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Orchid rejects plan for assisted living facility

Photo: More than 100 residents of Orchid Island attended Wednesday’s town council meeting.

The fate of Ken Puttick’s assisted living project, planned for a 7-acre commercial parcel on CR-510 in the town of Orchid, was plain to see even before last Wednesday’s town council meeting got underway.

Call it a classic case of NIMBYism or the legitimate expression of a community’s lifestyle concerns; either way, the plan was never going to fly and the meeting was more of a formality than a decision-making endeavor.

Even though Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club is largely empty this time of year, with most residents gone back to northern homes, the second-floor dining room in the oceanfront clubhouse was packed with more than a 100 residents by the time the 9 a.m. meeting got underway. Most looked grim and all who were asked said they opposed the upscale 120-unit senior living and memory care project Puttick’s team was there to pitch.

“What is being proposed violates every restriction there is on the property,” said former town council member Bill Troxell. “I am dead set against it.”

After more than seven hours of presentations, expert testimony, legal and consultant recommendations, public comment and council discussion, the council saw it the same way, voting 5-0 to block construction.

Despite a 4-1 vote in favor of the project two weeks earlier by the Orchid Local Planning Agency, councilmembers said the project is incompatible with the intent of the Town code. Specific items cited were land- use type, density, building height and square footage, all of which the council and Town consultants said were outside the bounds of what is permitted by municipal building code.

Under the code, building size on the property is limited to 6,000 square feet, but Puttick proposed a 142,000-square-foot facility. The audience erupted in groans and hoots when Project Manager Keith Pelan of Kimley-Horn stated the size of the building.

Any project built on the site that sticks to that 6,000-square-foot limit would almost certainly include multiple buildings, so the overall square footage would be much higher and closer to the proposed size of the assisted care facility, but Pelan was not successful in getting the audience or council to see the comparison in those terms.

Another key sticking point was whether the project should be classified as commercial – since it is a business – or residential, since people would live there. The council inclined toward the belief it would be primarily residential and said that was not a good fit for a commercially zoned parcel.

Puttick’s team, which included an attorney, an architect and the president of the company that would run the facility, as well as Pelan, acknowledged the project exceeded the bounds of the code, but sought waivers and variances to allow construction. Those allowances were approved by the Orchid Local Planning Agency, which also imposed dozens of additional conditions.

Puttick agreed to the agency’s stipulations and the project appeared to have much in its favor.

It would have been a quiet, low-impact development, generating little traffic or noise and well screened from view by wide setbacks and dense landscaping, as described at the meeting. Since Orchid is largely a retirement community with many older residents, it also would have provided a service and setting Orchid residents might have found helpful in later years.

Proposed operator Watercress Senior Living Group is a successful Vero Beach company that operates other upscale assisted living facilities that were offered as examples of the quality of construction and care that would be offered.

Even though little of the facility would have been seen from club grounds, the architecture was tailored to the community’s style.

But none of that swayed the packed room, where sentiment ran strong against the project throughout the meeting.

Puttick is a longtime Vero Beach businessman and auto dealer who lives in Orchid Island. The proposed senior living facility – which would have been the first on the island – was his third attempt to gain approval to develop the unimproved 7-acre parcel he owns on the Wabasso Causeway across from Indian River County Fire-Rescue Station 11.

Puttick sued the Town of Orchid last fall because its hired consultants multiple times rejected his proposals, he said, without affording him the due process of a full-blown public hearing and ability to offer testimony and experts on behalf of the project.

The Town settled with Puttick, reportedly for $35,000 to cover legal fees, and formed its Local Planning Agency in January to correct deficiencies in its development application process. The volunteer board first met in January and in April recommended approval of Puttick's application.

Puttick, who could not attend the hearing due to a recent surgery, vowed to appeal this latest rejection, saying that he feels the Town Council failed to recognize the benefits a senior living and memory care community would bestow upon the barrier island community.

"I'm not exactly sure what the process is, but we're going to appeal," Puttick said.
"My only thought process would be that the Local Planning Agency was unbiased enough to listen to the proof and evidence and when they listened to the proof and evidence they approved it," Puttick said. "I don't believe these people (the Town Council) were open-minded enough to look at the evidence. Their minds were made up. People can have their opinion about something, but it doesn't change the legality of the facts."