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Does Sebastian Inlet District owe us millions for sand?
week of May 16, 2024

Longtime island resident Bob Bruce, a retired software engineer and entrepreneur and well-known environmental advocate, says the Sebastian Inlet District owes Indian River County taxpayers $40 million. Bruce previously won a lawsuit against the Inlet District and received compensation for the loss of natural “drift sand” that the Inlet blocked from reaching his oceanfront property, and he has solid documentation to back his current contention. But James Gray, executive director of the Sebastian Inlet District, showed Vero Beach 32963 data he says demonstrates the district is in compliance with the state law that requires it to place sand on 2 miles of beach immediately south of the inlet. He doesn’t dispute Bruce’s basic facts about how much sand the Inlet District has put on the beach, but contends that additional sand placed on that stretch by the county in cooperation with the district satisfies the intent of the statute. The matter has become a hot topic because the memorandum of understanding about sand between Indian River County and the Inlet District expired in April and needs to be renewed. READ FULL STORY


Peter leaving top spot at Vero hospital
week of May 16, 2024

Dr. David Peter, vice president and chief medical officer at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital, has resigned from what for the past year and a half has been the top position here, serving out his final day this past Friday. “Due to some personal reasons within my family, it’s important that I spend significant time in Northeast Ohio close to family, friends, kids and grandkids,” Dr. Peter told Vero Beach 32963. “What the next thing looks like is going to be determined, but at this point it does look like it would be something with Cleveland Clinic.” Dr. Peter joined Vero Beach’s largest hospital as chief medical officer in 2019, a month after Cleveland Clinic took over operation of the hospital and just before the onset of COVID-19. In 2022, when the hospital’s president, Dr. Greg Rosencrance, left for a position in West Virginia, Dr. Peter was first named to replace him as “interim president,” and then given the top job permanently with the title vice president and chief medical officer. His leadership role during his five years here included the administration and management of hospital programs and initiatives, spearheading quality improvement projects in hospital and outpatient settings, and strategically driving the growth of service lines and hospital development. READ FULL STORY


2 on Vero council cite big projects in seeking re-election
week of May 16, 2024

Three Vero Beach City Council seats will be on the November ballot, but only two incumbents plan to run for re-election. Vice Mayor Linda Moore and Councilman John Carroll both said they will seek second terms, and that they hope to stay on the council for essentially the same reason. They want to make sure Vero’s five major projects – development of the Three Corners site, construction of a water reclamation facility, expansion of the municipal marina, relocation of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and creation of a master plan for the revitalization of Vero Beach’s downtown – progress on schedule. First-term Councilwoman Tracey Zudans, however, announced in September that she would not run for re-election and, instead, will challenge former Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss for her District 5 seat on the County Commission. As of Monday, with the election less than six months away, no one had filed the necessary paperwork to run for City Council. Carroll and Moore said they had not heard of any likely challengers, or even a candidate for Zudans’ seat on the council. “I keep asking: Is anyone else going to run?” Moore said. “There are three seats up for grabs, and with Tracey running for the County Commission, somebody’s got to step up.” READ FULL STORY


County eyes new tack in ridding lagoon of derelict boats
week of May 16, 2024

Beleaguered by the time, cost and red tape of removing derelict boats from the Indian River Lagoon, the County Commission aims to create Anchoring Limitation Areas in an effort to protect the waterway from unsightly and potentially hazardous abandoned vessels. The Anchoring Limitation Areas or ALAs would span the three local municipalities that abut the lagoon – Vero Beach, Sebastian and Indian River Shores – since the 11 boats currently abandoned in the waterway are a problem across municipal borders. Two options were presented at last Tuesday’s county meeting: one that placed more responsibility and cost on the county, and one that put more of the burden on the municipalities. County officials opted on a 4-to-1 vote to create a third, compromise plan to evenly share the cost. In the ALA, vessels may anchor for no more than 45 consecutive days in a six-month period, or face citations. Failure to comply may lead to the vessel’s impoundment for 48 hours. Vessels could be declared derelict or a public nuisance after three violations in a 12-month period. Each of the three local municipalities approved ALA areas of varying shapes and sizes, with the City of Sebastian’s proposed areas totaling 291.33 acres, the Town of Indian River Shores totaling 210 acres, and the City of Vero Beach 183.1 acres. READ FULL STORY


On the road again: Marine’s Penney pedals for Aquarium project
week of May 16, 2024

When Marine Bank President Bill Penney pedals 68 miles from Fort Pierce to Port Canaveral on Tuesday, he will not only be celebrating his 68th birthday – he’ll be raising donations for the Brevard Zoo Aquarium and Conservation Center. Nearly $80 million of the $100 million Our Legacy Campaign has been raised so far to build the 14-acre aquarium center, located where the Banana River meets the Indian River Lagoon across from Port Canaveral. Groundbreaking is scheduled for late this year with the opening expected in the second quarter of 2027. Vero Beach residents Sara and David Scaife donated $5 million toward the project last fall. Penney is asking people to donate $68 each – $1 per mile. “I really want to raise awareness of the aquarium project here in Indian River County, where most of my contacts are,” Penney said. “It’s really a neat organization with some great people involved. It’s pretty exciting.” READ FULL STORY


Comeback sign for manatees as fewer died here
week of May 16, 2024

Fewer manatee deaths were reported on the Treasure and Space coasts in 2023, but the species is still threatened. The gentle giants of Florida’s inland waterways made a comeback this past winter, with the number of manatee fatalities cut in half from the level of the last two years. From December 2020 through December 2022, more than 2,000 manatees perished in Florida, roughly 750 in the Indian River Lagoon. This past winter deaths plummeted to 556 statewide. Most manatees that died starved to death during the two-year crisis, but this winter watercraft collisions, red tide and natural disasters caused the bulk of manatee deaths, with only 3 percent starving to death. It is illegal to feed manatees, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission bet on experimental lettuce feeding to replace native seagrass. By February 2023, manatees ate 400,000 pounds of lettuce, costing $250,000. Heaters were even brought in to lure manatees, as the disappearance of Vero’s “Big Blue” and other waterfront power plants left fewer warm havens. Less polluted areas spawned the comeback. READ FULL STORY


Hospital chaos as Steward files for bankruptcy
week of May 9, 2024

Sebastian River Medical Center, Indian River County’s northern hospital and fifth-largest private-sector employer, along with its parent company Steward and 165 other hospitals clinics and physician groups around the country filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday, and the company hurtled into damage-control mode. A memo to doctors with privileges at the hospital read like a slick marketing piece, attempting to paint Monday’s events as a mere housekeeping matter. “This is a voluntary process that allows Steward to address its affairs, debts, and operations in a controlled environment under the protection of the court,” Dr. Michael Callum, executive vice president for physician services for Steward Health Care, emailed physicians at 9:27 a.m. Eastern. “To be clear – all of our hospitals remain open and filing for Chapter 11 does not mean we are reducing our scope of services. This process will have no impact on the quality of care our patients receive.” But will vendors of expensive medical equipment and supplies continue to ship product out to Steward hospitals? Will patients continue to choose Sebastian River Medical Center for their non-emergency, elective and outpatient care? READ FULL STORY


John’s Islanders continue to raise philanthropic bar
week of May 9, 2024

John’s Island residents continue to provide ever-increasing philanthropic support to local charitable organizations, this year granting another record-breaking amount of more than $3.45 million through its two funding groups – the John’s Island Community Service League and the John’s Island Foundation. At the closing luncheon of the Community Service League, which provides grants for general operating expenses and program budgets, President Ellen Kendall announced that they had distributed $1,759,192 in grants and scholarships for the 2023-24 season, an increase of 17 percent over last year. The JI Foundation, which funds capital projects and improvements, has also seen a substantial uptick in funding, providing $1,697,551 to 26 agencies, a 21.5 percent increase over last year. Included in the contributions were $1,056,867 in core grants, $600,000 in McCabe Leadership Grants, and $40,684 in accelerated grants. READ FULL STORY


The boy with big dreams from Castaway Cove becomes Miami architect at front of Tropical Modern movement
week of May 9, 2024

Architect Paul Fischman’s life has revolved between the two wildly divergent sub-tropical cities of Vero Beach and Miami. As a boy in the ’80s, the son of longtime Vero physician Dr. Charles Fischman grew up in sleepy Castaway Cove, dreaming – a lot like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” – of things he would design and build around the world. “I wanted to be an architect my whole life,” Fischman told Vero Beach 32963 during a two-hour conversation. That dream has been lived out in Miami, where over the past two decades Paul Fischman has become a significant player in spread of Tropical Modernism – a style that infuses the purity of classic modern architecture with the intelligence of traditional styles that evolved in hot climates around the world. READ FULL STORY


