the use of its courts and other facilities the past three years, The Boulevard requested payment for the 2023 event – as well as the need for a larger footprint. Southerly said the foundation plans to expand the event beyond the tennis courts and create a “mini Miami Open feel” to the tournament by adding booths, tents and even food trucks. She said the foundation could not pursue those plans at The Boulevard, where the club’s membership has reached its capacity, new programs and activities have been added, and the demand for court time continues to increase. READ FULL STORY


Impact of Hurricane Nicole could have been much greater
week of November 17, 2022

Our community was in the headlines all around the world last week as the National Weather Service reported that Hurricane Nicole made landfall in Florida just south of Vero Beach. But while the hit-and-run storm robbed precious sand from the island’s storm-weary beaches, swelled the Indian River lagoon, and flooded roadways and parks, it was in the end just barely a hurricane – and the impact could have been far worse. Damage to homes and businesses was minimal, and power outages were resolved relatively quickly, thanks to post-Hurricane Ian repairs to the Florida Power & Light system. Of the 25,000 people who lost power, more than half got their lights back on Thursday, and everyone was back in service by early Friday afternoon. Beaches on the northern end of the barrier island, already chewed-up by Hurricane Ian, took the worst beating from Nicole. Indian River Shores building and code enforcement officials surveyed the damage on Saturday. “There is severe erosion along the entire Town coastline,” Indian River Shores Town Manager Jim Harpring said. READ FULL STORY


O’Bryan passed by for interim county administrator
week of November 17, 2022

Retiring County Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan will not serve as the interim county administrator after he leaves office. The other four commissioners voted unanimously last week to postpone any further discussion of the search for an interim administrator until former sheriff Deryl Loar is sworn in to replace O’Bryan on Tuesday. The vote came in the meeting’s opening minutes, after Commissioner Joe Flescher made a motion to remove the item from the agenda. By tabling the discussion – and delaying their decision – the commissioners effectively spiked O’Bryan’s application for the job, because, if hired, he needed to notify the Florida Retirement System that he was rescinding his scheduled retirement date. Instead, O’Bryan, 65, said he will retire on Monday as planned. He said he wasn’t disappointed, but he was surprised by the timing of Flescher’s motion and the commissioner’s unwillingness to even address the pitch he made for the position two weeks ago. “I didn’t see it coming,” O’Bryan said in a phone interview after the meeting. “To pull it from the agenda before we got to it? I was surprised they didn’t at least allow discussion on it. I think if we got to it and discussed it, I had an even chance. READ FULL STORY


Breeze encouraged by advance sales for Vero flights
week of November 10, 2022

Breeze Airways executives are “thrilled” with the early response to the airline’s recent announcement that it will launch commercial jet service to and from Vero Beach in February, a company spokesman said last week. “The early indications are that the flights are selling really well,” said Gareth Edmondson-Jones, Breeze’s head of corporate communications. “We started getting calls as soon as we announced. It’s obvious Vero Beach is a very popular destination. “Our thought is: If the demand is there, we’ll add flights and even routes,” he added. “Right now, there’s reason to be excited.” Breeze announced last month that it will offer daily non-stop flights to and from Hartford, Conn.; and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday non-stop service to and from Westchester County. The airline also will provide one-stop Thursday, Saturday and Sunday service to Norfolk, Va., but passengers will not need to change aircraft. The airline is offering one-way fares as low as $79 on flights to Westchester and Hartford. The lowest one-way ticket to Norfolk is $89. READ FULL STORY


Hospitalizations for covid up, but new cases down
week of November 10, 2022

The number of new covid infections reported to the Florida Department of Health declined slightly in Indian River County last week, though hospitalizations rose 60 percent. Only 89 people reported testing positive for COVID-19 during the week ending Nov. 3 – down from 102 the previous week – but six more people ended up in the hospital being treated for COVID illness than the week before. “We have 16 patients with COVID in-house this morning. None in Critical Care,” said Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell on Friday. That’s up from 10 the previous week, and single-digit hospitalizations in mid-October. Statewide, the number of COVID infections rose 14 percent last week. Still, all of the state except the greater Tampa area remains in the Low COVID Community Level category. Demand for COVID-19 vaccines remains low, with only 63,000 people statewide out of more than 21.78 million people opting to get the jab last week – 56,546 of the shots given being boosters. READ FULL STORY


County firefighters and paramedics to get 4 percent pay hike and up to 5 more days off
week of November 10, 2022

The county’s Fire Rescue Division employees will receive a 4 percent pay raise in January and up to five additional days off annually as part of a new, three-year collective bargaining agreement unanimously approved by the County Commission last week. The contract, ratified by members of the Indian River County Firefighters/Paramedics Association last month, also revamped financial incentives to make them more uniform for paramedics and created an additional rescue sergeant’s position. County Administrator Jason Brown said the agreement should help the county “recruit and retain” the best people to provide fire rescue services. “This is a good agreement for everyone involved, a positive step forward for the county and its firefighters and paramedics,” Brown said. “We’ve made a big swing towards making sure we’re competitive in the job market and making this county a place where people want to work and build their careers.” READ FULL STORY


32963 luxury developers look to South (Hutchinson Island)
week of November 10, 2022

As waterfront land in 32963 gets harder to find, high-end island brokers, builders and developers are turning some of their attention to nearby South Hutchinson Island, which extends from the Fort Pierce Inlet to Jensen Beach. Two big new projects worth a combined $300 million that will bring 102 luxury units to market are hitting inflection points this month down on “South Hutch,” with a groundbreaking at one and a land purchase closing at the other. The projects are similar in several ways – both have strong Vero connections and offer beautifully-designed and built oceanfront homes. Both will be worth about $150 million at sellout at the current asking prices. Both also were designed by the same architect, Randell Sofft, who’s well known in 32963 for designing the Vero Beach Hotel and Spa, the homes in Old Oak Lane, and Indigo, one of the luxury developments currently being built on Vero’s oceanfront by Yane Zana and Coastmark Construction. At the same time, the two projects are distinctly different, with different development, construction and sales teams and different target demographics. READ FULL STORY


Across the lagoon, Waterway Village nearing completion
week of November 3, 2022

Across the lagoon from Indian River Shores, off to the west of Grand Harbor, bulldozers are rumbling in the final phase of what is becoming the largest residential development in Indian River County. No one has ever built a community in the county with as many homes as DiVosta’s five-subdivision planned Waterway Village. When it is finished, the much-admired, square-mile-plus enclave will have 1,381 houses and villas, according to Brent Baker, division president for PulteGroup in South Florida, which operates DiVosta as its luxury home brand. By comparison, Grand Harbor has a total of 1,180 dwellings, including single-family homes, condos and townhouses, according to Grand Harbor Golf and Beach Club general manager Michael Gibson, while Pointe West has fewer than 1,000 front doors. But Waterway Village is superlative in more than just size, according to brokers who have sold many homes there over the years to island buyers. The five subdivisions were plated with sensitivity to terrain and nature, with houses laid out along curving streets and waterways. Preserve areas are integrated into the gated communities. READ FULL STORY


Altieri forgoes retirement after death of friend
week of November 3, 2022

Indian River Shores Town Councilman James Altieri was sworn in last week and got straight to work, his first official act being a vote to settle the town’s federal antitrust lawsuit with the City of Vero Beach. Altieri, like many who move to Indian River Shores after a long and fruitful career outside Florida, planned a rather uneventful retirement, a respite from nearly 45 years of commuting to work, putting in long hours at the office, and climbing the ladder of success. He and wife Geri bought a condo in John’s Island in 2011 and a few years later, knowing they wanted to put down roots in the community, built a house there. But serving on the town council, or even on a town committee, was never part of the plan. As a corporate litigator and managing partner of the New York office of Drinker Biddle & Reath, one of the nation’s 50 largest law firms, he’d waged enough battles to last a lifetime. Something would have to go very wrong for him to become embroiled in another fight. On May 29, 2021, something did go very wrong. READ FULL STORY


Unsigned political flyers illegally taped to Vero mailboxes
week of November 3, 2022

Those white, typed, one-page political flyers that Vero Beach homeowners throughout the city found taped to their mailboxes early last week? The ones urging the “Citizens of Vero Beach” to vote “YES” on the last referendum on the ballot – the one that would require voter approval for all but the smallest improvements to city parks and other charter-protected properties? They were put there in violation of federal law, which prohibits flyers from being affixed to mailboxes. According to the United States Postal Service website: “No part of a mail receptable may be used to deliver any matter not bearing postage, including items or matter place upon, supported by, attached to, hung from, or inserted into a mail receptacle. “Any mailable matter not bearing postage and found as described above is subject to the same postage as would be paid if it were carried by mail.” There were no postage-paid stamps on the flyers, which were especially visible in the Central Beach area. Depending on how many mailboxes were violated, the cost of reimbursing the USPS for the unpaid postage could be substantial – if the agency wants to pursue the matter. READ FULL STORY


New COVID-19 infections remain low here
week of November 3, 2022

The number of new COVID-19 infections locally held steady this past week, up from 101 cases to 102 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health. Hospitalizations edged up slightly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID Data Tracker, five people were newly hospitalized during the week ending Oct. 27. But as of Monday, “Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has 10 COVID positive patients in-house today, none in the ICU,” said hospital spokesperson Erin Miller. That’s up from nine COVID-positive patients last week, and five the week before. Public health officials are still predicting a winter surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by several different highly contagious Omicron subvariants, so senior citizens and other people at risk of serious COVID illness are being urged to get up to date with their COVID vaccinations. So far the vaccine has only been available by shot, and it can take weeks to acquire robust immunity to the virus after getting the jab, but next year’s boosters could come in a different form. READ FULL STORY


Baird will not face jail time if convicted of stalking
week of November 3, 2022

Former county administrator Joe Baird will not face jail time if convicted of stalking a former girlfriend earlier this year. County Judge Robyn Stone issued an “Order of No Imprisonment” last week after the girlfriend testified at a hearing she didn’t want to see Baird incarcerated, even if he were found guilty of the first-degree misdemeanor. “This was never about Joe going to jail,” said the woman, who asked that her name be withheld under Florida’s victim’s rights law and is identified only as “C.C.” in court records. “It was about me wanting him to stop following and stalking me.” If convicted – both the State Attorney’s Office and Baird agreed at the hearing to a non-jury trial, which Stone scheduled for Dec. 16 – the former county administrator still could be sentenced to up to one year of probation and fined up to $1,000. Stone did not rule on a motion filed in September by Baird’s Vero Beach attorney, Andrew Metcalf, to dismiss the case against his client. Metcalf argued in his motion that the issues that would be decided at Baird’s trial were already litigated during a three-hour hearing in June, when Circuit Judge Robert Meadows denied the woman’s request for a restraining order. READ FULL STORY


