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Shores approves beach access next to parcel to be auctioned


After deciding on density and agreeing to provide a five-foot public walkway to the beach, the Indian River Shores Town Council is ready to auction off a five-acre parcel of ocean-view land just north of the Tracking Station Beach Park in early May.

The beach access right-of-way, which residents of Pebble Bay, Vera Cruz and other west-of-A1A communities had clamored to protect, passed by a narrow 3-2 margin.

Councilman Dick Haverland and Councilwoman Debbi Penniston opposed the idea on the principle that each Shores resident holds a stake in the property and the council is the steward of that asset. Putting the parcel up for sale with a public access walkway attached would reduce the price it fetches in exchange for an amenity only enjoyed by a few, Haverland said.

Vice Mayor Michael Ochsner strongly advocated for the beach access and Councilman Bob Auwaerter supported it, making Mayor Brian Barefoot the swing vote.

After attending the previous week’s Planning Zoning and Variance Board meeting as an observer and listening to dozens of residents speak passionately about their need for beach access, Barefoot said, “We definitely got the gist. We read all the emails, 30-40 emails all in favor,” he said. “We know what 90 percent of the people here – or 80 percent or whatever it is – want to happen.”

Barefoot stipulated that beach access approval be contingent on the Indian River Board of County Commissioners allowing construction of dune crossovers on a narrow strip of county-owned land that stands between the Town’s parcel and the Atlantic Ocean.

County officials have pledged cooperation on this matter, but last week attempted to link the dune crossover permission to the Town approving the five-foot path to perpetuate the beach access residents have enjoyed for more than three decades.

Commissioner Peter O’Bryan seemed to use the county’s position in the proverbial catbird seat to push his opinion that the Shores must honor historical precedent and allow continued public beach access across the land.

“My understanding of that access is full public access, not just the three people who might build a house on that parcel,” O’Bryan said.

At its meeting last Thursday, the Town Council also set the parameters of how the land could be used and developed by whoever buys it at auction on May 6. At most, a total of 15 multi-family units could be built on the property, provided all other requirements are met and the development successfully navigates a traffic study of how it would impact State Road A1A.

Barefoot reminded the packed council chambers that any proposed development would have to meet the Town’s rigorous land development code with regard to setbacks, height, landscaping, and water retention.

The planned May 6 auction is expected to offer the land first as three separate, 600-foot deep, east-west, 1.7-acre residential lots with A1A frontage and ocean views. Then it will be offered as a whole, with the highest total price determining the ultimate use of the land.

The auction date was changed from March to May, Davis said because “Time was too short, and the dollar amount for marketing was inadequate.”

The winning bid will go to the Shores Town Council for approval, or the Town may send back a counter-offer, with negotiation continuing for up to 120 days. Once the parties settle upon a price, the County, which holds a first right of refusal on the property as the residue of a 1983 land swap, would have 90 days to match that price and reclaim the land for public use.

If the county has a serious interest in the property but wants to wait until after the auction to try to get a bargain – if the winning bid is low, compared to the land’s $7.7 million appraised value – commissioners will be giving a big paycheck of hundreds of thousands of dollars to their former colleague Davis, whom the Shores hired to market and auction the property for a fee of 8 percent of the sale price.

After Davis was hired, other brokers made a pitch to list and market the property, but Barefoot said an auction was the way to go because of the transparency. Barefoot said the Town would rather have everything done in the sunshine, which in this case will be the literal sunshine as the live auction will be held outdoors on the five-acre property.

At the same time, Barefoot said real estate agents are encouraged to bring buyers to the table. “If a realtor brings a bona fide offer prior to the auction, you are required to bring that offer to the council,” Barefoot confirmed with Davis during the meeting.
Over the next few weeks, the property will be cleared so prospective buyers can view it, and a platform will be erected so potential buyers can see the ocean views they would enjoy from their new home.