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Beachland Elementary still searching for pick-up route

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of January 24, 2013)

Is there a compromise that will ever suit all parties when it comes to rerouting the parental pick-up and drop-off locations around Beachland Elementary?

That was the question being asked by Indian River County School District officials after the Vero Beach planning and zoning board overwhelmingly rejected their latest proposal for dealing with the traffic bottlenecks that occur at Beachland twice daily during the school year.

Planning and zoning board members said they didn’t feel school district officials had done all they could to deal with the traffic and safety problems within the bounds of school property, and were instead moving the problem onto Central Beach residential streets to the detriment of people who live there.

School officials said termed the latest design – the third put forward thus far – a compromise in an attempt to be a good neighbor to the surrounding residents.  But the planning and zoning board didn’t buy it.

"I'm a big property rights person," said planning board Chairman Larry Lauffer. "I don't know what they (the Central Beach residents) got as a compromise."

The victory for the residents opposed to the plan, which would have funneled more than 100 cars into lines in front of homes on Date Palm and Mockingbird twice each day, could be short-lived assuming the school district now takes the matter to the Vero Beach City Council.

Council members could approve a conditional use permit to allow the plan. If they don’t, the school district will have to come up with another plan or perhaps junk the effort that has riled Central Beach residents for nearly two years.

The plan under consideration last week – which would have nearly doubled the number of cars on Date Palm during the school year – passed muster with the city planning department, but planning board members unanimously junked it.

That plan was the third attempt by the school district to work out a traffic plan compromise with Central Beach residents. The first plan presented publicly to the community nearly a year ago was one that would have virtually destroyed the ecological habitat of the old hammock near the school, building a road through the hammock for parents to pick up their children.

During public comment last week, some Central Beach residents suggested the school district go back to a plan similar to the initial one.

"It will further delay the job," said architect John Binkley, who predicted environmentalists would again come out in full force to try and stop the construction of a road.

The project's latest incarnation had already received approval from the St. Johns River Water Management District as well as the school board.

If the planning and zoning board had given its approval, the matter wouldn't have had to go before the City Council and construction could have started in a few months, finishing in time for the next school year.

"This is first and foremost – 100 percent – totally a safety issue," school board member Matt McCain told the planning and zoning board prior to its vote.   "It is an untenable situation going on there."

McCain said when he was elected in 2008, he sat down with then superintendent Harry LaCava and they discussed a number of long and short-range goals. Solving Beachland's parent pickup problem was among the short-range goals.

"That 4 1/2  years ought to tell you there is no easy solution that everyone is going to like," McCain said. "If it were that easy, it would have been done years ago."

McCain said he doesn't favor any one plan over the other, but just wants the safety issues addressed. He said he has seen school let out and how unsafe it can be when traffic backs up not only for motorists but for children as well who are cutting in between moving vehicles.

"Right now, our kids are in an unsafe situation," McCain said. "...It's amazing we haven't had a tragic situation yet."

But many of those opposed to the latest proposal – who packed last week’s hearing – said that the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists and residents as well as students who walk to school each day would be in jeopardy because of the additional traffic it would route along Date Palm, a street that does not have a sidewalk.

"One bad design doesn't deserve another bad design," said Date Palm resident Lisa Bowles.