Vero and Shores agree to settle antitrust lawsuit
week of October 27, 2022

Vero has approved a settlement agreement with Indian River Shores, and the Shores Town Council was set to vote this past Tuesday on a three-page document designed to end a federal antitrust dispute filed by the town against the city over Vero’s claim to a permanent water-sewer service territory. The Shores claimed that a 1989 contract agreement assigning one portion of Indian River County exclusively to Vero Beach Utilities, and designating another part for Indian River County Utilities to serve exclusively, was unenforceable because it violates federal antitrust law. When Vero asked U.S. Circuit Court Judge Eileen Cannon to dismiss the case, Cannon not only declined, but also shot down all of Vero’s chief arguments, meaning the city would need to reimagine its entire case prior to the January trial. Expert witnesses chimed in with their analyses, and both parties began deposing a list of elected and appointed officials compelled by subpoena. Then three weeks ago, the beginnings of a proposed settlement began to circulate back and forth among staff attorneys and the outside law firms both the town and city had hired. Those negotiations resulted in a joint stipulation to end the lawsuit. READ FULL STORY


Brown stepping down as county administrator
week of October 27, 2022

Citing stress-related health issues and a desire to spend more time with his family, County Administrator Jason Brown announced last week that he was resigning, effective Dec. 31, to take a senior accountant’s job in the Clerk of Court’s office. “Being the county administrator is an all-consuming job, and I felt that I couldn’t make the effort needed to achieve the high level of performance the job requires for the long term – because the stress was beginning to impact my health,” Brown said. “I always want to do the best job I can for the county and, as a result, I put additional pressure on myself,” he added. “The problem is, I probably don’t handle the stress well. I need to take care of those issues and my family. This new position should allow me to do that,” he said. Brown, 48, who is married with two school-age children, has worked for the county for 25 years, mostly of that time heading up the Office of Management and Budget. He has served as administrator since 2016, when he was promoted from budget director to replace Joe Baird, who retired. READ FULL STORY


Is an underground strip club taking off in South Vero?
week of October 27, 2022

Is an underground strip club operating just a few miles from 32963 in Indian River County? If you’ve driven around the Vero Beach area recently, you might’ve noticed the handwritten roadside signs advertising “SHOW GIRLS LIVE” and “MAGIC MIKE LIVE” and providing a local cellphone number. And if you called that number and left a message – or sent a text message – you probably received a response via text informing you that the next “Show Girls” event is scheduled for 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Nov. 5 at an address immediately west of the Timber Ridge community on Oslo Road. The message also refers you to a Facebook page for “The Shack,” where you’ll find photographs of a smiling young woman in a bikini-type costume and a house with a handwritten “THE SHACK” sign on a boarded-up window. The page includes an invitation to the “ultimate house party,” where you can “see beautiful, exotic and talented women perform live” in a series of five one-hour shows. Those who attend are welcome to enjoy “music, drinks, snacks, games, prizes” while being entertained by “sexy fantasy performers.” READ FULL STORY


Covid again up here, and hospitalizations double
week of October 27, 2022

New COVID-19 infections here increased 60 percent over the past two weeks, rising from 63 cases to 101 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health, and the number of COVID-positive patients hospitalized at press time was nearly double that of the previous week. “Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has nine COVID-positive patients in-house today, none of which are in critical care,” Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Erin Miller said Monday. While Florida as a whole has not experienced the same uptick in new infections as Indian River County, several Omicron subvariants are gaining steam around the globe, threatening to bring new surge of COVID-19 illness to the U.S. this winter. Even if another onslaught of covid is averted, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee last week conceded that covid is “here to stay” and added the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA COVID vaccines to the recommended schedule of routine child, adolescent and adult immunizations. READ FULL STORY


Long, tumultuous relationship at heart of island murder trial
week of October 20, 2022

NEWS ANALYSIS | With Asbury Lee Perkins’ videotaped confession being played on a movie screen for the jury last week, and the murder weapon entered into evidence, it became pretty clear that the 64-year-old former South Beach resident would be convicted of killing his wife of 18 years Cynthia Betts. And when the verdict was returned this week, the prosecutor got the first-degree murder conviction he sought. Betts and Perkins had a tumultuous 30-year relationship, but it seemed they could not stay away from each other, even after divorcing in 2009. The ebb and flow of the fights, and their severity, seemed tied to money problems. Perkins explained that, over the years, they experienced financial extremes, and when the business got rocky, so did the marriage. Their primary source of income was selling semiconductors to defense contractors, a venture they ran together right up until Betts was killed and Perkins was jailed. Perkins told police he worked “night and day” on the business, even during the 30 hours he was in the house with Betts’ dead body before Sheriff’s deputies kicked in the door to the home and arrested him. READ FULL STORY


Breeze plans daily non-stop service to Hartford
week of October 20, 2022

Breeze Airways founder and CEO David Neeleman believes Vero Beach will be a wildly successful addition to the company’s route map when the carrier launches low-cost passenger jet service here on Feb. 15. Initially, Breeze will offer non-stop daily flights to and from Hartford, Connecticut; and Thursday, Saturday and Sunday service connecting Vero Beach to Westchester County, New York, and Norfolk, Virginia. The Norfolk flights will require one stop, but no aircraft change. The airline will offer one-way fares as low as $79 on flights to Westchester and Hartford. The lowest one-way ticket to Norfolk is $89. The Hartford flights will offer first-class-size seating, but without the usual first-class amenities. “Vero Beach is one of those places that not a lot of people know about – but if you know, you know,” Neeleman said in advance of Breeze’s announcement this week. “Vero is a really popular destination from the affluent areas of the Northeast, especially Fairfield County and Westchester County,” he added. “Many people there have second homes in Vero Beach.” READ FULL STORY


FPL solar fields here will soon be able to totally power our community
week of October 20, 2022

Almost overnight, Indian River County has gone from producing no electricity – except for a trickle from scattered rooftop solar panels – to producing hundreds of megawatts, enough juice to power tens of thousands of homes. And the small, mostly rural county is on its way to being a net energy producer in the near future, according to Indian River County Community Development Director Phil Matson. By 2024, Florida Power & Light’s vast, eerily silent fields of blue photovoltaic panels will crank out enough electricity to meet the needs of every house, condo, apartment and mobile home in Indian River County, with a Zeus-like reserve of megawatts left over. For most of the 20th century, sunshine poured down on endless groves here, producing golden fruit that made big growers wealthy and made Indian River County famous around the world for fine citrus, especially grapefruits. Today, with four massive Florida Power & Light solar power plants operating and two more on the way, those same fields produce an abundant crop of clean, renewable power worth tens of millions of dollars annually. READ FULL STORY


FAA, in reversal, says mobile homes can stay
week of October 20, 2022

With the Citrus Park Village crisis now averted, it’s still a mystery why – or even if – the Federal Aviation Administration had singled out the mobile home park operating on Vero Beach Regional Airport property. “I’d love to know, but I don’t need to know, and at this point I don’t really care,” Vero Beach City Manager Monte Falls said. “In situations like this, you take a win when you can get one. And for us, this was a win.” Falls declared victory after a high-ranking FAA official told him the city did not need to shut down Citrus Park Village, providing him with a proposal that will allow residents of the 69-unit community to stay in their mobile homes on the airport’s periphery. To save the mobile home park, city officials simply need to remove the mobile home park parcel from the airport’s land use map. As Falls pointed out: The city already owns the property. “We’re not really transferring ownership, because the airport is not a separate entity,” Falls said. “The city owns the airport. But that parcel will no longer be on airport property.” READ FULL STORY


Brightline behind schedule here on railroad crossings
week of October 20, 2022

Brightline has fallen behind schedule on the reconstruction of several railroad crossings here, and while high-speed trains are creeping closer to Vero, the start date for passenger train service through Indian River County still appears many months off. Brightline is spending $2.7 billion to improve the Florida East Coast Railway tracks from West Palm Beach to Cocoa and building new tracks along the Beachline Expressway/State Road 528 from Cocoa to Orlando. “We are more than 83 percent complete with construction on our entire system between West Palm Beach to Orlando,” said Ali Soule, vice president of Community Relations for Brightline. “We do expect substantial completion to be met in 2023 and we will launch the service shortly thereafter,” Soule said. Brightline has fallen behind schedule on several railroad crossing improvement projects in Vero Beach and southern Indian River County, the company’s construction advisories show. While the incomplete construction work here precludes high-speed tests in Indian River County, Brightline was preparing to conduct test runs at 110 miles per hour through neighboring St. Lucie County. READ FULL STORY


City Council candidates who support the vision
week of October 13, 2022

The city’s grand redevelopment plan for the site of Big Blue – which if it comes to pass would replace the deserted hulk of the city’s old electric plant with the vibrant riverfront entertainment district Vero has lacked for the past century – is on the ballot twice in November. First, voters who live in the city will have a chance to give thumbs up or down to a referendum proposal that would permit the project to move forward by allowing commercial development on the city-owned acreage. Second, they will elect a slate of three city council members who, if they voted together, would make up a majority of the five-person body charged with guiding the project to fruition – if it is approved by voters. Councilmembers opposed to the project, which will include shops, restaurants, docks, a hotel and expansive public recreation space, could obstruct the process, even if the referendum passes. Vero Mayor Robert Brackett, who supports the plan but will be leaving the council, recently said, “The Three Corners riverfront project is the biggest thing that is happening in Vero and the biggest thing that is going to happen for many years to come.” READ FULL STORY


Perkins goes on trial for 2015 island murder
week of October 13, 2022

Nearly seven years after the shooting death of his business partner and estranged wife Cynthia Betts in the South Beach home they once shared, Asbury Lee Perkins finally faces trial on first-degree murder charges this week. If he does not prevail, Perkins will only have himself to blame. A 14-person panel of 12 jurors plus two alternates was chosen and sworn-in Monday afternoon in preparation for a five-to-six-day trial with Perkins defending himself. Prior to bringing potential jurors into the courtroom, Judge Dan Vaughn questioned Perkins extensively to make sure he was competent to act as his own attorney. Perkins stated that he had 16 years of education and affirmed that he had a good grasp of the English language – something that’s been apparent in his thoughtful, hand-written pleadings filed from his jail cell. After dismissing his defense counsel, Perkins – who was held without bond – has conducted his defense and orchestrated the services of a host of forensic and psychological experts from behind bars. READ FULL STORY


Vero may proceed with boat storage regardless of vote
week of October 13, 2022

Vero’s Planning & Zoning Board is scheduled to review the site plan for the controversial dry-storage boat facility at the city’s marina only five days before election-day voting on a controversial referendum that could restrict the size of the building. If the marina plan gets a thumbs up from that board on Nov. 3, Vero Beach Mayor Robbie Brackett and Vice Mayor Rey Neville both say the city can and should move forward with the project right away – regardless of the outcome of the referendum. “We, as the City Council, have already decided we want to do this,” Brackett said. “We’ve already voted to approve the site plan and sent it to the Planning & Zoning Board for review. So, if the board approves it, there’s no need for it to come back to us. We don’t usually review an approved site plan unless it requires a variance. “And it’s my understanding that, once we have site-plan approval, we can legally move forward with the project and start seeking bids from developers,” he added. “If that’s the case, then that’s what we should do. We need a new dry-storage facility, and we need a bigger one.” READ FULL STORY