Vaping ‘epidemic’ among students has school brass on alert
week of May 9, 2024

More than 250 students have been suspended from county public schools since August for vaping nicotine, and another 225 students got caught but were diverted to an in-school prevention program to head-off repeat offenses. That’s nearly four times the number of students disciplined for drug possession, and the majority of the 132 students caught with drugs used an electronic vape cartridge to inhale the psychoactive component of marijuana, THC. The number of kids vaping is way too high, said School Board Chair Teri Barenborg, who recently spent time on high school campuses discussing the topic with students. “We need to do something about it,” she said. “They told me it’s an out-of-control epidemic.” Adding to the problem is easy online vaping products like Elf Bars and Esco Bars being marketed to youth. READ FULL STORY


County wants citizens’ input on possible westward expansion
week of May 9, 2024

County officials want citizens to attend workshops this month about expanding the Urban Service Boundary westward, but the thing most people really want to know is: Who owns all that property that will go up in value if brought into the fold of county services? The current boundary where county water and other amenities stop is located roughly at Interstate 95, except for an area along the State Road 60 corridor and property within the City of Fellsmere. Most of the land west of Interstate 95 is undeveloped. Based on information obtained from the county Property Appraiser’s website, thousands of acres are owned by corporations with varying names but all with the same address in Atlanta. In addition, Epic Estates of Flowermound, Texas, a real estate company that specializes in land banking, owns about 1,300 acres west of Interstate 95 in Vero Beach that could be slated for development. READ FULL STORY


Vote of confidence for police chief boosts morale of Vero force
week of May 9, 2024

Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said the morale of his officers improved noticeably in the days after the City Council unanimously gave him and his 83-member department an emphatic vote of confidence last week. Also helpful, the embattled chief said, was the council’s full endorsement of City Manager Monte Falls’ request to halt any further investigation of the complaints two local businessmen made against Currey’s administration. That the council’s actions were taken during a special-call meeting two Mondays ago – in a chamber packed with Currey’s supporters, more than 30 of them police officers – was another factor that contributed to a rebound in the department’s esprit de corps, the chief said. “Almost automatically, everyone felt better,” Currey said. “We talk about our community support all the time, and we’re both humbled by it and proud to have earned it. But to see it displayed in such an overwhelming way … It absolutely galvanized us.” READ FULL STORY


Clearpath’s Three Corners vision takes a clear lead
week of May 2, 2024

The creation of a waterfront destination on Vero Beach’s mainland moved a step closer to becoming a reality last week, when the city’s Three Corners Selection Committee made the proposal submitted by an Indiana-based development group the early frontrunner in its initial evaluation. In fact, six of the committee’s seven members ranked the $504 million proposal submitted by Clearpath Services as their No. 1 choice among the four the city received in February. “They clearly won the beauty contest,” committee member Jeb Bittner, chairman of the city’s Planning & Zoning Board, said of the Clearpath plan, which he called “very aspirational.” Committee member Rob Bolton, the city’s Water and Sewer Administration director, also was impressed with the proposal submitted by the Bloomington, Indiana, partnership. He said Clearpath “shot for the moon,” but tempered his enthusiasm with a warning that the plan might be too ambitious and need to be scaled back because of permitting issues relating to its proposed changes to the shoreline. READ FULL STORY


Emphatic vote of confidence for Vero police chief
week of May 2, 2024

By the time Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey ended an emotion-filled closing argument during which he twice needed to regain his composure, the courtroom of public opinion had already rendered its verdict. The lengthy standing ovation that followed – the highlight of Monday’s special call meeting in a jam-packed City Council chamber – merely punctuated the moment, making sure everyone on the dais knew what was expected. And the council members gave the public what it wanted, throwing out what the audience decided was a frivolous and politically motivated prosecution, and delivered to its embattled police chief a resounding vote of confidence. In a series of unanimously approved motions, the council backed its chief and his department, endorsed the handling of the matter by City Manager Monte Falls, and terminated any further investigation of the still-unsubstantiated allegations pushed by two local businessmen. “I think we have heard from our community,” Mayor John Cotugno said of the meeting, at which supporters of both Currey and Falls filled the room. READ FULL STORY


Rezoning of island agricultural parcel paves the way for more new residences
week of May 2, 2024

One of the last parcels of agricultural land left on the barrier island was rezoned last week to allow up to three single-family homes per acre, paving the way for a new development on 19.6 acres of former citrus groves just north of the Island Club. The Oak Hammock property at 8510 Jungle Trail does not extend to A1A and is prohibited by county regulations from having its entrance on the Jungle Trail, so construction workers and future residents will have to turn off A1A onto Island Club Manor to reach the new subdivision's entrance. The Board of County Commissioners voted 4 to 1 in favor of the rezoning with Commissioner Laura Moss rejecting the request from Jan Jelmby of Helmet House Construction, Manor Development LLC and John’s Island resident Alan Wilkinson, the property’s owner. Wilkinson formed Manor Development LLC to buy the parcel in 2022 for $4.5 million from Premier Citrus. It is carved into the southern edge of what’s known as the Captain Forster Hammock Preserve, just north of the northern town limits of Indian River Shores. READ FULL STORY


Crab-E-Bills closing, to dismay of seafood catchers and eaters
week of May 2, 2024

Crab-E-Bills is closing June 1. The popular Sebastian seafood market occupies the west side of the old, dilapidated Hurricane Harbor building on Indian River Drive, which has been condemned. The City of Sebastian originally purchased the riverside property in 2009 as part of its Working Waterfront project. Though the structure is considered “historic” by many, a listing on the National Register of Historic Places apparently never was sought. An eatery which occupied the east side of the building was shuttered some time ago, too dangerous to occupy with its underpinning compromised, the wood rotting, making the entire space sad and ghostly. The City Council has now decided to undertake repairs, including a new roof over the entire structure, but a roof cannot be built while the fish market is in operation. Owner Suzy Andrews’ lease with the city expired March 1, and the council in January voted to extend it to June 1 – but no longer. The decision has angered Andrews, the local crabbers, divers and fishermen who supply the seafood sold there, as well as hundreds of loyal customers. READ FULL STORY


All hands not on deck with Bridge Club board’s bid to win more power
week of May 2, 2024

The financially troubled Vero Beach Bridge Club plans to push through a comprehensive reform of its bylaws designed to give its present Board of Governors more power, to limit input from members according to some of its critics, and to make it easier to discipline and even expel members. The Board of Governors will present the proposed bylaw changes at a special general membership meeting called for May 6 at 1 p.m., the same time the club’s regular daily duplicate game is supposed to start, indicating the board expects and is aiming for a brief meeting and a quick up-or-down vote. This past Monday, at a special meeting labeled as “private,” the board gave members an opportunity to ask questions about the proposed bylaw changes and a handful of members showed up to voice their concerns, turning the meeting into, at times, a contentious affair. Asked if anything major will change as a result of the comments made by members, Board President Denis Conlon said, “probably nothing.” READ FULL STORY


Lawnwood only area hospital to see a leap in safety grade
week of May 2, 2024

It’s report card time again for area hospitals and the big winner in this spring’s LeapFrog safety grades is HCA Florida Lawnwood Hospital, Vero’s closest trauma center, which raised its overall grade from a B to an A. Both Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital and Steward Sebastian River Medical Center again earned overall ratings of B for 35 categories of patient safety statistics, and for how much the hospital’s culture promotes practices that improve patient safety. LeapFrog grades are calculated and released twice a year in the spring and fall. For the past two years, Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital has endured much criticism about its grade for what seems like a very simple, almost zero cost practice. In the Fall of 2022 and Spring of 2023 the hospital scored 15 out of 100 points in the Hand Hygiene category. Then last fall that rose to a still-failing grade of 40 out of 100. Hospital leadership publicly promised that grade would improve, but in the grades that came out this week, the score was still a dismal 40. The national mean score for Hand Hygiene is 78.65. READ FULL STORY


VNA completes land purchase near hospital
week of April 25, 2024

The Visiting Nurse Association of the Treasure Coast finally owns the land under its Hospice House building after closing last week on the purchase for $3.8 million of a prime chunk of real estate just east of Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. For decades, VNA had leased the 14.56-acre parcel on 37th Street from the Hospital District. The 12,000-square-foot 12-bed Hospice House, plus 4.2 acres of tropical meditation gardens, and a memorial are situated at the rear or south end of the parcel, while more than half of the land with 37th Street frontage remains vacant. While some may assume that the VNA will give up its rented space at Parc 24 in Vero and build a headquarters on the land, VNA President and CEO Lundy Fields said that’s not a foregone conclusion. “It’s logical to think that eventually we would do that, but we’re not making any plans to do that,” Fields said. “There are a lot of needs in this community, and I want to work with the key community leaders to have a really inclusive engagement with the community to determine the best use of the property.” READ FULL STORY


Estefans’ surprise gets rise out of ‘On Your Feet!’ audience
week of April 25, 2024

