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Three Aves at last on track

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER - STAFF WRITER (Week of January 13, 2011)

The Vero Beach City Council belated approval of the site plan for Three Avenues – which had been on hold for seven months -- has now paved the way for an enclave of upscale shops and offices to spring up just across the parking lot from two local hot spots -- Panera Bread and Joey’s Bistro.

Panera has become the place for not only coffee and a pastry on the way to work, but also for informal lunch meetings, snacks for the kids after school and almost daily political pow-wows with local officials.

By night, Joey’s Bistro has offered not only casual dining indoors and out, but a much-needed nightclub scene enjoyed by Vero’s fashionable younger crowd, as well as the young at heart.

Whether or not that dining and dancing traffic will translate into patrons who park and stay awhile during store hours to spend their money at upscale shops, salons and offices is yet to be seen. But with a site plan approval, developer Scott Parker is proposing four buildings that will contain a mix of fine dining, family dining, office and retail. Parker requested some flexibility in those uses within the project to best attract and accommodate prospective tenants who might have varying size and location preferences.

Only time will tell whether or not Three Avenues bring in new types of businesses and new brands to Vero as has the Modern One project, or whether it will simply be a place for existing firms and stores to relocate from other areas of town.

Parker had submitted a site plan packet with schematics and renderings to the Vero Beach Planning and Zoning Commission and had a hearing on May 20. He didn’t think there would be a problem, since the whole project had been approved in 1997 on the 6.43-acre parcel and all  he was doing was updating it – mostly scaling down the size and scope of the buildings.

The original plan called for some two- and three-story buildings and up to 58,000 square feet. The current plan is a sprawling collection of walkable, one-story buildings with a little less than 28,000 square feet under roof.

But five of the Zoning members had problems with the plan, voting it down. Four voted for it, but the site plan failed.

The city’s Architectural Review Committee refused to even look at Parker’s plans because Parker, who has been living in Beijing part of the time, worked on some of the renderings with a Chinese architect who is not licensed in Florida. This policy -- that the committee would only review plans drawn up by licensed Florida architects -- was rescinded in 2010 by the consent of the new City Council as being an unfair requirement.

In the fall, Parker and his legal counsel, real estate attorney Bruce Barkett, requested to exercise his right to an appeal directly to the City Council. With the new City Council made up of what could be construed as more business-friendly members than last year, the site plan was recommended by staff and approved 5-0, over the objections from a lone resident of Vero Isles.

During the hearing last week, Parker and Barkett shied away from arguing the merits of the expansion because their main argument was that the decision should have been based upon whether or not the application met the requirements of city code. But others rose to the podium in support of Three Avenues.

“This is accomplishing the Miracle Mile vision. The vision is to live, work, stay and play,” said developer Keith Kite, whose company owns property in the area and has proposed a hotel project about one block from Three Avenues.

Kite reminded the council that commercial projects like Three Avenues, in addition to enhancing the amenities available to residents and tourists alike, bring tax dollars into city coffers to keep residential property tax rates low and provide jobs for locals.

“The economic impact is what gets my goat,” Kite said. “This increases the economic viability to give these residents a more affordable place to live.”

As part of the deal with the city council, Parker agreed that he would add another loading zone and that Joey’s Bistro would no longer be open for lunch. Joey’s owner was present and confirmed that this would be done.

This concession helped to address concerns over daytime parking once businesses in all the other buildings are open. Three Avenues is designed based on a parking concept developed by the Urban Land Institute.

The ULI-influenced design drawn up by local architectural engineer Joe Schulke allows for mixed-use development with shared parking, so businesses open during the day will use the parking during the day. Eateries, clubs and shops having evening or nighttime hours will use the parking when offices are closed. This results in less square footage having to be paved for parking, theoretically allowing more green space and a more creative design.

The expanded Three Avenues will include a covered promenade connecting Panera Bread to some of the newer buildings across the parking lot. New buildings are to be constructed in a rambling arc alongside the retention pond to make the most of the atmosphere and aesthetics of being “on the water” while still situated right in the heart of Vero Beach.