County looking at spot for dog beach
week of October 13, 2022

32963 dogs – who currently have no place for an unleashed midday romp on island beaches – may soon get their own place in the sun. County Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan raised the possibility of establishing an off-leash, dog-friendly beach park – at either Seagrape Trail or Turtle Trail – last week and the commission voted 4-1 to instruct County Administrator Jason Brown to explore options and offer recommendations. There’s nowhere in Indian River County where dog owners can legally let their pets run unleashed along the ocean’s shoreline between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. “It would be nice to have an off-leash beach dog park in this county,” O’Bryan said. “I think it’s something that would be well-received by the community.” Commissioner Susan Adams agreed, saying, “There’s a group in the community that would love to see this happen. … From my constituency, there’s definitely a need and want for something like this.” Currently, the only beaches that allow dogs to be unleashed belong are in the barrier island towns of Indian River Shores and Orchid. There are firm restrictions, however. READ FULL STORY


COVID infections again down; few here getting vaxxed
week of October 13, 2022

The number of new COVID-19 infections here declined by another one-third with only 63 cases for the week ending Oct. 4, down from 96 the previous week, according to the Florida Department of Health. But with public health officials continuing to worry about the prospect of a winter COVID surge, an almost unbelievably low number of Indian River County residents opted to get a booster shot the week ending Oct. 6 – a total of 10, according to the latest state report. While immunization demand is at an all-time low, the window of opportunity to get free COVID-19 vaccines may close by year’s end, with the cost of shots to be borne by individuals or health insurance unless the federal government approves more resources to purchase vaccine doses. Regardless of what happens in the private sector, taxpayers would still fund vaccines for Medicare recipients, and two recent studies tout that practice as a very smart investment. READ FULL STORY


Vero and Shores still very much at war over water
week of October 6, 2022

After a glimmer of hope last month that the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach might settle a federal antitrust lawsuit over Vero’s claim to a permanent service territory binding the Shores to Vero Utilities, a flurry of feisty letters exchanged by the parties’ legal teams show Vero and the Shores are still at odds over basic issues. In dispute is whether a 1989 territorial agreement between Vero and Indian River County dividing the county into exclusive water-sewer utility service areas violates federal antitrust law. Vero petitioned U.S. Circuit Court Judge Aileen Cannon to dismiss the Shores’ lawsuit, but Cannon forcefully knocked back each of the city’s arguments. Over the next two weeks, various city, county and town officials and experts are set to be deposed. READ FULL STORY


Beach erosion the most lasting impact of Ian here
week of October 6, 2022

Compared to destruction levied across Florida, our community got incredibly lucky when the outer bands of a major hurricane blew through last week, and one week post-Ian, everything looks essentially the same here as it did pre-Ian – except the beaches. Erosion will be the longest-lasting impact of Ian here, and at press time Monday, Wabasso Beach Park and Tracking Station Beach Park are still closed. “All beaches experienced erosion due to the wave action of this storm. Until ingress and egress is determined to be safe, these parks will remained closed,” said Indian River County spokesperson Kathy Copeland. “Crews are assessing impacts and working remedy any issues. We will post openings as soon as the determination is made to re-open these areas to the public,” she said. Vero Beach Public Works Director Matthew Mitts reported that the city saw beach erosion at the bottom of the dune crossover stairs along the Conn Beach boardwalk south of Jaycee Park. “We have closed the stairways where there is a large dropoff from the bottom of the steps down to the beach,” Mitts said Monday. READ FULL STORY


Former rocker finds his passion reimagining barrier island homes
week of October 6, 2022

How fun is real estate Vero Beach? Fun enough that Ken Cooper, a highly successful entrepreneur and executive who has worked in finance, the music industry and healthcare, says that he has finally found his true passion renovating and reimagining beautiful homes on the barrier island. “I don’t know what it is exactly, but I love the transformation, taking a property from an ugly duckling to a swan,” says Cooper, 50, who in the course of his colorful career spent three years touring as a rock musician in the late 1990s and went on to start a record label that developed multiplatinum-selling country artists. Not a weekend dabbler, he has taken on major houses from Windsor to the estate section, bringing to his projects a distinct and much-admired mid-century modern style that interior designer David Teneralli calls “Malibu Zen.” READ FULL STORY


COVID infections remain low here
week of October 6, 2022

The number of new COVID-19 infections here remained flat last week, hovering just below 100 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health, and the number of covid-positive patients remained low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker lists seven people hospitalized here in the week ending Sept. 30. Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell confirmed on Monday that numbers were down. “There are three COVID positive patients in house currently, none are in ICU,” Mitchell said. That’s a 50 percent decline in hospitalizations from the six people who had been admitted a week ago. Fewer than 3 percent of staffed hospital beds are deployed in the care of COVID-positive patients. Based upon that low burden on the overall healthcare system, Indian River County sits safely in the “Low COVID Community Level” category as determined by the CDC. READ FULL STORY


Mobile home park residents wonder why FAA wants them out
week of October 6, 2022

Citrus Park Village residents said Sunday that Vero Beach Regional Airport officials still hadn’t explained to them why – after more than half a century – the Federal Aviation Administration is forcing the city to shut down their mobile home community. Two weeks after news of their impending eviction was broken on the front page of Vero Beach 32963, in fact, residents of the 69-unit mobile home park, located on the airport’s periphery, said they had not heard a word from the city. “We can’t say what we’re going to do, because we haven’t officially been notified yet,” said one of the residents, all of whom agreed to speak only on the condition their names not be used. “Realistically, though, there doesn’t appear to be much we can do, other than leave when we told to.” READ FULL STORY


Florida City Gas: Island on track for 2023 hookup
week of September 29, 2022

The pipeline contractor hired to bring natural gas to the barrier island still awaits environmental permits needed to cross the Indian River Lagoon, but Florida City Gas is pushing forward with a transmission line along A1A in expectation that the permits will indeed materialize in time to connect customers in 2023. When Florida City Gas representatives approached the Indian River Shores Town Council back in February with no permits in hand, hoping to negotiate a franchise agreement with the town, Shores officials told them to come back when they got the permits. “The Peninsula Pipeline Company is leading permitting efforts with the FDEP for the Indian River Lagoon crossing, and are awaiting their issuance. PPC will be able to move forward with the Indian River Lagoon crossing once those permits have been secured,” said spokesperson Brianna Patterson. “Meanwhile, Florida City Gas continues construction of gas lines needed to serve local residents and businesses with the goal of commencing service sometime in 2023. We’re excited about bringing service to all island residents in the near future and will communicate updates to local residents as the work progresses,” Florida City Gas and Florida Power & Light spokesperson Briana Soriano said. READ FULL STORY


Could a welcome Breeze be headed our way?
week of September 29, 2022

Breeze Airways – a rapidly-expanding, year-old carrier that already serves more than 30 U.S. destinations from coast to coast – is planning to send representatives to Vero Beach Regional Airport on Oct. 10 to check out the passenger terminal and other facilities available to a commercial airline. News of the visit comes after Elite Airways, which has provided passenger jet service at the city’s airport since December 2015, removed all October flights from its website. The boutique airline hasn’t flown since June 30, and Elite president John Pearsall said earlier this month the airline would be making a major announcement, prompting speculation it would be sold. When asked via text message last week when the announcement would be made, Pearsall responded: “Soon.” He did not elaborate. “It would be nice to know what’s going on with Elite, but I’ve reached out to Mr. Pearsall and gotten no response,” Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher said last week. “Nor do I know if there’s any correlation between Elite not flying and Breeze showing interest.” READ FULL STORY


National housing recession? Not here! Demand is strong’
week of September 29, 2022

National news reports about the homebuilding industry have been gloomy lately, with talk of “a housing recession” and falling builder sentiment, but major homebuilders in Indian River County have a more upbeat take on the market. “We are optimistic about 2023,” said Bill Handler, president of GHO homes, the most active builder on the barrier island and in the county. “We have five new projects opening or getting ready to open, so it is kind of a good time in the cycle for us.” “Demand in our part of Florida remains strong,” said Brent Baker, Division President for PulteGroup in Southeast Florida, which is gearing up to launch a big, 270-home subdivision at U.S. 1 and Route 510. “We have a lot of tail winds that remain in place. Buyers who are less interest rate sensitive will still go out and buy the home of their dreams.” READ FULL STORY


Motorcycle police coming to Shores
week of September 29, 2022

Motorists used to keeping an eye out for those black police SUVs and pickup trucks lurking back under the trees alongside A1A in Indian River Shores will soon have a new reason to keep their speed down: The town is buying its first police motorcycle. The Harley is slated to go into service by the end of the year. “It is part of stepped-up traffic enforcement, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to citations,” said Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell. “It will still be within the officers’ discretion to give a warning.” Rosell said he and Town Manager Jim Harpring saw the motorcycle as a way to get an officer out in the community in a cost-effective manner. “It’s a good, high visibility way for us to get out into the smaller neighborhoods, and in terms of maneuverability after a storm when there’s debris on the roads, a motorcycle can go places that a car or ambulance can’t safely go,” Rosell said. “I have every intention of outfitting that bike with enough life-saving equipment to keep somebody going until the ambulance gets there,” Rosell said last week prior to the Town Council meeting. READ FULL STORY


The late Father Richard Murphy implicated in theft
week of September 29, 2022

A sad coda to the life of the late Father Richard Murphy – for two decades the beloved pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church, and frequently lauded for the island parish’s humanitarian work in Gifford and Fellsmere – came with his implication last week in a multi-year scheme with his church administrator to embezzle a huge sum from the Diocese of Palm Beach. News of former church administrator Deborah True’s arrest spread all the way to Murphy’s home turf in Ireland, where the Irish Central newspaper ran a story saying County Wexford native Murphy and True “are accused of fraudulently depositing nearly $1.5 million of parishioners’ donations into a bank account over a five-year period.” Because Murphy is deceased, police have not detailed how much the priest may have personally benefited from donations of the faithful. But in True’s case, Vero Beach Police detectives have bank statements and copies of checks showing that nearly $700,000 of church money went to pay her personal debts and expenditures. Murphy had pastored the affluent barrier island parish from 1997 until his death in 2020. READ FULL STORY