Vero Beach patrons who had tickets to last Friday night’s Riverside Theater performance of “On Your Feet!,” the musical about the life and career of Gloria Estefan, got a special treat – at the end of the show, Gloria and Emilio Estefan themselves made a surprise appearance. The Estefans have a home on the barrier island, and own the Costa d’Este Hotel in Central Beach, which had been the main local sponsor of the musical about her life and was well represented in Friday night’s audience with a large contingent of hotel staff, who cheered wildly when she was introduced. Some of the hotel staff in the audience seemed to have an inkling that the Estefans might come out on stage at the end of the show, but the rest of the audience did not. Neither did the cast or the theater ushers, who all erupted in wild applause when the Estefans came out of the wings and were introduced. READ FULL STORY


Tough luck: TSA says it can’t do much if delays postpone night departures here
week of April 25, 2024

When extended weather delays postpone the departures of Breeze Airways’ night flights from Vero Beach Regional Airport, the Transportation Security Administration says it has no choice but to eventually shut down its passenger checkpoint – even if the decision leaves some travelers stranded. “If the airline communicates with us, we can keep the checkpoint open beyond our normal hours,” TSA regional spokesman Mark Howell said last week. “But if the delay stretches on and on, at some point we’ve got to close. We don’t want to strand people, but there are limits to how long we can go,” he added. “We just don’t have the same flexibility with our manpower at smaller airports, so we’d have to pay the officers overtime to keep them there. It comes down to taxpayer dollars.” READ FULL STORY


Dog owners, beware: Poisonous cane toads invade island
week of April 25, 2024

An unusually mild winter has caused another explosion of poisonous cane toads here, prompting warnings to pet owners to keep their dogs inside or on a leash. “Cane toad venom can kill a small dog in about 5 minutes if proper treatment is not administered immediately,” says Jeannine Tilford, the CEO of Toadbusters, Inc., the company that she founded in the Palm Beaches area in 2015 that now covers most of Florida. The toads are an invasive species, which are about twice as big as the normal, harmless toads native to coastal Florida, and can be distinguished from them because they do not have ridges on their heads. They were apparently imported into Florida in the 1930s by the sugar industry to control other insects harmful to sugar cane. READ FULL STORY


Marine science students from St. Ed’s get immersed in lagoon-health project
week of April 25, 2024

Marine science students from Saint Edward’s School spent class time last week investing in the health of the Indian River Lagoon, carrying and installing heavy reef material into the water at Riverside Park on Vero’s barrier island. The outing included juniors and seniors from Brandy Nelson’s Marine Science class who assisted the Ocean Research and Conservation Association’s efforts to protect the shoreline, improve water quality, and provide a vital oyster habitat. Hundreds of 50-pound oyster reef balls were placed in grids of eight just off the shore. About a dozen students carried some of the heavy reef material and placed it in grids before returning to school. Missy Weiss, ORCA’s director of citizen science and education, remained in the water and guided the students as they placed the structures in the grid. Every oyster the spherical reef attracts can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. READ FULL STORY


Master’s Academy new head of school targets enrollment hike
week of April 25, 2024

Master’s Academy has a new Head of School, Dr. Rick Brewer, an educator with a long history in higher education and a vision of doubling the Vero Beach private school’s enrollment over the next five years. Brewer comes to Master’s after nine years as president and CEO of Louisiana Christian University, and 37 years of experience in Christian higher education. He will be the third Head of School in the academy’s 26-year history. “I love the mission, the vision and the core values,” Brewer said. “We’re about faith, family, freedom and football.” Master’s Academy was founded in 1998 with a class of 14 kindergarten students. Under the leadership of Dr. Grant Powell, the school gradually expanded its elementary, middle and high school course offerings and graduated its first senior class in 2009. There are currently 305 students at the preschool through 12th- grade campus, with more than 320 expected to attend in the fall. READ FULL STORY


Another prime buy rewards Land Trust’s patience
week of April 18, 2024

When the Indian River Land Trust snagged a prime, 48-acre, lagoon-front parcel near the Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail in Wabasso in late March, it was the culmination of a 15-year effort and an illustration of the nonprofit’s land-acquisition philosophy. “We take the long view,” Land Trust executive director Ken Grudens told Vero Beach 32963 last week. “We are here for the duration, and we know how to bide our time.” The purchase also takes the Land Trust back to the origin of its land purchases along the Indian River Lagoon, which now amount to more than 1,200 acres and 12 miles of lagoon shoreline, from Sebastian to the St. Lucie County line. “Our very first purchase way back in 2009 was a 1.6-acre piece that now is the parking lot and trailhead of the Toni Robinson Waterfront Trail in Wabasso,” Grudens said. “At that time, we identified the land we just closed on as highest priority for purchase to help protect the lagoon and preserve the county’s natural environment.” READ FULL STORY


Hospital is sued by kin of patient killed by deputies
week of April 18, 2024

The grandmother of Zachary Taylor Anderson, the 29-year-old Sebastian computer engineer who was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies two years ago while awaiting treatment for a mental breakdown in the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital Emergency Department, has sued the hospital for wrongful death and gross negligence. Arlene Anderson, 89, of Sebastian filed suit on March 26, claiming the hospital failed to restrain her grandson and keep him safe. Records show Zachary Anderson was left unattended in a hallway, that he grabbed scissors and acted erratically, putting himself and others in harm’s way. According to Sheriff Eric Flowers and court records, Anderson, had been brought to the Emergency Department by his aunt Ellen Fulks of Sebastian earlier that day for a mental health evaluation. Fulks said Anderson had attempted to hang himself and had multiple cuts to his body, so she drove him to the hospital, which has an adjacent behavioral health unit. READ FULL STORY


Thornton far ahead in sheriff’s race fundraising
week of April 18, 2024

Campaign contributions aren’t always an accurate barometer for measuring community support, but the latest financial reports submitted by the three candidates running for sheriff in the Republican primary are telling. And here’s what they’re saying: Sheriff’s Captain Milo Thornton is the apparent frontrunner, having raised twice as much money as the other two candidates combined. Sheriff Eric Flowers, who currently sits third in the fundraising derby behind both Thornton and Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry, seems to be struggling in his quest for a second term. As of the candidates’ April 10 filing, Thornton’s campaign had raised a whopping $306,900, which is considerably more than the $234,445 Flowers spent during his COVID-impacted race in 2020. In addition, Thornton has received $8,947 in in-kind contributions. Add to that $80,000 in donations to a “Friends of Milo Thornton” political action committee, and Thornton has a war chest of nearly $400,000 to fund his bid to unseat his boss. READ FULL STORY


Golf carts can now putter around more Vero streets
week of April 18, 2024

For decades, a Vero Beach ordinance allowed local golf cart owners to drive on city streets only in the Riomar Country Club area on the island. Now, golf carts also may be driven on city streets in the Vero Beach Country Club area. The City Council voted unanimously last week to expand golf-cart access roads to that mainland neighborhood while updating its ordinance to comply with a new Florida statute that went into effect in October. In amending the ordinance at its April 9 meeting, the council also approved the use of low speed vehicles (LSVs) – which are similar to golf carts, but can travel at slightly higher speeds – on the 8-foot-wide sidewalk that runs along State Road A1A and connects the Village Beach Market to the pedestrian crossing at Jaycee Beach Park. The city plans to install the appropriate signage on the sidewalk and in the Vero Beach Country Club area, as well as post a summary of the changes on its covb.org website. READ FULL STORY


All (dollar) signs point to winter tourist season finishing strong
week of April 18, 2024

For Vero Beach’s barrier island, the 2024 winter tourist season appears to be finishing strong, according to local hoteliers and restaurateurs. A couple of early spring storms in late March and early April dumped up to a foot of snow across the Great Lakes region. For the sunny 32963 ZIP code, that meant packed restaurants and hotels, and beaches buzzing with sun worshipers, as the average daily temperatures hovered in the mid- to high-70s. “This year has been, by far, my busiest season in 14 years,” said Scott Varricchio, the owner and chef at Citrus restaurant on Easter Lily Lane. “Spring break is pretty much over right now, but our season usually lasts through Mother’s Day. So, we have a lot of people still here because the weather is nasty up north.” Heading up Ocean Drive, Lee Olsen, general manager of the Driftwood Resort and Waldo’s Restaurant, said room rentals were “down a little bit, but the timeshare usage is up. “Some of these owners have been owners for decades and it’s sort of like their retirement home,” he said. “This year we’ve been seeing the next generations – their children and grandchildren – coming. It’s a different kind of vibe, more like a summertime crowd with lots of children and families.” READ FULL STORY


County eyes ‘impactful’ change with opioid class-action settlement funds
week of April 18, 2024

