Shores rezoning controversy has long history behind it
A move to rezone a five-acre ocean-side parcel plodded forward last week, but the Indian River Shores Town Council must weigh some complex history when it makes the final decision about whether to allow townhomes or condos on land that has historically been traipsed over for beach access by Town residents.
Ordinance 528 to rezone the A1A property to allow for up to six units per acre passed the Town Council by a 5-0 vote on first reading despite the protestations of about a dozen long-time residents, some of whom shared fond memories of sunny beach days trekking across the parcel in question long ago with toddlers in tow – toddlers that are now grown with children of their own.
Around the time the Pebble Bay community and Pebble Beach Villas were developed, the Schlitt family sold the parcel to Indian River County, with the caveat that it be used as a park.
Steven Schlitt, who runs the regional family real estate business now with sister Linda, appeared before the Town Council to explain the arrangement his parents Ed and Marguerite Schlitt made, selling land now appraised at more than $7 million to the county for a mere $200,000, at a time when residential lots in Pebble Bay were fetching $110,000 each.
“The intent was to provide public access, including the continued access for the residents of Pebble Bay. Ed and Marguerite Schlitt were part of the original developers and strongly believed in providing beach access. Marguerite Schlitt still resides in Pebble Bay,” Steven Schlitt wrote to Vero Beach 32963 about the issue.
“The County sold the parcel to the Town, with a stipulation of a first right of refusal if the Town ever decided to sell it. The Town now plans to dispose of the property at an estimated amount of $7.7 million for a profit of $7.5 million.
“The residents of Pebble Bay Estates have protested the sale of the property which would end their nearest access to the beach. The Tracking Station parking lot is frequently full during season, and many residents prefer the pleasant walk through this open space. On the Indian River Shores own website, it presently says that this land is officially a walking path through town property.”
As part of a land swap whereby the Town transferred title to 40 acres on the mainland that the Town owned and the county wanted, the Shores took ownership of the five acres just north of the Tracking Station. At the time, the property was zoned for recreational use, but when it was acquired, the Town opposed it being declared a park, because that would have meant it would be open to the general beach-going public, not just to Shores residents.
Councilman Mike Ochsner asked why the issue of any future permitted use of the property was not taken up at the time it landed in the Town’s lap, but there was no great explanation.
“To the best of my knowledge, we never addressed the zoning or the use of the property,” Town Attorney Chester Clem said. “It didn’t really matter. The Town owned the property and we controlled it.”
It didn’t really matter, that is, until a few months ago when the Town Council voted to have the parcel appraised.
Those opposed to the sale and development of the property have speculated there was language in the sale documents precluding the Town from off-loading the property to a developer to generate cash. But Clem said the way the title was passed to the Shores, it came with no provisions that it be set aside for public use. “There are no restrictions on the property,” Clem told the council last week.
The five-plus acres between Pebble Beach Villas and Reef Lane does not include the actual dune or shoreline, but County Administrator Joe Baird has promised to furnish the eventual buyer and developer of the property with a license agreement allowing some sort of dune crosswalk or walkway to the ocean.
The fenced property has two gates along A1A. One of those gates has for many years – no one knows exactly how long – had a sign permitting Town residents to use the land for beach access. Attorney Clem said last Wednesday that the sign, and the historic use of the property, does not give Pebble Bay residents any grandfathered-in legal right to beach access.
Instead, he said use of the property needs to stop because it could present a potential liability to the Town if, perchance, someone was struck by a car while crossing A1A to get to the beach.
It was strongly suggested by Vice Mayor Jerry Weick to Town Manager Robbie Stabe that the sign, which effectively invites residents to trespass, be taken down post-haste.
Pebble Bay resident Judy Orcutt, who also serves as an alternate on the Town’s Planning Zoning and Variance Board, last month presented a proposal to that board to convert the parcel to a passive or “pocket park,” which would mean open green space, but not necessarily any recreational facilities the Town would have to maintain. Orcutt’s proposal was rejected as the planning board voted to recommend the Town Council move ahead with the rezoning for multi-family development.
Orcutt and several of her neighbors raised not only the beach access issue, but also their concerns about how up to 30 units on that parcel would increase traffic on A1A. She urged the Town to complete some sort of traffic study before taking final action on the rezoning, and also said the Town should inform all the nearby residents in writing before the final decision. Town officials told Orcutt a traffic study was premature, but that it would be part of the site plan approval process for any proposed development.
Pebble Bay Resident Debbie McKay tried to appeal to the council’s sense of legacy, telling it this decision is their chance to preserve the last remaining Town-owned swath of oceanside land. “You are the stewards of a non-renewable resource. You would be changing it from something that can be used by all to something that can only be used by some.”
Residents opposing the re-zoning have said they plan to hire attorney Michael O’Haire to represent them. They pleaded for the council to slow the process of rezoning the land for sale and development, but the ordinance allowing for medium-density multi-family housing on the parcel is scheduled for a final reading and vote at the next Town Council meeting June 16.
Clem assured residents that though the medium-density zoning would allow up to six units per acre, the Town Council could still tamp that down, and that the Town has control over what restrictions are placed on the property since the Town owns it. He said development could be limited to 10 units for the entire parcel, for example, but noted that any lowering of the density would affect the price the Town could get from a potential buyer or developer.