Few local residents getting latest Covid booster
week of September 29, 2022

With the number of new infections way down as September comes to a close, fewer than two dozen local residents per week are opting to get the latest COVID-19 booster shot designed to protect against the Omicron subvariants. More than 30,000 people here age 50 and older are eligible for the new Omicron booster now or will be soon, depending upon when they got their second booster. But Florida Department of Health reports showed only a couple of people a day stepping up to get the newly formulated jab in Indian River County. Fortunately, the number of people testing positive here fell by one fourth this past week, with 95 people – fewer than 14 per day – testing positive at a lab that reports to reported to the Florida Department of Health. Again this week, Indian River County lies in the CDC’s green zone for Low COVID Community Level. The case positivity rate for lab-performed COVID-19 tests fell to 7.6 percent, and hospitalizations were down, too. READ FULL STORY


Vero High football team remains undefeated
week of September 29, 2022

An unplayable Citrus Bowl field forced Vero Beach High School’s undefeated football team to play Friday night’s home game at Sebastian River’s Shark Stadium, where Gov. Ron DeSantis made an unannounced appearance and watched his 4-year-old son, Mason, perform the pre-kickoff coin toss. “Obviously, it was a unique situation,” Vero coach Lenny Jankowski said after the Fighting Indians improved to 5-0 with a 21-17 victory over Miami’s Palmetto High. Jankowski began searching for alternative sites after he, Vero Beach administrators and school district officials evaluated the Citrus Bowl’s rain-soaked field last Thursday and determined it would not dry enough to accommodate Friday night’s game. “When we went out there Thursday, you couldn’t even walk across the field,” he added. “Our field has issues. There are a lot of different theories, and we’ve worked on the drainage, but it has been a nightmare. “As it turned out, we made the right call because we got more rain Friday.” READ FULL STORY


Vero’s water fight with the Shores takes a new twist
week of September 22, 2022

NEWS ANALYSIS | In a major plot twist to a dispute between the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach over Vero’s claim to a permanent water-sewer utility territory, Vero has given Indian River County the city’s written permission to strike a deal with the Shores to provide utility service to town residents in 2027. The Shores has filed a federal lawsuit asserting that the 1989 document dividing the county up into Vero and County utility service territories violates antitrust law because it deprives the Shores of the opportunity to benefit from competing proposals from multiple service providers. Vero tried to get that lawsuit dismissed but U.S. Circuit Court Judge Eileen Cannon rejected all of Vero’s arguments, meaning the case will proceed to trial in January. If the letter from Vero City Manager Monte Falls to County Administrator Jason Brown was an effort to make that lawsuit go away, it does not seem to have had the desired effect. “The town and its legal counsel are currently evaluating the letter received by Mr. Falls as it raises many questions. However, it does not resolve the issues as the city still maintains it has a permanent monopoly on the provision of water services to the town,” Town Manager Jim Harpring said on Friday. READ FULL STORY


FAA forcing Vero airport to evict mobile home park
week of September 22, 2022

At age 74, Cindy Binafif doesn’t know where she’ll go after the Federal Aviation Administration forces Vero Beach city officials to shut down the Citrus Park Village mobile home community where she has lived for nearly 50 years. But it certainly looks like residents of the 69-unit mobile home park – which for more than half a century has occupied a chunk of land on the periphery of Vero Beach Airport – will soon be forced to take flight. “There are a lot of older residents here – many who’ve been here a long time – and most of us can’t afford to move,” Binafif said. “Even if we could afford it, most places around town have a one-year waiting list. Where are we going to go?” She paused briefly to compose herself, then added: “This is going to be a death sentence for some of us.” In an Aug. 18 letter to Vero Beach Airport Director Todd Scher, the FAA rejected the city’s request to allow the mobile home community to continue occupying the property. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 infections here continue to drop, but 5 more have died this month
week of September 22, 2022

The number of new COVID-19 infections locally dropped by one third this past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bringing the weekly case count to its lowest level in five months. The CDC’s COVID Data Tracker reported that 118 Indian River County residents tested positive for COVID-19 via labs that report to the Florida Department of Health in the week ending Sept. 15. This does not include people who used at-home kits and experienced mild cases not requiring a visit to the doctor. New infections rose after the Labor Day holiday weekend, but the latest numbers track closely with the 127 new weekly cases reported for the week ending Sept. 1. For the first time since the spring, Indian River County’s weekly case positivity rate fell below 10 percent, according to the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker. That statistic had soared into the high 20s last winter and held in the high teens most of the summer. The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also dropped last week from 13 to 11, and the count of patients in the county’s largest hospital as of press time Monday had declined 20 percent from the same time last week. READ FULL STORY


New college leader here seeks ‘collaborative vision of education’
week of September 22, 2022

Dr. Terri Graham, the new president of Vero’s only college campus, arrived here this summer with four college degrees and an impressive resume of ascending academic leadership positions – but she doesn’t think she knows everything. Instead, her goal at Indian River State College’s Mueller Campus is to develop what she calls a “collaborate vision of education” shaped by student aspirations, faculty expertise, community needs and – especially – detailed input from area industries about how to equip the employee of the future. “I may have my little vision of what the college should be, what we should teach, but if the community doesn’t buy into it, what are we going to do?” said Graham, who started as campus president on Aug. 1. “We need to build the vision together,” Graham said. READ FULL STORY


Remembering when the future king of England visited our island
week of September 15, 2022

The exclusive enclaves of Vero’s barrier island are no stranger to famous visitors, who mostly come and go with little fanfare. But when the Prince of Wales lent his royal presence to charity polo matches at Windsor three decades ago, he brought Scotland Yard, the U.S. State Department and a cadre of international press with him. As the former Prince Charles – now King Charles III since Queen Elizabeth’s passing – ascends to the throne and mourns his mother’s death along with royal-watchers around the globe, his visit so many years ago has been woven into barrier island lore, and Windsor will forever be known as the place where Prince Charles sparked an enduring passion for polo in Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY


Low-profile judge Aileen Cannon is Vero island resident
week of September 15, 2022

Aileen M. Cannon was not yet 40 years old when the federal prosecutor won decisive bipartisan support in a bitterly divided U.S. Senate to claim a seat on the U.S. District Court in South Florida. The profile of this young conservative lawyer – who lives on Vero’s South Beach – soared last week after she intervened in the Justice Department investigation into former President Donald Trump’s possible mishandling of classified information and agreed to grant his request for an independent review of material that FBI agents had seized. Cannon’s controversial ruling, which she called necessary to “ensure at least the appearance of fairness and integrity under the extraordinary circumstances,” temporarily barred investigators from using the documents removed last month from his Mar-a-Lago residence. The government subsequently said it would appeal the decision. READ FULL STORY


Riverfront (yes, not oceanfront) property listed for $25 million
week of September 15, 2022

Vero’s continuing ascent into the real estate stratosphere was illustrated anew last month when a riverfront development tract on the south barrier island went on the market for $25 million. The 17.45-acre property, directly across A1A from Atlantis and bifurcated, at least for the moment, by a 110-foot-wide strip, is bounded by The Moorings’ South Passage neighborhood on the north and St. Christopher Harbor on the south. To the west is a gorgeous mile-and-a-half-wide stretch of the Indian River Lagoon. The tract is composed about equally of lowlands and submerged or partially submerged lands. Miami real estate investor Jonathan Molano, who has a keen interest in Vero Beach, identified the property as an investment opportunity and purchased the land in two transactions earlier this year. To market and sell the Vero riverfront tract, Molano hired Oren Alexander, a superstar Miami and New York City broker who sold the most expensive residential property in U.S. history a couple of years ago – a $238 million Manhattan penthouse. READ FULL STORY


A 2nd chance to hear Andres Duany’s vision for Three Corners
week of September 15, 2022

Remember the excitement and enthusiasm generated by urban planner Andres Duany’s vision for the Three Corners parcels – a conceptual design so well-received that at one public presentation in January 2020 the gathering gave him a standing ovation? Vicky Gould hopes to rekindle those feelings. Confronting a citizen-authored November referendum that could derail Vero Beach’s plan to develop a dining, retail, social and recreational hub on the mainland’s waterfront, the chairwoman of the now-dissolved Three Corners Steering Committee wants to remind everyone what the project would mean to the community. That’s why Gould is bringing Duany back to Vero Beach on Oct. 12, when he’ll re-present the city’s Three Corners Master Concept Plan for the 33-acre property that contains the defunct municipal power plant and still-operating wastewater-treatment facility. READ FULL STORY


COVID infections up, but no sign of predicted fall surge
week of September 15, 2022

The number of local residents hospitalized with COVID-19 declined sharply this past week, but the number of new infections rose somewhat – though not enough to indicate the beginning of the predicted fall surge from ultra-contagious Omicron variants. New cases reported to the Florida Department of Health rose from 127 for the week ending Sept. 1 to 178 for the week ending Sept. 8, an increase of 40 percent. New infections typically see a bump after three-day holiday weekends when people tend to gather in groups and travel, so it’s not surprising that the numbers edged up after Labor Day. School has also been in session for a month, increasing opportunities for the virus to be passed around. The good news is that the county’s case positivity rate fell to 10.1 percent from 14.5 percent two weeks earlier on the last statewide report. READ FULL STORY


First round of water/sewer rate hikes put off until January
week of September 15, 2022

The Vero Beach Utilities Commission got its first real look at proposed water and sewer rate hikes designed to finance the city’s new wastewater treatment and fund growing operational costs, and the price tag will be a steep one. Indian River Shores and unincorporated south barrier Island residents can expect 76.7 percent higher rates by October 2025. Utility customers inside the city limits will be hit with a 63.2 percent increase. After that, only an annual CPI increase is scheduled, but that could change if the cost of building the new plant rises above the current $82 million estimate. The one bright spot in the Raftelis consultant’s presentation, which was scheduled to be repeated this past Tuesday for the Vero Beach City Council, is that instead of implementing the first phase of the new rate scheme on Oct. 1 as originally planned, the initial set of increases will go into effect in January. READ FULL STORY


Vero prepares to hit Shores with big utility hike
week of September 8, 2022

Utility consultants have recommended that Vero Beach press ahead next month with steep utility rate hikes that will let Vero collect as much as possible from Indian River Shores residents for sewer and reuse irrigation water before the town’s franchise agreement expires in 2027. An early peek at the draft results of a water-sewer rate study to be considered next week shows Vero nearly doubling sewer rates in six years, and doubling reuse irrigation water rates in nine years. After city officials announced that proposed water-sewer rate increases to pay for the city’s new sewer plant would be announced just weeks before the rate hikes were set to go into effect, Vero Beach 32963 requested copies of email correspondence between city staff and the rate consultants. The 34 digital files of public records show that on July 19, rate consultants sent Finance Director Cindy Lawson a schedule of three options for water, sewer and reuse water increases over a 10-year period. All three options recommended front-loading rate increases in fiscal years ending in 2023, 2024 and 2025 while Town of Indian River Shores residents will still be Vero utility customers. READ FULL STORY