Indian River County is revamping the way millions in proceeds from two opioid class-action settlements are distributed and used each year until the flow of money ends in 2039. In its role as lead agency, the Substance Awareness Center of Indian River County is tasked with turning the funds into services to fight opioid abuse in the community. The agency is conducting a needs assessment, including focus groups and interviews with, so far, 110 people, including drug-treatment professionals and people who have dealt with opioid addiction in their families. “This is an opportunity for us to create a system of impactful and lasting change,” said Carrie Maynard-Lester, Substance Awareness Center executive director. The Florida Attorney General’s Office handled the class action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors and retail pharmacies “claiming they knew or should have known” about the dangers of opioid addiction. Indian River County opted into the suit in June 2021, making it eligible for annual payouts from both the retailer and manufacturer settlements. So far, $139,000 from the retailer settlement has gone to the 19th Judicial Circuit Alternative Court Program (Drug Court) for assessment, treatment, testing and services for cases diverted from criminal court to drug court. READ FULL STORY


County eager to buy and preserve choice properties
week of April 11, 2024

If you know of a beautiful, undeveloped piece of property in your neighborhood – or anywhere else in Indian River County – that you would like to see preserved for future generations, give the county a call. Actually, you have to fill out a brief form online, not call, but the opportunity is wide open for individuals and organizations to nominate ecologically valuable parcels for preservation. “We are looking everywhere,” said District 3 County Commissioner Joe Earman, a third-generation county resident. “We are looking along the lagoon, out west near the Florida Wildlife Corridor and in neighborhoods, where there might be a special piece of land that has not been developed.” It's all part of a campaign to “acquire and permanently preserve environmentally significant lands to restore the Indian River Lagoon, protect water resources, natural areas, wildlife habitat [and] drinking water resources.” A $50-million environmental lands bond issue for that purpose was overwhelmingly approved by voters in November 2022. READ FULL STORY


No ‘bye-byes’ at Vero airport after TSA says ‘nighty-night’
week of April 11, 2024

Over the past couple of weeks, several Breeze Airways passengers – particularly those who’ve endured weather-related delays while ticketed to travel on night flights from Vero Beach to Providence, Rhode Island – have learned a frustrating lesson: The Transportation Security Administration’s security check at Vero Beach Regional Airport does not stay open very late. That doesn’t happen at most major-market airports, where TSA security checkpoints are open 24 hours a day. Here, though, the city’s small airport serves only one airline that offers limited service to only a few destinations in the Northeast. And when the departures of night flights are delayed, the TSA agents don’t wait around. They shut down their operations and lock the door, usually at 9 p.m. If would-be passengers arrive at 9:05 p.m., they will not be allowed to board their flights, even if they’re holding boarding passes. And if those passengers somehow find a way through the terminal and get to the boarding ramp, they will be stopped. READ FULL STORY


Widow of longtime Veroite sues doctor, Sebastian River hospital for malpractice
week of April 11, 2024

The widow of a deceased Vero yacht builder and renowned sailor has sued Sebastian River Medical Center and one of the area’s longtime top general surgeons for malpractice. On March 27, Susan Lynn Seadon filed a suit in Circuit Court against the hospital and surgeon Theodore G. Perry, claiming that the handling of complications from gallbladder surgery caused the death of her husband, 76-year-old Jacques Mertens-Goossen. The suit alleges that beyond bungling the surgery, Perry went on vacation shortly afterward and no other physician was available for follow-up. Perry, for years a top surgeon at Indian River Medical Center before leaving the hospital in 2020 following its purchase by Cleveland Clinic, told Vero Beach 32963 he had not yet been served, and added: “I am unable to comment on the specifics of the suit at this time. “But I can say that we have more than adequate coverage whenever I leave town,” Perry said. “There was a surgeon on call at that time.” READ FULL STORY


Wing and a prayer as neighbors band together, save baby hawk
week of April 11, 2024

A Roseland neighborhood in northern Indian River County was on the edge of its collective seat for about a month following the drama of nursing an injured baby red-shouldered hawk back to life. Thanks to the combined efforts of a group of neighbors and volunteers, it looks like the rescue operation was least partly successful. After diligent care by its parents, the neighbors and an animal hospital in nearby Melbourne, the one surviving chick from a hawk’s nest has now left its “crib,” presumably to survive on its own. The love affair between the neighborhood and the hawks that had lasted for several weeks cooled a bit at the end when the baby hawk’s parents aggressively defended their nest, buzzing and then physically attacking passersby who came too close. Two residents suffered minor scalp wounds from hawk attacks when sharp talons scraped their heads. But before the chick’s parents turned a little nasty, it was fun while it lasted. READ FULL STORY


Delayed school start times will come at a price
week of April 11, 2024

Though new state mandates for school start times don’t take effect until 2026, the School District of Indian River County is already planning how to rearrange bus transportation and after-school activities so teenagers can get more morning shut-eye. The bill states middle school must begin no earlier than 8 a.m. and high school not before 8:30 a.m. That means the first bell at the county’s public high schools will ring 85 minutes later than the current start time. This modification will bring substantial costs to the local district, and will require substantial coordination. “It is a major change in what has been our start time for as long as anyone can remember,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Moore. Seemingly counter to the overall goal of the new law, some sports practice times may need to take place before school to save on lighting and a shortage of fields because of the late start. “We do not want students to be at practice till nine-thirty, ten o’clock (at night)” Moore said. READ FULL STORY


2 vendors finally paid after Sebastian River hospital defaults
week of April 11, 2024

Sebastian River Medical Center recently lost two civil lawsuits by default, the court awarding more than $92,000 to a prepared food vendor and landscaping company to cover unpaid invoices dating back to June 2022. In January, Vero Beach 32963 reported that the 145-bed hospital was six months in arrears on its county water and sewer utility bills, but the county was not the only supplier waiting to get paid. According to Indian River County Circuit Court documents, Steward Sebastian River Medical Center, Inc., failed to pay 47 invoices totaling $42,730 for food from Fresh Provisions, Inc., a Sarasota company that provides pre-packaged meals and snacks to hospitals and other institutional customers in Florida and Georgia. A complaint filed with the court on Feb. 15 detailed unpaid invoices dating from Sept. 1 to Oct. 21 of last year. READ FULL STORY


Shores looks to renegotiate utility terms
week of April 4, 2024

The Town of Indian River Shores wants to renegotiate its water-sewer franchise terms with the City of Vero Beach in an effort to salvage the nearly half-century-old business relationship between the city and the town. Whether Vero will agree to renegotiate, or whether more litigation lies ahead, remains to be seen. Vero had not responded to the Shores’ March 29 letter as of press time, as most local government functions shut down for the three-day Easter holiday weekend. In October 2012, Indian River Shores executed a 15-year franchise agreement with Vero to replace the old 1987 agreement that was set to expire in 2017. The Shores’ motivation to ink a new deal five years before their old franchise agreement ran its course was Vero’s offer of cheaper rates, as then-Vero City Manager Jim O’Connor offered town customers rates tied to Indian River County Utilities’ rates. Especially enticing was the county’s more affordable rate for reuse irrigation water, which meant Shores residential users, clubs and golf courses would pay about one-third of what they were accustomed to paying to keep the grass and landscaping lush and green. READ FULL STORY


Snowbirds about to race North
week of April 4, 2024

As the annual migration of snowbirds back to their northern homes gets underway, most seasonal Vero Beach residents may not be aware that they will be joined on the journey by a sizable contingent of four-legged colleagues – Standardbred horses who have been trained here during the winter and will now begin their trek to the harness racing tracks in the Northeast where they will compete for fame and fortune. Vero Beach boasts what co-owner Ove Bender immodestly – but probably accurately – describes as “the best training facility in Florida” for Standardbreds, a 64-acre spread at 66th Avenue and 53rd Street known as the Palema Trotting Camp, which the Bender family co-owns with fellow-Swede Ake Svanstedt, who was honored last year as harness racing’s Trainer of the Year at a big ceremony in Orlando. The Benders and the Svanstedts have owned homes on the barrier island, down the street from each other on Live Oak Road in Riomar, for more than a decade. They say they love Vero Beach because its cleanliness reminds them of Sweden, and it’s not overpopulated – another similarity with their native country. READ FULL STORY


Council wants more input on Three Corners
week of April 4, 2024

That well-thought-out process the Vero Beach City Council created for attracting, evaluating and, ultimately, selecting the developer for the transformational Three Corners project on the mainland’s waterfront? Now, there’s a new plan. The council members voted unanimously last week to amend the process, deciding to not rely solely on the city’s carefully chosen, seven-person Three Corners Selection Committee to meet with and interview the four developers who submitted proposals. They want to meet with the developers, too. So on May 21 – a week after the developers each make their presentation to the Selection Committee during one-at-a-time interviews – they’ll need to return to Vero Beach to answer questions from the council members. READ FULL STORY


