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Looking to future, county taps planning firm to chart growth

STORY BY STEVEN M. THOMAS (Week of February 8, 2024)

More people, more houses, more businesses, and more roads clearly are coming to Indian River County – so the $128,000 question is whether after 34 years, the time has come to expand the Urban Services Boundary.

That is the question an urban planning firm, Inspire Placemaking Collective, has been retained to study over the next nine months.

The current boundary, which Indian River County established in 1990 to control urban sprawl and keep a lid on public infrastructure costs, lets the county provide water, sewer and other infrastructure within the boundary but not beyond it.

The boundary encompasses most of the county east of I-95 – though there are two vast rural enclaves excluded – and a chunk of the county along route 60 west of I-95 along with the geographically expansive City of Fellsmere.

The county’s population has nearly doubled since 1990, from 90,000 to 174,000 this year and is expected to approach 200,000 by the end of the decade, but the boundary limiting development “has remained essentially unchanged” during that time, according to the county’s request for proposals.

The fact that the urban services boundary has stayed intact for so long during a period of rapid growth shows it was well thought out when it was designed 34 years ago.

But as more and more cattle pastures and failed citrus groves have changed into subdivisions and strip malls along roads that keep getting wider, pressure for expansion has grown.

“Within the last year or so, the volume of questions and inquiries from landowners, developers, and other interested groups regarding moving the USB has increased significantly,” according to the county.

“In addition, major roadway improvements – including the new I-95 Interchange at Oslo Road – have been started or completed that span areas outside of the USB.”

Deciding if and how the Urban Services Boundary should be expanded is a complex task, to put it mildly.

“This study will help determine what our county will look like in the future,” said County Commissioner Laura Moss.  “We are at a critical juncture, and we need to think about not just the next 10 or 20 years – we need to think about the endgame.”

Inspire Placemaking Collective, which is headquartered in Orlando and has offices in six other cities in Florida and North Carolina, appears to be up to the job.

The company name sounds a little wonky, but its planners have produced comprehensive plans, plan and code updates, development forecasts and other similar products for dozens of Florida cities and counties from Jacksonville to Tampa to South Florida.

The company has assigned a team of 15 urban planning professionals to the Indian River task, including nine planners, three graphics and community engagement staff, and three top managers – all for the bargain-basement price of $128,000.

The study that will be undertaken by Inspire will be similar in many ways to the process that led up to Vero Beach’s plan for the Three Corners riverfront redevelopment project.

There will be a kick-off meeting with county officials this month, lots of data collection and analysis, and comparisons with other counties that have expanded their urban boundaries. There will be an interactive website where the public can have a say and a series of public workshops before a final report and recommendations are submitted to the county next fall.

Planners have to take into account the decline of agriculture in the county, the decline of brick-and-mortar retail, work-at-home trends, transportation technology changes, recreational trends, infrastructure costs and ecological preservation as well as demographics – trying to peer through the fog and see the future.

Inspire’s “study will focus on when, where, and how the [urban services] boundary should be adjusted,” according to the county.

The company will inventory land inside the existing boundary, “including a breakdown of developed vs. vacant lands zoned for residential, commercial and industrial uses ... [and provide] analysis of land needed to accommodate projected residential, commercial and industrial growth, along with existing infrastructure capacity, including future needs based on projected growth.”

“We need to look as far ahead as we possibly can to come up with the best plan for our community,” said Moss, one of the five commissioners who authorized the study. “Piecemeal development always turns out terrible.”

No doubt, many county residents will recoil at the thought of expanding the urban services boundary, equating pro-active planning with rampant development, even though the two are actually opposites.

Without detailed, long-range planning, the future of the county would be determined haphazardly, with random development not guided by a comprehensive vision. A cautionary example of what the failure to plan looks like can be seen on the south side of 20th Street between 9th Avenue and 10th Avenue, where yet another hulking storage unit facility was recently completed – right next to the oldest house in Indian River County and a stone’s throw from Vero Beach City Hall.

If the city had looked ahead, that parcel could have, with the right developer, ended up as a highlight of modern Vero Beach instead of a cause of painful regret.

When Inspire has looked at all the data it can mine and heard all the public input it can gather and presented its report to the county commission, its study will “lay the foundation for the future of the county, particularly in terms of growth,” County Administrator John Titkanich said.

Christopher Balter, the county’s chief of long-range planning, told Vero Beach 32963 that anyone who wants to stay up-to-date on the progress of the study can email him at to be put on a list of interested parties.