Covid cases here down; new vaccine available in Vero
week of September 8, 2022

The weekly count of new COVID-19 infections was way down to start the month of September, as a new vaccine booster formula got federal approval ahead of an expected Omicron surge this fall or winter. Cases reported to the Florida Department of Health from Aug. 26 through Sept. 2 were down 52 percent from the previous week, with an average of 18 positive cases per day reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s down from the summer’s high of 65 cases per day in June. Hospitalization trends tend to lag a few weeks behind major changes in case numbers and last week the number of COVID-positive people admitted to local hospitals was 15, up from 13 the previous week. Going into the Labor Day weekend, the county’s largest hospital, Cleveland Clinic Indian River, said: “As of today, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has 15 COVID-19 patients in-house. None in critical care,” according to spokesperson Erin Miller. READ FULL STORY


Eight candidates, including two incumbents, seek Vero Council seats
week of September 8, 2022

Incumbents Honey Minuse and Bob McCabe are among the eight candidates who have qualified to run in the November election for three seats on the Vero Beach City Council. The third seat currently belongs to Mayor Robbie Brackett, who last month won the Republican primary to represent District 34 in the Florida House of Representatives and is favored against Sebastian Democrat Karen Greb. The other candidates for Vero Beach City Council are: Linda Moore, Kilted Mermaid co-owner; Brooke Steinkamp, a beachside boutique owner; Taylor Dingle, a John’s Island golf pro; Tracey Zudans, who was an elected trustee on the Indian River County Hospital District; John Carroll Jr., a certified general contractor and structural engineer; and Ken Daige, who served on the City Council from 2006 to 2008. READ FULL STORY


Good news, buyers: Housing inventory increase bringing island real estate market into balance
week of September 8, 2022

Housing supply and demand on the barrier island have bounced back into better balance as the real estate market moves into a new phase after an unprecedented two-year boom. Single-family inventory on the island hit a historic low in March when there was a mere 30-day supply of homes. Four months later, at the end of July, there was a 6.8-month supply of houses for sale in 32963, according to detailed information provided by Scott Reynolds who leads the Reynolds Team at Compass. “Six percent is usually considered a balanced market,” said Reynolds. “So at 6.8 we are actually edging into a buyers advantage in some parts of the market.” Other island brokers pull slightly different numbers from their data but all those who spoke with Vero Beach 32963 agree there is now at least a 5-month supply of homes for sale on the island. READ FULL STORY


Court backlog leaves major cases unresolved
week of September 8, 2022

Summer here typically brings at least one intriguing criminal trial, resolving a languishing case that barrier island residents have been following, and potentially bringing justice or closure to victims’ families. But not this year. The felony case backlog, made worse by COVID-19 court closures and pandemic restrictions, has yet to be resolved. Several months ago, one case that Vero Beach 32963 had been following for four years was finally set for trial. We contacted the prosecutor on the case to get last-minute details – how many days the trial would be expected to last, how many witnesses might be called – and the prosecutor cautioned there were upwards of 100 cases set for trial that same day in Judge Dan Vaughn’s courtroom. Though it seems unbelievable that defense attorneys and prosecutors could be asked to be “ready for trial” with more than 100 cases scheduled for the same day, that is indeed what is happening. READ FULL STORY


Orchid has no need for Town Council election
week of September 8, 2022

With just three candidates qualifying for three open seats on the Orchid Town Council, the northernmost of the county’s barrier island municipalities will not require an election this November. Filling the vacant four-year seats will be council newcomers James Raphalian and John Heanue, as well as returning incumbent Bob Gibbons, who just completed a term as mayor. After earning an MBA in finance from Penn State, Raphalian, 76, worked with major firms in the industry for more than three decades, including Schwab Capital Markets and PaineWebber, and has continued to dedicate much of his time and expertise to several charitable causes. He retired to Orchid from New Jersey in 2013. Heanue, 77, earned a degree in finance from the University of Colorado and worked in the banking and investment business for 35 years, the last 25 as a managing director with Goldman Sachs. READ FULL STORY


US Judge rejects Vero arguments on water-sewer
week of September 1, 2022

A federal judge has shot down all of the City of Vero Beach’s arguments for a permanent water-sewer service territory, putting the Town of Indian River Shores one step closer to being able to obtain utility service from Indian River County or another provider. Vero Beach had filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Shores which claims that a 1989 territorial agreement dividing Indian River County into two exclusive water-sewer service territories is a violation of federal antitrust law because it prevents the town from seeking competitive proposals for an essential service. Federal Judge Aileen Cannon dismissed Vero’s motion, meaning the case will move forward toward a trial, which is set for January. One by one, Cannon refuted each of Vero’s assertions justifying the permanent service territory, meaning that, to prevail at trial, Vero’s legal team will need to come up with a new rationale and strategy. READ FULL STORY


Vero not immune from nationwide surge in accidents
week of September 1, 2022

Vero Beach, much like paradise in so many ways, is not safe from the seemingly unrelenting national crisis we are currently experiencing on our roads and highways. Traffic data just within the Vero Beach city limits show 2,350 motor vehicle accidents between Jan. 1, 2020, and mid-August 2022. Forty incidents involved pedestrians and in 22 crashes, bicyclists were involved in collisions with motor vehicles, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Eighty-four percent of the crashes occurred in broad daylight and 97 percent in dry conditions, so poor visibility and wet roads don’t seem to be to blame for the bulk of traffic incidents. Vero’s reality reflects, albeit on a smaller scale, what’s happening nationwide. On Aug.17, federal transportation officials reported more than 9,500 people were killed in traffic accidents in the first three months of 2022 marking the deadliest start of a year in the country in two decades. READ FULL STORY


Vero Council trying to get referendum off November ballot
week of September 1, 2022

The Vero Beach City Council voted unanimously last week to ask a circuit judge to remove from the November ballot a citizen-authored referendum that would restrict plans to expand the municipal marina and limit the size of future improvements to other park-like properties protected in the city charter. The council will challenge the referendum’s language, which City Attorney John Turner said violated state law because it is “unclear and ambiguous” and “doesn’t fairly advise and inform the voters of the consequences if it is approved and adopted.” Turner said the lawsuit could be filed by the end of this week, and he’ll request that the judge order an expedited hearing so a ruling can be made before the Nov. 8 election. If a ruling isn’t issued before voters begin casting ballots – and if the city wins the case – Turner said a judge has the authority to void the result. The referendum cannot be reworded or withdrawn because it already has been submitted to the Supervisor of Elections Office. READ FULL STORY


ORCA making Vero Beach its new headquarters
week of September 1, 2022

After searching for more than a year, sometimes desperately, the Ocean Research and Conservation Association has found a new home – and its new headquarters will be in Vero Beach. The relocation from Fort Pierce to a 6,500-square-foot building on 16th Street between Old Dixie Highway and U. S. 1 that will be renovated into lab, office and education space will add to Vero’s scientific power and reputation for environmental awareness. The acquisition of the Vero building was fueled by a grant from island resident Trudie Rainone in memory of her son Donald “D.J.” Rainone, who she said “was passionate about the lagoon and loved swimming in the ocean.” ORCA’s new headquarters will be named the D.J. Rainone Research and Science Building in his honor. ORCA hopes to move in by the end of the year. “It is an ideal location for us,” ORCA founder and chief scientist Edie Widder told Vero Beach 32963 last week READ FULL STORY


Seaside Grill at Jaycee Park to reopen in a few weeks
week of September 1, 2022

A refreshed Seaside Grill is expected to finally open in a few weeks, under new management, after a six-figure renovation and with extended hours. The popular breakfast and lunch restaurant overlooking the beach in Vero’s Jaycee Park has been closed since April 22 when longtime operators Dan and Rose Culumber decided “18 hours a day, seven days a week for 30 years” was enough. Locals who’ve been awaiting the next iteration of the beloved eatery will appreciate the familiar look and feel, as the place exudes the same easy, sand-in-your-shoes ambiance. One major change will be the hours of operation, previously open from 7 a.m. to mid-afternoon. As the city looked ahead to the next lessee, City Manager Monte Falls had mentioned “we’d like to see (it stay open) maybe later in the evening, maybe for a light meal,” adding that would be “well within” the city code parameters. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases hold steady; hospitalizations down
week of September 1, 2022

The weekly number of new COVID-19 infections here remained steady last week at 256 cases countywide, and hospitalizations were down slightly, but the number of deaths locally continues to rise as at least 21 more COVID-positive people died in August, according to the Florida Department of Health. Indian River County remained in the “Low COVID Community Level” category at press time Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the level of community transmission based upon the raw case count is still considered high. The CDC reported 13 people were newly hospitalized with COVID-19 illness over the past week, a number in line with what the county’s largest hospital is seeing. Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said on Monday, “There are 12 patients with COVID in-house this morning, one patient is in the ICU.” READ FULL STORY


COVID situation better here than in most of state
week of August 25, 2022

For the first time since May, our community has moved into the Low COVID Community Level category, represented by green on the statewide map, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s assessment of the overall impact of the virus on Indian River County’s healthcare system. Virtually all of Florida – with the exception of Indian River and Brevard counties – remains in the CDC’s High or Medium categories. New infections here dropped by 27 percent compared to the previous week, as the number of positive cases fell from 360 per week to 260 as of Monday. That’s on top of a 28 percent decline the previous week. The CDC says 14 people were admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 last week, taking up 5 percent to 6 percent of staffed beds. Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said on Monday that “Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has 17 COVID positive patients in house this morning, and none are in ICU.” In terms of raw case numbers, Indian River County is still considered an area of “high community transmission” meaning the virus is still actively spreading throughout the community, and precautions are still needed. READ FULL STORY


November referendum on Vero Marina termed ‘bad idea’
week of August 25, 2022

A group of beachside residents opposed to planned expansions to the Vero Beach Municipal Marina has successfully petitioned for a vote on the issue, but Vero Mayor Robbie Brackett called the November referendum a “bad idea” that could derail the much hyped and wildly popular Three Corners project. “If this referendum passes,” Brackett said Sunday, “there’s a great chance it will kill the Three Corners.” The referendum was authored by the Vero Beach Preservation Alliance, formed in April to challenge the City Council’s $7.6 million plan to replace and expand the marina’s dilapidated and undersized dry storage boat facility, which was built in the 1960s and is not equipped to house today’s larger recreational vessels. The core of the late-arriving group – the City Council began discussing marina expansion two years ago – is comprised of homeowners who live in the Central Beach neighborhood surrounding the marina, which has operated at that site since the 1930s. Refusing to accept a compromise earlier this summer, when city officials agreed to reduce the length of the proposed new boat barn from 210 feet to 180 feet, the group went door-to-door and collected more than 1,150 verified signatures to secure the referendum. READ FULL STORY


Skyborne Academy adds Delta to list of major airline partners
week of August 25, 2022