Mindful of turtles, dune replenishment plows ahead
week of April 4, 2024

The dune replenishment effort along a 6.6-mile stretch of the barrier island from Treasure Shores Beach Park to John’s Island is forging carefully forward with “extensive sea turtle monitoring efforts” in place, but the project could push right up against its April 30 permit deadline. Last week, trucks filled with sand lined up on A1A waiting their turn to dump sand. The project is permitted through April 30, and the contractor is authorized to place approximately 275,000 cubic yards of sand and install 750,000 dune plants through that date. Sea turtle nesting season for Leatherback turtles began on March 1, but based on nesting time graphs from previous years, project completion should take place well before peak time. According to Indian River County Acting Natural Resources Director Eric Charest, approximately half of the project – deemed Sector 3 by the county’s beach management plan – has already received dune plants. Dune planting takes place as the contractor finishes placing sand on stretches of dune. READ FULL STORY


‘Proud moment’: Grand Harbor’s beach club renovation caps 3-year, $15M transformation
week of April 4, 2024

Three years and three months after taking over ownership of a Grand Harbor Club “that had fallen into disrepair,” members marked a milestone in the club’s remarkable renaissance last Tuesday with the debut of their newly renovated island beach club. Some 300 people showed up on a bright, breezy seaside day to celebrate completion of the $6-million renovation, which was done in three phases so the facility could remain open throughout the process. The beach club remodel was part of a larger, $15-million undertaking aimed at returning the club to its former glory. That effort included revamping both of Grand Harbor’s 18-hole golf courses and its 10 Har-Tru tennis courts, along with innumerable other smaller fixes and refurbishments. READ FULL STORY


Breeze Airways will pause Vero-to-Islip service until October
week of April 4, 2024

Five months ago, when Breeze Airways announced it would begin seasonal service between Vero Beach and Islip, New York, the MacArthur carrier’s co-founder and vice president, Jim Smith, dangled an incentive as enticing as low introductory fares. “If the community supports the flight, as we hope it will,” Smith told a press gathering at Islip’s Long Island Airport in early October, “that service will grow and expand beyond seasonal and beyond two flights per week.” Apparently, however, Breeze officials aren’t yet convinced. Despite saying the public’s response to Breeze’s flights connecting Vero Beach and Islip is “absolutely meeting our expectations,” company spokesman Gareth Edmondson-Jones confirmed last week the airline will pause the service at the end of the month, as planned. “The service is still seasonal for this year,” Edmondson-Jones wrote in an email to Vero Beach 32963, “but it will come back in October, and it could be extended going forward from there.” READ FULL STORY


Vero’s property values continue to creep upward
week of March 28, 2024

After the epic increase in Vero Beach property values during the pandemic, home prices continued upward in 2023 and are still rising today. Home sales prices went up at a much slower pace in 2023 than during the 2020-2022 pandemic housing boom, when many properties doubled in value in a year or two, but the pandemic values have not only held but crept a little higher over the past year. “The market is still strong,” says Indian River County Property Appraiser Wesley Davis, who is in the midst of assessing the value of homes, commercial buildings and land in the county to give local governments an accurate basis for upcoming property tax bills and municipal budgets. “Volume is down, but I am not seeing any retractions in price. “I’m keeping a close eye on properties that sell twice in a couple years, which can tell you a lot. I don’t see things selling for less. Prices appear to be stable or a little higher, which is right in line with what we expected.” READ FULL STORY


Work on long-delayed marina expansion starting at last
week of March 28, 2024

Vero Beach’s oft-delayed marina expansion project is finally ready to move forward. More than five years after it was initially proposed to the City Council – having endured neighborhood opposition that produced a failed referendum and rejected legal challenge – City Manager Monte Falls told council members earlier this month work on the first phase of the planned new docks is scheduled to begin this week and be completed in mid-September. Providing a project update at the council’s March 12 meeting, Falls also said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given its “verbal approval” of the city’s plan to build a new, significantly larger dry-storage facility for boats at the marina. In addition, he said the city has learned from its Tallahassee lobbyist that both the Florida House and Senate’s versions of the state’s proposed 2024-25 budget, which was still awaiting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature last weekend, include a $500,000 appropriation for the marina project. “That’s fantastic news,” Falls said during his update. READ FULL STORY


Interclub team bridge leads to food fight
week of March 28, 2024

Everyone knows there are some serious rivalries among Vero Beach’s private clubs for bragging rights: Which club has the most challenging golf courses; which has the top tennis pros; which has the most talented chefs preparing the most scrumptious dishes? And last but not least, which club has the best bridge players? In the area of bridge, that rivalry has, for the past two decades, been channeled into a friendly competition now known as the Treasure Coast Interclub league, in which nine local clubs field four-player teams to face each other once or twice a month on Saturdays during the season for three-hour matches, with a lunch break at the halfway mark. The nine clubs – John’s Island, Oak Harbor, Grand Harbor, Riomar, the Vero Beach Country Club, The Moorings, Quail Valley, the Vero Beach Yacht Club and Bent Pine – are supposed to take turns hosting the Saturday event. READ FULL STORY


Owners juiced about plans for craft brewery in old packing house
week of March 28, 2024

Vero Beach soon will have a third major craft brewery and taproom on the scale of American Icon and Walking Tree breweries, all three in impressive vintage industrial buildings deeply tied to the city’s history. “We are hoping to open on Labor Day, which will be the 10th anniversary of when we opened on the island,” said Alden Bing, a banker and entrepreneur who with his wife Valerie Bing founded Orchid Island Brewery in 2011. “That is when the incorporation papers were signed,” Bing added. “After two and a half years of preparation, we opened the taproom and brewery at Portales de Vero in 2014 – which was the first microbrewery in Indian River County.” The business was an island favorite for six years, up until the advent of COVID-19. In 2020, the Bings made the difficult decision to close their island location when Gov. Ron DeSantis shut down businesses statewide. “It was incredibly stressful,” Bing told Vero Beach 32963 on Monday. “All at once, it was suddenly illegal to sell beer across the bar, which was about 95 percent of our business.” READ FULL STORY


$40M Nopetro plant here will turn landfill gas into renewable natural gas
week of March 28, 2024

The Treasure Coast’s first attempt at turning byproduct landfill gas into renewable natural gas is getting underway in western Indian River County with the scheduled groundbreaking on a $40 million Nopetro Energy plant this week. The landfill-to-gas-renewable natural gas (RNG) production facility is a public-private partnership of Miami-based Nopetro Energy and the Indian River County Solid Waste Disposal District. Scheduled to become operational in early 2025, the project will create 40 new construction jobs, plus more opportunities in plant operations. The Nopetro-financed plant will initially produce 3 million gallons of RNG a year, displacing 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to eliminating emissions from 4,300 passenger cars. The natural gas will be used in homes, fleets and other applications, with the landfill byproduct expected to supply 80 percent of Indian River County’s annual natural gas demand. In exchange for capturing and converting landfill gas into RNG, Indian River County hopes to generate $200,000 to $400,000 in annual revenue – plus renewable energy credits. READ FULL STORY


Appetite seen here for ‘Classical model’ magnet school
week of March 28, 2024

In an effort to boost declining enrollment, Indian River could become the second county in Florida to open a public magnet school based upon an increasingly popular Classical Learning Model featuring a curriculum rooted in the Classical Greek and Roman traditions of art, literature, science and language. The classical model employs a back-to-the-basics approach which could appeal to parents who feel public education has ventured far afield from teaching foundational knowledge in reading, writing, arithmetic and the natural sciences. Since the 2018-2019 school year, despite an overall 11 percent growth in Indian River County population adding nearly 18,000 people, the school district’s enrollment declined by 850 pupils, equating to a loss of $1.6 million in funding. Yet, as the total number of students declined, applications to the district’s three magnet schools increased. “There is an appetite for a fourth magnet school,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Moore said at a February workshop. READ FULL STORY


School Board hopeful Dyer draws impressive crowd at fundraiser
week of March 28, 2024

School Board candidate David Dyer attracted a large crowd to his first campaign fundraising event last week at the Quail Valley River Club, where the retired retail executive presented compelling reasons for seeking election to the District 5 seat and his qualifications for the job. He also provided a rousing endorsement of School Board incumbent Peggy Jones, citing her decades of experience in public education and staunch support of Superintendent David Moore’s leadership, which in four years has produced a district that recently received an “A” grade from the state and achieved a 96-percent graduation rate that ranks No. 3 in Florida. “She deserves to be re-elected,” Dyer said of Jones, a former Sebastian River High School principal who was voted onto the board in 2020 and announced last summer she was running for a second term. Jones welcomed Dyer’s kind words, saying she was “simply honored” to receive his public backing in her District 2 race against political newcomer Rob MacCallum, who owns a local real-estate agency. READ FULL STORY


Couple narrowly avoids property scam on island
week of March 21, 2024

How would you feel if you owned a piece of property on the Vero island, were moving ahead with plans to build your dream retirement home, then found scammers were trying to sell your lot out from under you at a bargain price? “The main feeling was disbelief,” said Rhode Island resident Craig Kaspark. Thanks to a suspicious real estate agent and watchful South Beach neighbors, the scam was thwarted before any financial damage was done, but other similar scams have succeeded here. “It’s scary. It really is,” said Indian River County Property Appraiser Wesley Davis, whose office keeps a list of notaries involved in property fraud and who has “a life-long family friend” who was scammed when they bought a lot from a fraudster posing as the owner of the land. “It is really bad,” added Gigi Williams, a deputy property appraiser in Davis’s office who reviews documents related to real estate transactions. “I have a thick file of attempts targeting people who live out of state or out of country, trying to steal their property.” READ FULL STORY


Orchid Island course to host prestigious U.S. Open qualifier
week of March 21, 2024

Fresh off a $3.5 million renovation of its Arnold Palmer-designed golf course – the most significant revamp since it was built in 1990 – the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club will host a U.S. Open local qualifying tournament on May 13. The qualifiers who advance from the 84-player field here will go on to compete in final qualifying events on May 20 and June 3, when they’ll vie for berths in the 124th U.S. Open, scheduled for Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in North Carolina June 10-16. “We are thrilled to again host U.S. Open hopefuls on our Palmer course, and we’re confident the players will find the newly refreshed course to be challenging but fair,” Orchid Island General Manager Rob Tench said last week. “The course not only offers ideal conditions, but it’s also a tranquil and beautiful setting.” The most-recent refurbishing of the Orchid Island course – a Certified Audubon Sanctuary nestled between the Indian River Lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean – began last summer and was unveiled to the club’s members in November. READ FULL STORY


Skyborne/Piper partnership hits new heights with $8M deal
week of March 21, 2024

Two of Vero Beach Regional Airport’s most recognized tenants seem to enjoy working together – and, it appears, for the betterment of both. Skyborne Airline Academy recently signed an $8 million contract to purchase 20 new Pilot 100i trainer airplanes from Piper Aircraft as the United Kingdom-based flight school again expands its fleet on its campus here. According to a joint announcement, Piper is scheduled to deliver the additional aircraft to Skyborne throughout this year and beyond. The purchase follows an initial order of 11 new Pilot 100i aircraft, which were delivered in November as part of a multi-year agreement between the companies. “Our top priority is to provide industry-leading equipment to support students through their pilot training,” said Dan Peterson, managing director of Skyborne’s Vero Beach operations. “By expanding our Pilot 100i order, we’re investing in aircraft we trust to be safe, professional and reliable as we grow for the future.” READ FULL STORY


New county official Bunt settles in
week of March 21, 2024

Nancy Bunt started her new position as Assistant County Administrator in Indian River County on Monday. A veteran public servant and long-time Floridian, Bunt, 56, worked together with County Administrator John Titkanich for 15 years at the City of Cocoa. In Vero, she will oversee the Natural Resources, Planning and Development, Public Works, and Utility Services departments. “I’m really looking forward to working in Indian River County,” Bunt said. “I think there will be a lot of positive changes and improvements.” Bunt’s hiring is part of a plan to add two top leadership positions in Titkanich’s office – Bunt’s and an Ombudsman who will work with her and Indian River County residents navigating the development plan review process. The two positions were budgeted for the current year which began Oct. 1. Bunt left the City of Palm Bay to accept the position, which pays an annual salary of $170,000, plus benefits. Bunt comes to Indian River County with 28 years of local government experience with specialties like capital planning, public infrastructure, planning and development, and grant administration. READ FULL STORY


Three Corners: The Battle Is On
An Ideal Developer

week of March 14, 2024

With four proposals on the table for Vero’s Three Corners riverfront redevelopment project, stakeholders are going to be divided about which plan is best. But one thing is sure – if you created the ideal Three Corners developer from scratch, it would be difficult to come up with one more well suited to tackle the project and successfully see it through than barrier island resident Donald Urgo. From a deep-seated love of Vero Beach that began before he started elementary school, to a 50-plus-year career developing and operating major hotel and mixed-use projects around the world to the stellar development team and rock-solid financial backing he has assembled, Urgo pretty much has it all. His $172-million Vista Blue Vero Beach Resort and Spa would repurpose the great hall of Vero’s shuttered power plant as a three-level, multipurpose entertainment, exhibition and hospitality venue designed by a powerplant reuse specialty firm and featuring extensive rooftop sports activities. It would include a 225-room, 4-star resort hotel loaded with amenities attached to the great hall, three free-standing restaurants, numerous shops and a robust marina with slips for permanent moorings, day-use visitors and mega-yachts up to 150 feet, which Urgo said will bring visual excitement and a sense of scale to the project. READ FULL STORY


Realtors steer bid to beautify Ocean Drive
week of March 14, 2024

Top island real estate professionals have banded together with shop owners and others to spruce up a six-block stretch of Ocean Drive, from Acacia Lane to Flamevine. Cindy O’Dare, Matilde and Elizabeth Sorensen, Cathy Curley and Christine Barry are among those supporting the grassroots initiative to install flowerbeds and solar-powered lamp posts with hanging baskets of flowers along the island’s most prominent street to make Central Beach more garden-like and picturesque. O’Dare, a co-founder of the nonprofit behind the effort, said the group was inspired by similar civic beautification committees in Winter Park, Florida, and Telluride, Colorado, where abundant flowers have made downtown areas more pleasant for residents and more appealing to visitors. “People think the city should do this work, but they don’t have the money,” O’Dare said. “When you see hanging baskets of flowers in a pretty town or park somewhere, it usually is the work of a volunteer group like ours.” “Things got started when [business owners] Jordan Wakeland and Deana Marchant were talking about the beautiful flowers in New York’s Central Park and along Park Avenue,” O’Dare continued. READ FULL STORY


Hospital orderly’s bizarre behavior leads to arrest on gun charges
week of March 14, 2024

A 54-year-old Vero hospital orderly is out on $15,000 bond, after police seized two Glock handguns, more than a dozen loaded magazines plus boxes of ammunition he had brought in a military-style knapsack to his job in the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital Emergency Department. Christopher Robert Webb, who lives with his parents in the Grovenor Estates subdivision in southwest Vero, might never have drawn the attention of the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office had he not adopted the habit of walking the streets of the upscale neighborhood totally in the buff. On Feb. 16, neighbors called police to report a naked jaunt, but no one had photographic evidence, and Webb denied the act. After a two-week investigation, deputies had the evidence they needed to serve an arrest warrant for indecent exposure on Webb at Cleveland Clinic, where he’d worked for the past nine and a half years. Webb was handcuffed and placed in the squad car without incident, but he was carrying a pocket knife which he failed to disclose, and a search of his knapsack revealed the weapons. Webb’s misdemeanor sex charge then turned into a felony offense for bringing the guns into the hospital. READ FULL STORY


Barefoot kept in limbo on his School Board status
week of March 14, 2024

As the week began, Brian Barefoot’s status as a School Board member was still in limbo. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” Barefoot said, referring to the Gov. Ron DeSantis’ failure to acknowledge his resignation from the board last month or his next-day letter rescinding that action. Barefoot said he planned to send DeSantis a second email early this week and follow up with a certified letter, requesting a receipt to verify the delivery was made. He said both correspondences would inform DeSantis that, barring a response from the Governor’s Office this week, he would reclaim his seat on the dais next Monday, when the board is scheduled to conduct its next workshop and business meeting. “I’ll try again to reach him, but I don’t know why it’s taking so long for him to respond,” Barefoot said. “I made an honest mistake while trying to do the right thing and, once I realized it was a mistake, I immediately tried to correct it. “This ought to be a no-brainer.” Barefoot, the 80-year-old former Indian River Shores mayor, submitted his resignation from the School Board on Feb. 28, believing he was required to do so because he had sold his John’s Island home and moved to Oak Harbor on the mainland. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach real estate market bucks statewide trend
week of March 14, 2024

While the rest of the state of Florida may be seeing a surge of “desperate sellers” trying to get out of their properties at any price because of rising insurance costs, the Vero Beach real estate market seems to be holding up rather well as prices show no sign of plummeting. In its latest issue, Newsweek magazine said Florida now has proportionally the largest number of “motivated sellers” in the country. Motivated sellers are defined as owners of real estate, single-family homes or condominium units, who are willing to substantially lower the asking price for their properties, sometimes by as much as 25 percent, to get out of the property. The motivation in recent years has often been crushing hikes in homeowners’ insurance rates, which property owners either pay directly, or in the form of special assessments and/or increased Home Owners Association (HOA) maintenance fees for condo owners. In addition to the direct increases in insurance rates, homeowners have also often been forced to swallow additional costs for home improvements, such as a new roof or new, as a pre-condition for being able to get any insurance at all. READ FULL STORY