Skyborne Airline Academy Vero Beach has added Delta Airlines to its growing list of flight-training partnerships with major and regional carriers. The agreement with Delta’s Propel program, the airline’s pilot-career pathway, was finalized earlier this month and comes seven months after Skyborne announced a new partnership with United Airlines’ Aviate program. Skyborne also has established partnerships with: SkyWest Airlines, the nation’s largest regional carrier; Endeavor Air, which operates as a Delta Connection; and Envoy Air, a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines and formerly known as American Eagle Airlines. In addition, the academy has agreements to train pilots for two charter airlines. “It’s certainly good for business,” Ed Davidson, managing director of Skyborne’s Vero Beach flight school, said of the partnerships. “It increases our top-line revenues, and it’s always nice to have those relationships, especially at a time when airlines need more pilots. READ FULL STORY


Sizable decline in new COVID infections here
week of August 18, 2022

The latest omicron BA.5 subvariant wave finally appears to be receding here. New COVID-19 infections reported to the Florida Department of Health declined 28 percent last week to 351 cases, marking the first meaningful shift in the weekly case count all summer. Since the average number of positive cases rose from 50 per day to 65 per day in early June, reported cases have held steady between 450 and 500 cases per week the entire summer travel season when students were out of school. Despite the downturn in new infections last week, Indian River County remains in the high COVID Community Level and community transition categories, along with almost all of Florida. Statewide figures for new infections echoed the local downturn last week, as did nationwide reports. Most Florida counties saw a marked decline in newly reported cases though this number does not include people who tested positive via at-home test kits and did not seek medical care. READ FULL STORY


Gifford leader seeks independent probe of Black teen’s shooting
week of August 18, 2022

A longtime Gifford community leader is questioning the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office’s in-house investigation of the June 11 shooting of a 19-year-old Black man who deputies say grabbed a handgun and ran from a traffic stop in a residential neighborhood. “There’s no way I cannot question it,” NAACP Indian River County Chapter President Tony Brown said last week. “They’re calling it an internal investigation. In the ’hood, we call it the fox guarding the hen house. You’ve got the perpetrators investigating the perpetrators. “The reality is going to be whatever they want it to be.” For that reason, Brown said he has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an independent investigation of the incident in which four deputies fired more than 40 gunshots at Jamall Frederick as he tried to flee into a residential neighborhood. Frederick, a Fort Pierce resident who in February pled guilty to a June 2021 auto burglary here and was sentenced to six months in jail and two years of probation, was shot up to seven times before he was arrested and taken to HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital in Fort Pierce. READ FULL STORY


Lofty ambition: Customized storage units will also come with ‘ultra-luxury condos’
week of August 18, 2022

First came the high-end storage units, where buyers could keep their classic cars and luxury “toys.” Then came bigger units – customized with mezzanine levels, bathrooms, and big-screen TVs – designed to hold Class A RVs. Now, would you believe garages that will each come with a 500-square-foot “ultra-luxury condo” with kitchen, living room, bedroom and two baths? That’s what local developer Scott Parker is planning with his Bespoke Lofts project on 12th Street, where he will build 17 custom, luxury storage units that include a small condo as part of the package. He got his demo permit from the county on Aug. 4 and has received approval from the state to take cash deposits and reservations. His will be the fifth luxury storage project launched in Vero in the past several years, as island buyers have snapped up hurricane-proof units as large as 1,500 square feet, paying $300,000 and more for beautifully designed and built “garages” to store their valuable possessions. Parker’s units will be unique in two ways: They are being built inside an existing building instead of from the ground up, and they will come with a 500-square-foot, “ultra-luxury condo,” in Parker’s words. READ FULL STORY


Covid infections flatten; hospital admissions drop
week of August 11, 2022

The latest COVID-19 surge may finally have peaked, with new weekly infections here flattening around the 500 mark as the Vero Beach area remains a zone of high community transmission. The CDC reported 18 new hospital admissions in the seven days ending Aug. 3, and as of press time Monday, local hospitalizations had fallen significantly from last week. “We have 15 COVID patients in-house at Indian River Hospital this morning, none of which are in critical care,” Cleveland Clinic spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said on Monday. That number is down 44 percent from 27 patients in the hospital the previous week. Florida’s case numbers were relatively flat last week, with COVID deaths up slightly. Nationwide, reports of new positive cases were down 9.8 percent compared with two weeks ago, but deaths were up by 21.3 percent in that same two-week timeframe. READ FULL STORY


Volunteers mark 70th anniversary of Hospital Auxiliary
week of August 11, 2022

Through 70 years of cheerfully showing up to work for zero pay, Vero’s hospital auxiliary volunteers have navigated changing technology, building construction, renovations and expansions, hurricanes, staff and management changes, a growing county population and finally the handoff to Cleveland Clinic – but it took a pandemic to keep them on the sidelines. For 19 months, strict COVID-19 precautions meant hospital volunteers needed to stay home, for their own safety as much as for the patients. But recently Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital began phasing volunteers back into the mix. Since the volunteers missed the auxiliary’s 70th anniversary in 2021, they are celebrating it now. “We are so grateful our volunteers have returned to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital and cannot thank them enough for their care and dedication to our patients and community,” Dr. Greg Rosencrance, president of the hospital, said. “For 70 years, the Auxiliary has played a vital role in achieving our mission providing exceptional health, hope and compassion to every person, every time. I could not be more proud of our volunteers for making a difference in the lives others,” he said. READ FULL STORY


Detectives making progress in investigation of crash that killed elderly John’s Island man
week of August 11, 2022

Detectives made some progress this week in the investigation of a high-speed crash in May that killed an elderly John’s Island resident and serious injured his widow. But police said it will be a while yet before they know whether the results of a blood test will enable them to file charges against the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club resident who was driving the black Mercedes that slammed into the rear of the couple’s car. The Indian River Shores Public Safety Department, working alongside State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl’s office, obtained and served a search warrant on HCA Lawnwood Hospital for the results of blood tests performed when the driver of the rear vehicle was transported to the hospital with injuries from the crash. The hospital had not provided the lab results voluntarily, and then did not comply with a subpoena for the medical records within the 20-day timeframe, forcing the Shores to seek a search warrant. But when the raw data from the hospital lab finally was handed over, the results were not in the form the Shores officers needed. READ FULL STORY


Number of homes listed for sale on island rising — slightly
week of August 11, 2022

The number of single-family homes for sale on the island has more than doubled in the past couple of months – from fewer than 40 at low points in the spring to almost 90 one day last week. Condo inventory has jumped, too. “Inventory is building because the number of sales have declined steeply,” said Buzz MacWilliam, owner of AMAC Alex MacWilliam real estate. Houses are sitting on the market longer and the number of price reductions continue to increase. For the most part, real estate professionals who make their livings selling houses and condos express relief and even happiness about the market shift. “The shift is bringing some balance back to the market,” said AMAC broker Alex MacWilliam IV, who is Buzz MacWilliam’s son. “It is becoming a fairer market, which is good for buyers,” Berkshire Hathaway agent Chip Landers told Vero Beach 32963. Asked for a comment on the inventory increase, ONE Sotheby’s International Realty broker-associate Cindy O’Dare had a one-word response: “Hallelujah!
“We are very happy to have the beautiful new listings we have gotten in the past month,” she said. “It has become a very nice market for both the buyer and the seller at the top end.”
READ FULL STORY


Big Blue’s subsidy of Vero city budget is nearing an end
week of August 4, 2022

NEWS ANALYSIS | For the first time in four decades, property owners within the Vero Beach city limits will be funding almost all the costs of municipal staff, facilities, programs and amenities this fall. Almost. The “glide path” designed to wean Vero off nearly $6 million in annual electric utility transfers to the city’s general fund – a sum long borne heavily by electric customers in Indian River Shores, South Beach and mainland unincorporated Indian River County – has all but run out. Only $500,000 remains from the electric sale proceeds that were set aside to facilitate a soft(er) landing for city taxpayers. In the 2023-24 budget year, the Big Blue dowry will be totally gone. Zero glide path money will be left to cushion the general fund. Taxable property values in the city of Vero Beach increased 11.8 percent this past year, but the remaining cushion alone won’t be enough to fund all the expenditures. Taxes are set to increase as much as 9 percent on top of those higher real estate assessments, netting an extra $1.8 million in property taxes. That’s a nearly 22 percent tax increase in total, and it will require at least four out of five council members’ votes by Florida Statute to hike tax revenues and expenses that much. READ FULL STORY


Shores incumbents to stay, but Council has one new opening
week of August 4, 2022

While three members of the Indian River Shores Town Council were re-appointed last week without an election because no one qualified to run against them, residents can still expect some new faces in their municipal government. Councilman Christian Hendricks submitted his resignation on Monday morning, effective Friday, saying he is moving out of state. Hendricks wrote in his resignation letter addressed to Town Manager Jim Harpring, “To the residents of Indian River Shores, I wish them all well. They can be assured that you and your staff will do your best to protect them and provide for their well-being and happiness.” Hendricks, a local Realtor and a former top administrative staffer for the U.S. House of Representatives, was elected to a four-year term in 2020, so now the council must appoint someone new to fill the balance of Hendricks’ term. “We will just use the same process as we did when John McCord resigned. My goal is to get a notice of vacancy out to the residents this week and anyone who is interested would submit a letter and CV. We need to set dates and time frames and I would imagine the council members would want to do one-on-one interviews,” Harpring said. READ FULL STORY


Surging rents price some low-income seniors out of homes
week of August 4, 2022

Vero Beach’s fixed-income elderly are, in growing numbers, being priced out of their homes in the white-hot rental market, with some lower-income seniors even joining the ranks of the homeless. With local housing costs spiraling, vulnerable seniors on fixed incomes are finding it hard to keep up with inflation. Lundy Fields, president and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Association of the Treasure Coast, describes the situation facing some of his agency’s clients as “a crisis.” “Investors purchase properties, rents go up, seniors are forced out,” he said of clients with chronic health conditions, or recent hospitalization requiring skilled nursing care, who suddenly find themselves without a home. “Four, I believe, in the past month, all in their 70s, including two who have been living in their cars.” Fields said the rent of one VNA client’s apartment soared from about $1,500 a month to $2,000. READ FULL STORY


Mixed-use village proposed for 5th Avenue property just north of Vero’s Miracle Mile
week of August 4, 2022

Commercial real estate broker Keith Kite was excited last month when he picked up the listing for 2300 5th Ave. immediately north of Miracle Mile. Kite’s enthusiasm for the property goes way beyond the prospect of a big commission. He sees it as an opportunity to upgrade the Vero Beach lifestyle with a mixed-use village that would bring new life to the area between the bridges, and begin to fulfill the city’s vision of “incorporating residential and other non-retail uses” into the Miracle Mile district. Right now, the 7-acre property is kind of a dead zone. It has a large, leased-up office building at its center – which used to be the old Doctor’s Clinic – but it is cut off from Miracle Mile with just two obscure ways in and out. Kite envisions opening the property up and replacing the old building, which dates from the 1960s, with a lively mix of shops, restaurants, professional offices and luxury townhomes or apartments. READ FULL STORY