Some islanders critical of A1A ‘improvements’
week of March 7, 2024

After a year-and-a-half of what seems to have been slow-paced road work and the expenditure of $5.6 million, the so-called “roadway improvements project” on the stretch of State Road A1A between Beachland Boulevard and the 17th Street causeway is nearing completion. But is the island’s main drive better, or safer? Some residents are still not convinced the project represents any improvement at all, and even argue that, at certain locations, that stretch of A1A is even more dangerous now for motorists and pedestrians alike. The project is at present “90 percent completed,” says Florida Department of Transportation District Four spokesperson Melissa Simons. She added that a contractor is now adding the “final friction course asphalt,” a job that must be coordinated with similar work by the same contractor at the intersection of U.S. 1 and 8th Street. “Once the milling and resurfacing work is completed,” Simons said, “there is a two-week curing period before the contractor will install thermoplastic pavement markings throughout the project limits.” All of which means that the last of the orange barrels should be picked up and the two seemingly abandoned port-a-potties across from the Quail Valley River Club grounds should finally be removed by May of this year. READ FULL STORY


CDC downgrades Covid to common respiratory illness
week of March 7, 2024

Just a few months ago, as public health officials pushed for Americans to line up for a newly formulated COVID-19 vaccine, the message was dire – hospitalizations were supposedly on the rise, and the nation was headed for a seasonal “tripledemic” of COVID, Influenza and Respiratory Syncytial Virus. Last week, the same health experts told people to treat COVID just like any other viral respiratory crud. No longer must people who test positive for COVID-19 isolate for five days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The new guidance brings a unified approach to addressing risks from a range of common respiratory viral illnesses, such as COVID-19, flu, and RSV, which can cause significant health impacts and strain on hospitals and health care workers. CDC is making updates to the recommendations now because the U.S. is seeing far fewer hospitalizations and deaths associated with COVID-19 and because we have more tools than ever to combat flu, COVID, and RSV,” the new guidance said. When the new CDC director warned of a new rash of COVID hospitalizations, she provided no data to back that up, and no credible evidence was present in official hospitalization statistics. In fact, the numbers being published by the CDC each week bore no resemblance to actual hospitalizations happening in Indian River County. READ FULL STORY


Coordinated effort launched to provide shelter, resources for homeless children
week of March 7, 2024

Nearly 500 local school kids are homeless, and officials, nonprofits, and concerned members of the community want to ensure students and their families know what’s available to assist them in the short- and long-term. During the February Superintendent’s Workshop, School Board Chair Teri Barenborg raised the issue upon learning that roughly 3 percent of the district’s students are homeless. After seeing a mother and young child asking for help on the streets of Vero Beach, Barenborg proposed a more coordinated approach to assist homeless students through the school district and other agencies. “If you have a child, we want you in a home. One (homeless) child is way too high,” Barenborg said. Ten percent of the homeless students live in shelters, 10 percent in motels, 78 percent double up with other families, and 2 percent have no shelter. Of the 491 currently homeless students, 67 attend Vero Beach High School and 34 attend Sebastian River High School. At the middle school level, 46 attend Oslo Middle School and 43 attend Gifford Middle School. At the elementary level, 42 attend Dodgertown Elementary, 37 attend Citrus Elementary and 33 homeless students attend Vero Beach Elementary. READ FULL STORY


Listing of unique riverfront property latest feather in Vero’s cap
week of March 7, 2024

Vero Beach just achieved another major real estate distinction with the listing of by far the largest riverfront residential property for sale on the east coast of Florida. The classic Mediterranean-style home at 2380 Old Quay Dock Road, which sits on 42 manicured acres on the western shore of the Indian River Lagoon, directly across from John’s Island, is one of only five comparable waterfront properties on the entire eastern seaboard of the United States, according to Premier Estate Properties agent Melissa Talley. “We did some research before Kay and I listed the home and discovered there are only four other residential properties with 30 to 100 acres on the market that are located directly on the Intracoastal Waterway or ocean coastline,” said Talley, who is co-listing the property with her partner, long-time broker associate Kay Brown. With a listing price of $17 million, 2380 Quay Dock Road is the highest-priced mainland residential property in Indian River County at present and probably the most expensive ever. READ FULL STORY


Eateries: Increase two-hour parking limit on Ocean Dr.
week of March 7, 2024

If it’s high season in Vero Beach, you can bet the City Council will, at some point, bring up a perennial issue – the daytime parking shortage along Ocean Drive. Those conversations are as much a part of winters here as the arrival of out-of-state license plates, but any proposed solutions always seem just out of reach. Even with the council already juggling several major projects expected to impact the community for generations to come – developing the Three Corners, relocating the city’s wastewater-treatment plant, expanding the municipal marina and improving Vero’s downtown – Vice Mayor Linda Moore felt compelled to bring up the Ocean Drive parking topic at last week’s meeting. The only real surprise was that it took until the final days of February for someone to mention it. “Talk about waking a sleeping bear,” Moore said, opening the council’s latest discussion of the city’s in-season parking dilemma along the Main Street of its beachside business district. READ FULL STORY


County: Publix on S.R. 510 ‘still moving forward’
week of March 7, 2024

Island residents driving past the site of the planned Publix-anchored shopping center on State Road 510, just east of U.S. 1, might’ve noticed there are no signs of construction there. That’s because the developer was still working with Florida Department of Transportation engineers last week to finalize the design and signalization of the intersection of S.R. 510 and Harbor Isle Way, which is the main entrance to the plaza. “I’ve spoken with the developer, and he has a fully signed lease with Publix,” said Ryan Sweeney, the county’s chief of current development. “The signalization appears to be the last hang-up. “I believe the building permits are issued and ready to go, so as soon as FDOT gives the final go-ahead, we will release the site plan,” he added. “I can’t give you an exact timeline, but the project is still moving forward.” Construction of the shopping center was initially expected to begin this past fall, but the permitting process wasn’t complete. Barring any further delays, Sweeney predicted the developer would break ground this spring, possibly the summer. READ FULL STORY


Island couple’s $5M pledge to ‘give it forward’
week of February 29, 2024

Longtime John’s Island residents Dace and King Stubbs have given the Indian River Community Foundation a $5 million commitment as a lead gift to a new Giving Forward Leadership Initiative. Foundation President and CEO Jeffrey Pickering announced the launch of Giving Forward at a reception at Northern Trust Bank on Feb. 20, explaining that their goal is to raise $50 million by 2026 to enable permanent support for several key initiatives. Well-known for their philanthropy both in Vero and in their home state of Kentucky, Dace and King Stubbs are founding members of the Community Foundation, and its Alma Lee Loy Legacy Society. The Stubbs’ lead gift, Pickering said, will be focused on the portfolios of proven programs and promising practices that will essentially help strengthen our community. Twenty million dollars would sustain proven programs in areas that address community needs, with $10 million would support the collaborative development of promising practices aimed at filling gaps that are not currently being met. The Foundation’s endowments would benefit from $10 million, to underwrite its unrestricted grantmaking, and its operating expenses. READ FULL STORY


Tennis-crazy Vero sees even more net gains
week of February 29, 2024

Throughout the past 20 years, Vero Beach has earned its reputation as a tennis town – home of two professional tournaments, the annual “King of the Hill” fundraiser, and several leagues and teams. Former Davis Cup captain Mardy Fish grew up here. Eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl lives here. So does former top-10 player and 1986 French Open finalist Mikael Pernfors. Now comes a local tennis-club boom that will noticeably change the game’s footprint here. There’s new ownership at the former Twin Oaks Tennis Club, where Kaye Manly has changed the name to Vero Club Tennis and is in the process of giving it a much-needed facelift with new courts, lights and fencing, as well as a renovated clubhouse. There’s full membership at The Boulevard Tennis Club, where the clubhouse is getting a fresh coat of paint and the owners plan to install three padel courts in hopes of riding the crest of the world’s fastest-growing racket sport. And in what could be the most-intriguing new addition to the local racket-wielding community, Jane Wilkey and her son, Max, recently paid $850,000 to purchase the 6.8-acre property that contained the former and long-abandoned Westside/Hidden Palms tennis club at the intersection of 43rd Avenue and 5th Street Southwest. READ FULL STORY


$19.75 million oceanfront lot primed for ‘super estate’
week of February 29, 2024

A South Florida development team that made national real estate news a year ago when it announced plans for a $60-million spec home in Vero’s estate section has switched gears. Now, instead of offering a completed compound, developers Nathan Saks and Victor Hernandez have listed the filled, ready-to-build lot with an approved set of plans for $19,750,000. “We are including all the entitlements, permits and renderings. Everything is ready to go,” said Douglas Elliman co-listing agent Tracy Ward, who is a broker associate on the nationally renowned the Eklund Gomes Team, which sold $3.7 billion in 2023. “The developers put in 24 feet of marine grade fill, spending upwards of $5 million on that and the retaining wall, and the permits are active. Someone could start building there tomorrow.” “We are absolutely thrilled to present this incredible opportunity to craft a ‘super estate’ in a location that is truly a dream realized,” team leader and celebrity broker Frederick Eklund told Vero Beach 32963 last week. The 2.5-acre lot at 2040 S. A1A – a mile south of The Moorings – has had some notable Vero names attached to it. READ FULL STORY