Covid hospitalizations up, cases flat
week of August 4, 2022

The number of patients with COVID-19 in Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has risen again sharply, but deaths were down and reports of new infections were almost unchanged last week from the previous period. New positive COVID tests reported to the Florida Department of Health this past week declined slightly from 499 to 489 cases, so Indian River County remains in the high category for community transmission. The meaning of those weekly numbers is muddled, however, due to local residents and businesses using an unknown number of do-it-yourself, at-home COVID-19 test kits. Positive results on home test kits do not get reported to the health department, unless the patient ends up hospitalized or seeking medical care. Hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell said that as of Monday, “we have 27 COVID-positive patients, one of which is in critical care at Indian River Hospital.” That’s up 170 percent from the 10 patients hospitalized seven days prior. READ FULL STORY


Rosario writes check to end campaign contribution confusion
week of August 4, 2022

School Board member Jackie Rosario, who is seeking re-election to her District 2 seat, last week filed a campaign treasurer’s report that included a $1,000 in-kind contribution from The Source – a political gift that could jeopardize the nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. The filing stemmed from The Source’s Dignity Catering division having provided food, free of charge, for Rosario’s July 14 campaign fundraiser at the Vero Beach Community Center. Rosario’s report, however, seemed to surprise Anthony Zorbaugh, executive director of The Source, a Christian outreach mission that serves the poor and homeless in Indian River County. Told of Rosario’s filing, Zorbaugh vehemently denied making any contribution to her campaign. “We catered an event for her, but it wasn’t a campaign contribution,” Zorbaugh said late Friday, after Vero Beach 32963 informed him of Rosario’s filing. “I didn’t write her a check or give her any money. I gave her some meatballs. We don’t have any political ties to anybody,” he added. “ READ FULL STORY


Guess how much Vero utility bills will be going up
week of July 28, 2022

Vero Beach Utilities water-sewer customers will see their monthly utility bill go up when the city’s new one-rate plan takes effect Oct. 1, but they won’t be told how much their rates are going to increase until the last minute. Vero hired consultants to perform a rate study that would take into consideration not just the cost of operating the water treatment plant, sewer plant and reuse irrigation water service, but also the cost of designing and constructing a new wastewater treatment plant at the Vero Beach Regional Airport. That’s not to mention the expense of redirecting sewer pipes to the airport and dismantling the existing plant on the Indian River Lagoon, plus handling any needed environmental cleanup on the sewer plant site so that land can be incorporated into the city’s riverfront development master plan. Based upon an initial $80 million project guesstimate, Vero’s consultant told city officials in 2020 that rates would increase $17.66 per month, phased in over a 10-year period for the average customer who is hooked up to both water and sewer service. READ FULL STORY


Mexican restaurants here are hot, hot, hot!
week of July 28, 2022

As the local dining scene heats up in the wake of the pandemic, Mexican food is becoming the hottest thing in town – and we’re not talking about the chiles rellenos or the mole poblano enchiladas. After years when Vero seemed to have nothing but Italian restaurants, we are now seeing a surprising surge in Mexican dining spots here. At this rate, there could soon be a dozen Mexican eateries on the mainland to choose among. Whether any of these will at last bring Mexican fine dining to Vero – or will simply be more Tex-Mex places – remains to be seen. But three new south of the border restaurants are either just opening or are in various stages of readiness west of the Barber bridge. The first of the newcomers, the El Rey Mexican Restaurant, held its grand opening on July 16. It’s located in the former 20th Street location of Vero Prime and, more recently, Savor. READ FULL STORY


Mueller Campus president Casey Lunceford retiring – sort of
week of July 28, 2022

Indian River State College campus president and trombonist Casey Lunceford is retiring at the end of August – sort of. Based on his planned post-retirement activities – serving on boards, consulting, teaching college music classes and helping local high school bands – he may actually be busier than ever starting Sept. 1. And he’ll definitely still be playing the trombone, among other instruments. But Lunceford will leave his job at the Mueller Campus of Indian River State College after 8 years as president there, 25 years total at the 5-campus community college, and 39 years as an educator in Florida and Louisiana. He will be replaced by Terri A. Graham, Ed.D, a former elementary school teacher who worked her way up through the pedagogical ranks to be a top administrator at Valencia College in Orlando, where she served most recently as interim president of two campuses, overseeing the education of 35,000 students annually. READ FULL STORY


Leatherback sea turtles are enjoying a banner nesting season on our beaches
week of July 28, 2022

Leatherback turtles broke an 11-year record this season for local nesting, laying 96 nests, beating the 2010 tally of 87 nests by a good margin. Indian River County Sea Turtle Environmental Specialist Quintin Bergman called the statistics “eggs-cellent for leatherback sea turtles.” In the 22 years since the county’s Sea Turtle Conservation program has been keeping leatherback records, the county’s shores have been the repository of choice for an average of 50 leatherback nests per season, ranking 2022 significantly above average. The largest turtle on the planet, and one of the world’s most impressive reptiles, leatherbacks can reach 6 feet long and 1,000 pounds, mostly by chowing down on jellyfish in the cold waters around Nova Scotia. Each summer, the endangered and protected turtles head south to nest, making the 3,000-mile journey to tropical shores. Popular nesting spots along Indian River County’s 22.4 miles of sandy coastline include the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge on the north barrier Island. READ FULL STORY


COVID-19 cases up; hospitalizations down
week of July 28, 2022

While new weekly COVID-19 infections here were up by 11 percent this past week to 499 cases, local hospitalizations and deaths were both down, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of Monday, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital had 10 COVID-positive patients – down from the 27 people hospitalized one week prior, according to hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen-Mitchell. Two of the patients in the hospital were in the Intensive-Care Unit, up from one last week. The CDC reported six additional deaths in Indian River County last week due to COVID-19, down from nine deaths in the previous seven days. All but two Florida counties remained in the high community spread category, with the Treasure Coast and Florida’s Panhandle reporting the greatest percentage increase in cases from the previous week, according to the CDC’s rolling seven-day average. READ FULL STORY


Pelican Island Audubon Society hires executive director
week of July 28, 2022

Indian River County’s oldest and most active environmental organization has hired its first executive director with the aim of expanding its programs and increasing its public profile after nearly 60 years of volunteer leadership. “Up till now, we have been so busy starting and running programs that we haven’t done as good a job as we should have of telling our story,” said Donna Halleran, a Coast Guard veteran and retired social worker who started as executive director of Pelican Island Audubon Society this month. It is quite a story. Early members of the group that formed Pelican Island Audubon Society led the fight to stop condo development near Pelican Island Wildlife Sanctuary back in the early 1960s. The chapter was organized in 1964 in the aftermath of that effort and since then has been at the forefront of most every important environmental battle or initiative in Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


John’s Island West golf course ranked No. 4 in Florida
week of July 28, 2022

The oft-celebrated John’s Island West golf course continues to impress industry experts who annually rank it among the nation’s best, as well as one of the elite layouts in the state. The latest recognition comes from Golfweek magazine, which earlier this month ranked John’s Island’s mainland jewel No. 4 on its 2022 list of the “Best Private Courses” in Florida, behind only the Seminole (Juno Beach), Calusa Pines (Naples) and Mountain Lake (Lake Wales) golf clubs. John’s Island West, in fact, ranked ahead of the lofty likes of The Bear’s Club (No. 6) in Jupiter; McArthur (No. 9), Loblolly (No. 10) and Medalist (No. 12) in Hobe Sound; Trump International (No. 14) in West Palm Beach; and Floridian (No. 20) in Palm City. Golfweek also included John’s Island West in its 2022 rankings of the “Top 200 Residential Courses in the U.S.” (No. 12) and “Top 200 Modern Courses in the U.S.” (No. 58). READ FULL STORY


Vero slashes amount of stormwater tax
week of July 28, 2022

The Vero Beach City Council decided last week to use federal COVID-19 relief funds to cover most of the $1.1 million cost of next year’s planned stormwater management projects to help reduce nutrient runoff going into the Indian River Lagoon. After a sometimes-tumultuous, three-hour public discussion, the council voted to have taxpayers pay only 10 percent of the amount they would’ve paid under the stormwater tax rate structure they had approved in June. Owners of average-size homes will now be required to pay $7 instead of $75 for the year when they receive their tax bills in November. The amount of the stormwater fee depends upon each property’s impervious surfaces, such as buildings, driveways and patios that don’t absorb water. Government-owned land and nonprofits like churches also would be assessed, according to the paved or impervious area on the property that contribute to the city’s total stormwater runoff problem, just like homes and businesses. The amended plan, which was approved in a 3-2 vote, will cover only the coming fiscal year. Taxpayers can expect to pay considerably more in fiscal 2023-24, when the council sets a new stormwater tax rate structure. READ FULL STORY


Hospitalizations of patients with Covid up sharply
week of July 21, 2022

The number of people hospitalized here with COVID-19 has increased 59 percent since July 1, and 16 more Indian River County residents have died with or from the virus in the past three weeks, according to data compiled from Florida Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control reports. The CDC reports 25 new hospitalizations over the past week, up slightly from recent weeks, but the big jump occurred in the number of people still in the hospital at press time. Going into the Independence Day holiday weekend, 17 people had been admitted to Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital with COVID-19, but on Monday, hospital spokesperson Arlene Allen Mitchell said: “We have 27 patients in house with COVID, one is in critical care.” READ FULL STORY


Might a boutique hotel rise incorporating Big Blue?
week of July 21, 2022

Good news for people who want to see Vero Beach upgraded with a world-class, mixed-use redevelopment project on the riverfront where the old Big Blue powerplant now sits idle. Major developers are keenly interested in the $120 million hotel, marina, restaurant, retail and recreation plan. “I am personally very excited about the project,” says Bob Miller, CEO and founder of Equity First Development, who submitted the adjacent image. Miller was one of four big players who responded with detailed proposals to the Request for Information, or RFI, that the city put out several months ago. Miller, whose company bought the adjacent Fairlane Harbor mobile home community in 2020 for $36 million and who owns a home in Vero Beach, added: “It would be a tremendous boost for the area. There is room on the site to develop a large successful project that would be the next big step for Vero Beach.” Other developers agree. READ FULL STORY


Charges expected in crash that claimed life of John’s Island man
week of July 21, 2022

A rear-end collision on A1A near the entrance to Bermuda Bay that claimed the life of an elderly John’s Island man two months ago may soon see charges brought against the driver of the rear vehicle, but investigation of the crash by the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department has not been easy. The crash, which occurred just after dusk, involved two vehicles traveling northbound on A1A. The rear vehicle, a black Mercedes convertible, slammed into the front vehicle, seriously injuring a John’s Island couple in their 80s, sending them both to HCA Lawnwood hospital, where the husband died of crash injuries. The driver of the Mercedes was also injured, and she too was transported to the hospital. While no breathalyzer test was administered at the scene, a toxicology test was performed at Lawnwood, as is standard procedure after a car crash. Shores Public Safety Deputy Chief Mark Shaw said typically, hospitals provide the blood tests to detectives without a subpoena. But not in this case, so officers worked with prosecutors at the State Attorney’s office to compel the release of the records. READ FULL STORY