Parent company’s accounting practices put Sebastian hospital financials in new light
week of February 29, 2024

Sebastian River Medical Center’s most recent financial statements paint a somewhat encouraging picture for Steward Health’s Florida operations, and the accounting practices noted by the auditor go a long way toward explaining why things like SRMC’s utility bills aren’t getting paid on time. The 2021 financials filed with the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration are consolidated for Steward Florida Holdings LLC, meaning that the numbers reflect the company’s 10 Florida hospitals combined. The last two pages feature a profit-and-loss statement for each hospital. Though Sebastian River Medical Center showed a net loss of nearly a half-million dollars for 2021, Steward’s Florida hospitals as a whole were quite profitable, with a combined bottom line showing $37.7 in profits statewide. Rolled into the expenses for the 10 hospitals were $42 million in “management fees” paid to the Steward parent corporation by the hospitals located between Hialeah in Miami-Dade County and Rocklege in Brevard County. Steward handles various administrative duties for each hospital, including legal and accounting work, for which the corporation gets paid handsomely. Those fees cut deeply into the profits of each of the 10 hospitals. READ FULL STORY


Barefoot: School Board resignation described as an ‘honest mistake’
week of February 29, 2024

When is a resignation not really a resignation? That was the question Monday night as the clock crept toward the opening gavel of this week’s School Board meeting, with Brian Barefoot still waiting to get approval from the Governor’s Office to reclaim his seat on the dais. “From what I’ve heard, there was some discussion in Tallahassee on Friday, and it’s possible we could hear something today,” Barefoot said late Monday afternoon, hoping Gov. Ron DeSantis would allow him to rescind the resignation he unnecessarily submitted last week. “In the grand scheme of things, this should be routine,” he added. “But I haven’t heard anything yet, so who knows? This much I can tell you: I’m not going to tonight’s meeting, or any other, unless I get the green light from the governor.” At meeting time, he still hadn’t heard. Barefoot, the 80-year-old former Indian River Shores mayor, submitted his resignation from the School Board last Wednesday, believing he was required to do so because he had sold his John’s Island home and moved to Oak Harbor on the mainland. READ FULL STORY


For what it’s worth, choices galore on GOP presidential primary ballot
week of February 29, 2024

If island residents actually go to the polls on Florida’s Presidential Preference Primary Day March 19, Republicans will be handed a ballot with seven names on it – even if only one is still running – while Democrats will find their primary was cancelled months ago due to lack of contenders. Florida’s Presidential Preference Primary has gotten a bit confusing this year because of some unique circumstances. In early December, the Florida Democratic Party canceled the state’s Democratic Presidential Preference Primary, awarding the state’s 28 delegates to President Joe Biden. “Only one Democratic Candidate qualified for the Presidential Preference Primary Election (Joe Biden) so there was no need for a Democratic ballot,” Indian River County Supervisor of Elections Leslie Swan said. The Republican Presidential Preference Primary ballot, meanwhile, was finalized back when there was still a large field of candidates running. As of press time, only two active GOP candidates for president remained, and it’s unclear if former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley would stay in the race after the Super Tuesday contest, in which 15 states plus American Samoa go to the polls on March 5. READ FULL STORY


Vero village will strive for happy, harmonic lifestyle
week of February 22, 2024

A new kind of subdivision is coming to Indian River County, one that combines the best of New Urbanism with ancient architectural principles that go back to Roman and Vedic times. “Harmony with nature that supports the wellbeing of the people who live there is the essence of what we are doing,” says Richard Bialosky, AIA, who is developing Mandala Village with his partner, David Ederer, a fellow architect and practitioner of Transcendental Meditation. Stretching for two-thirds of a mile along the north side 53rd Street just west of 58th Avenue, Mandala Village will encompass nearly 200 residences, including condos, town houses, cottages, single-family homes and rental apartments, along with a small shopping center, a 100-room resort and convention hotel, and a 14-acre lake and swimming lagoon bordered by a mile-long walking trail. “The retail area will include a natural foods market with a café and there will be dining options at the hotel,” Bialosky said. “We want that part of the community to be a convenient, enjoyable, walkable destination for residents.” The village will also include a community hall, a wellness center and spa and a meditation and yoga pavilion, with the surrounding grounds populated primarily by native Florida plants, which will reduce irrigation water use and eliminate the need for toxic fertilizers. READ FULL STORY


Our next hospital: Site and financing among questions
week of February 22, 2024

Where will Indian River County’s next hospital be located? Out west, is presumably the answer as the county continues to expand in that direction. But exactly where, and when, is a third hospital likely to join Cleveland Clinic and Sebastian River Medical Center? Since the pandemic, not only have developers resumed construction in developments stalled during the Great Recession, but new homes, communities, apartment complexes and businesses are coming online. That’s not likely to stop as the County Commission mulls whether or not to expand the westward boundaries of the county’s Urban Services Area. In time, an additional hospital almost certainly will be needed. The Indian River County Hospital District began to scratch the surface of the issue at a Board of Trustees meeting, but the brief discussion closed leaving a great deal more questions than answers. The timeliness in planning for the county’s next hospital is twofold — the need to designate existing land holdings in west-central Indian River County for a medical center, or to secure a significant piece of land for a new hospital campus and ancillary medical offices before all the available, appropriate land is developed into housing or commercial buildings. READ FULL STORY


Vero City Council rejects motion to include members on Three Corners Selection Committee
week of February 22, 2024

Tracey Zudans believes she and the other members of the Vero Beach City Council should be part of the committee chosen to examine, evaluate and rank the proposals submitted earlier this month by four groups vying for the contract to develop the Three Corners site on mainland’s waterfront. At last week’s meeting, in fact, Zudans made a motion to expand the Three Corners Selection Committee from its current seven members to include the City Council. She never got a second. Instead, the council voted 3-1 – John Carroll was not present – to continue the process with the Selection Committee appointed by City Manager Monte Falls last month. Zudans, who initially offered no objection to Falls’ appointments, cast the lone “no” vote. The vote was taken, however, only after Zudans, who is running to unseat County Commissioner Laura Moss in the November elections, insisted that the council formally approve the committee’s makeup. READ FULL STORY


Judge rips prosecutorial conduct, tosses ‘pill mill’ case after 12 years
week of February 22, 2024

Circuit Court Judge Robert Meadows has dismissed a 12-year-old felony criminal case against operators of a Vero Beach pain management clinic, sharply criticizing the prosecution’s failure to turn over evidence that might have helped the defendants. The 114-count case against 14 people, including seven licensed medical practitioners affiliated with the Stuart Pain Management Center on U.S. 1 in Vero, included allegations of racketeering, conspiracy, delivery of a controlled substance, illegally prescribing a controlled substance in trafficking amounts by a practitioner, manslaughter, and money laundering. Doctors at the network of clinics involved in the case were alleged by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to have prescribed more than 2 million oxycodone pills in one year. Police say patients traveled long distances from out of state to obtain drugs at the clinics. Various federal, state and local law enforcement agencies teamed up on the case, including the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and the Vero Beach Police Department. Defense attorneys for the clinics, owners, doctors and employees filed 28 motions between November 2012 and April 2019 in an effort to gain access to discovery documents referred to as “Brady material,” or evidence that might exonerate the defendants or at least help their case. This evidence ranged from recordings of phone conversations and images of text messages to copies of medical records, written expert medical opinions and confidential informant reports. READ FULL STORY


School board hopeful’s wife avoids prosecution in crash
week of February 22, 2024

School Board candidate Rob MacCallum’s wife has accepted an offer from the State Attorney’s Office to enter a diversion program to avoid prosecution on a charge of “leaving the scene of an accident with property damage.” The charge stems from Colleen MacCallum’s arrest on Dec. 30, shortly after her pick-up truck crashed into the back end of a sports utility vehicle on State Road 60, near the 53rd Avenue intersection. According to a Deferred Prosecution Agreement signed on Jan. 29, the state will not pursue the second-degree misdemeanor charge against her if she successfully completes the program within six months. If she doesn’t, the state may resume its prosecution of the case. Rob MacCallum, who is running to unseat District 3 incumbent Peggy Jones on the School Board, said via text message Sunday he would “not be commenting on anything that does not pertain to my campaign.” Despite her legal issue, MacCallum’s wife was chosen by School Board member Jackie Rosario earlier this month to serve on the district’s book-challenge committee. READ FULL STORY


‘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