South Beach hit by rash of car burglaries
week of July 21, 2022

At least nine vehicles were burglarized last weekend in the South Beach area. Five of the burglaries occurred along Sandpiper Lane, one block south of East Causeway Boulevard (17th Street), where Vero Beach Police responded to a visitor’s complaint Saturday morning that her purse had been stolen from her unlocked van. The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office, meanwhile, was investigating at least four other auto burglaries on the barrier island, south of the Vero Beach city limits. Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said Monday that a woman visiting from Pennsylvania flagged down an officer on patrol to report the burglary, which occurred between 8:30 p.m. Friday and 7:20 a.m. Saturday. Currey said the woman’s purse was later found in the roadway near the home where she was staying, but her wallet – which contained her driver’s license and bank cards – was missing. The wallet was found by sheriff’s deputies in the Pelican Lane neighborhood, prompting police to believe the South Beach auto burglaries in the city and unincorporated county were related. READ FULL STORY


Bill Penney elected chairman of Florida Bankers Assn.
week of July 21, 2022

Vero Beach got another feather in its cap in last month when Marine Bank & Trust president and CEO Bill Penney was elected chairman of the Florida Bankers Association. It is not a ceremonial position. As chairman he will be the face and voice of one of Florida’s oldest and most powerful trade associations, traveling to Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. frequently to lobby for regulations and legislation favorable to Florida banks. “I will be back in Washington next week,” Penney told Vero Beach 32963, adding that he will be lobbying against proposed regulations that would require publicly-traded banks to somehow assess and then report the climate impact of their customers’ businesses. Marine Bank is not publicly traded so the regulations, if enacted, would not affect it, but the Florida banking industry does not think the rules make sense. READ FULL STORY


Premier remains realty power here as market changes
week of July 14, 2022

Over the past year, while the amazing escalation of home prices on the 32963 island captured most of the attention, a less visible reordering of the Vero Beach real estate market and a game of musical chairs among top Realtors has been taking place. National powerhouses like Douglas Elliman and Compass perceived the need to have a presence in Vero Beach, luring teams of agents from established companies, while top-selling Realtors moved back and forth between existing Vero brokerages determined to hold onto their leadership positions in the island marketplace. At Premier Estate Properties, for more than a decade one of the 32963 island’s leading brokerages, broker/owner Joe Liguori is unfazed by the changes taking place. “We see this as opportunity for exponential growth in the Vero office,” Liguori told Vero Beach 32963. READ FULL STORY


Museum of Art preparing for major expansion
week of July 14, 2022

The Vero Beach Museum of Art, one of the crown jewels of the 32963 island, is preparing to expand again. “In the past decade, our audience has grown significantly, and we no longer have adequate spaces for our signature programs and events,” said executive director Brady Roberts. “We’re increasingly acquiring more significant works of art and we want to be able to share those with the public.” The design firm Allied Works – which has worked with numerous other museums – has been appointed to develop plans for an expansion and renovation project that is expected to be completed by the museum’s 40th anniversary in 2026. READ FULL STORY


Elite Airways: Few flights from Vero in June; none so far in July
week of July 14, 2022

Elite Airways canceled 27 of its 35 scheduled flights into and out of Vero Beach in June – as well as all of its July flights through Monday – and the boutique carrier isn’t expected to resume service until next week. “We’ll probably have a few more cancellations before things get back to normal in a week or 10 days,” Elite President John Pearsall said Sunday. “We’re down to a limited number of aircraft.” Pearsall said two factors contributed to Elite’s current aircraft shortage: the airline’s 50-seat passenger jets needed to undergo what he described as “major maintenance”; and a federal Transportation Security Administration program that temporarily allowed the airline’s 70- and 90-seat jets to land and take off at the Vero Beach Regional Airport expired at the end of May. READ FULL STORY


County plans only slight property tax hike
week of July 14, 2022

Taxpayers can expect to pay only slightly more in property taxes next year to fund the $452 million budget County Administrator Jason Brown presented to county commissioners this week. That’s because a 13.5 percent increase in the county’s tax roll – a $9.4 million windfall produced by an influx of new residents, construction of new homes and a surge in real-estate values – allowed officials to maintain the current property-tax rate. Brown’s proposed 2022-23 budget is $90 million less than the $542 million budget under which the county is operating this year. It’s 4.3 percent lower than the county’s $472 million budget in 2006-07, when there were 25,000 fewer residents. READ FULL STORY


Clock ticking on Shores battle with Vero Beach over water
week of July 14, 2022

With the deadline only 15 months off for Indian River Shores to serve notice it intends to sever ties with Vero’s water utility, legal battles between the Shores and the City of Vero Beach have hit a stage where not much action is apparent. Behind the scenes, legal teams are working on briefs addressing Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals as the Shores challenges a detrimental circuit court ruling in its breach of contract suit against Vero over reuse water irrigation rates. Judge Janet Croom ruled in favor of Vero, holding that the city acted in accordance with state law. The Shores still believes Vero violated a 2012 franchise agreement promising to match Indian River County Utilities’ rates. READ FULL STORY


‘Dilapidated house’ in Castaway Cove troubles the neighbors
week of July 14, 2022

Progress has stalled again at 1215 Spanish Lace Lane, the house in Wave VI in Castaway Cove where the state of disrepair has been driving neighbors crazy for at least five years. A group of neighbors who circulated a petition in March to have the house condemned due to persistent code violations is again flooding the county switchboard with calls. The contractor hired by the homeowner to reroof the house has filed a mechanics lien against the property, which typically means a homeowner has not paid for contracted work. “Our concern is that a roofless house continues to exist in our neighborhood and we don’t understand why,” Angelique Padulo, who lives across the street from 1215 Spanish Lace Lane, wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963. “There hasn’t been a roof on it since we moved here in 2020. The neighborhood is made up of beautiful, highly sought after homes and this dilapidated house is lowering our property values.” READ FULL STORY


Shores cop facing felony charges in domestic dispute
week of July 7, 2022

A now-former Indian River Shores Public Safety Department officer faces two felony charges and a first-degree misdemeanor in connection with what police say was a violent domestic dispute at a Brevard County hotel last week. Solomon “Joe” Parrish, 55, was arrested at his home in Sebastian after getting into an argument with his longtime girlfriend during a stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites in West Melbourne two Sundays ago. Shores Public Safety Director Rich Rosell declined comment on the arrest, calling it a “personal matter” that did not involve his agency, but he said Parrish’s employment with the town ended Friday. READ FULL STORY


New South Beach restaurant to be built on site of old Charley Brown’s
week of July 7, 2022

There probably will never again be a salad bar on the site of the popular old Charley Brown’s steakhouse on South Beach. But by the 20th anniversary of the 2004 hurricanes, island residents may finally find a restaurant there once again – and possibly, it might even be the temporary home of The Tides. A new mixed-use project planned for 1410 Highway A1A – with restaurant, retail and office space – is scheduled to break ground in early 2023. And according to developer Anthony DeChellis, it could end up housing the island’s most popular fine-dining restaurant. DeChellis, who also owns the buildings where The Tides currently is located, is working on plans to redevelop it and the building next to it in 2024, and said: “Nothing has been decided yet, but it is possible The Tides could be relocated to 1410 while its current location is redeveloped. READ FULL STORY


Former County Administrator Joe Baird charged with stalking his ex-girlfriend
week of July 7, 2022

Former Indian River County Administrator Joe Baird plans to plead “not guilty” and go to trial to fight a misdemeanor charge that he stalked his ex-girlfriend in May, his attorney said last week. Baird, 65, was arrested on June 27, after returning to Vero Beach from a rented summer home in Rhode Island and turning himself in at the County Jail, where he spent the night before being released the next morning after posting a $2,500 bond. In a probable-cause affidavit used to obtain an arrest warrant on June 24, Vero Beach Police Detective Jennifer Brumley wrote that Baird “willfully, maliciously and repeatedly followed, harassed and cyberstalked” his former longtime girlfriend. Baird’s attorney, Andy Metcalf, disputed the allegations and dismissed them as the remnants of a “bad breakup,” referring to the couple’s romantic-but-tumultuous, eight-year relationship that the woman claims to have ended in February. READ FULL STORY


Wabasso Causeway landscaping nearly finished
week of July 7, 2022

The Florida Department of Transportation says the planting of new landscaping along the Wabasso Causeway should conclude this week, but that work will soon start on removing the stanchions that line both sides of the high bridge that carries traffic across the lagoon to the barrier island. Area residents were dismayed last year when the Australian Pines that had, for decades, provided shade and (many thought) beauty along the river in the little parks along the causeway were removed by the FDOT at a cost of approximately $112,000 because they are officially considered “invasive non-native species detrimental to our Florida environment.” Over the past several weeks, the pines have been replaced with native trees and palms that FDOT deems more appropriate for the coastal environment: gumbo limbo, with a maximum height of 16-18 feet; Pigeon plum, 12-14 feet; Sabal palms, 10-30 feet; and buttonwood, 12-14 feet. Most of the new trees are already in the ground and stabilized with supports. READ FULL STORY


COVID infections here hold steady through June
week of July 7, 2022

The number of new COVID-19 infections locally held relatively steady during the month of June – neither surging nor receding, but inching up to 65 people per day testing positive through a lab that reports to the Florida Department of Health — plus an unknowable number of positive results on at-home COVID-19 test kits. Last Friday’s state report showed 464 weekly cases, only 5 cases more than on the June 17 weekly report and up only slightly from the 433 cases on the June 3 report. At the state level, Florida started the month with 74,389 weekly cases, and ended it at 74,481 weekly cases – a difference of little more 1/10th of 1 percent. Locally, hospitalizations have fluctuated very little over the past month as well, with total new hospitalizations as reported by the CDC hovering in the low 20s, and Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital reporting in-house COVID-positive patient numbers each week in the high teens. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff’s Office investigating a rash of residential burglaries in Grand Harbor
week of July 7, 2022

The Sheriff’s Office is continuing to investigate a rash of residential burglaries that occurred from mid-May through mid-June in the Grand Harbor community on the mainland, an agency spokesperson said last week. Three of the burglaries were at townhomes on St. David’s Lane. According to the spokesperson, detectives said there were no signs of forced entry and they believe each case was a “crime of opportunity” that occurred where doors had been left unlocked. Detectives have been in contact with homeowners, Grand Harbor’s security team and the country-club community’s Safety Board. They have encouraged residents to lock their doors, even if leaving the premises for a short period of time, and report any suspicious activity they see during their daily routines. READ FULL STORY