Saturday, January 19, 2013

Vero Beach council, airport officials snub noses at local residents who have concerns about its operations, expansion plans

Two years ago the Vero Beach airport director recommended that we spend $1.3 million of our money on a new airport control center.

A simple project funded by grants from the Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration — and at "No cost to the City of the Vero Beach."

Cities love the appearance of free federal money even if it's never free — and Vero Beach really loved this idea.

To prove the point, during this same time, this same airport director recommended that we reconsider how to spend our $1.3 million by diverting it instead to the purchase of 88 acres of private property to expand Vero Beach's Airport Industrial Park — by as much as 800,000 square feet of gross leasable space.

The concept plan proposes taking 88 acres and 200 homes off our tax rolls, and rolls it into a government-funded airport industrial park hosting up to 800,000 square feet of industrial space at the expense of the private sector. That 800,000 square feet of commercial space approaches the size of the Vero Beach mall. And it is significant.

This proposal was never presented to, reviewed by, or commented on by the Vero Beach Airport Commission.

And the neighborhoods most affected by a new 88-acre city industrial park were never invited to review and comment on this bold new vision by our airport director.

His plan envisioned a park with publicly funded land anchored by 43rd Avenue with public access from 26th Street to the south; 45th Court is the entry off 26th Street. The entire plan suggests the remediation of 20 structures presumed to be residential and some serious land use changes south of Davilla Park.

And all of this without a single review or official comment by the Airport Commission, the Planning and Zoning Board, Tim McGarry (director of the city Planning and Development Department) or the proper notification of neighborhoods along 43rd Avenue, which might appreciate knowing how waking up to a massive industrial park might affect their day.

This proposal was tabled, yet remains politically alive because it was never denied.

It's not the idea, but the lack of process by those we trust to be in charge we find offensive.

Our airport's vision of expanding its industrial park by 88 acres at our expense was not well received by the private sector, which sits on a fair amount of vacant industrial space. They pay their taxes — and survive despite the public subsidies afforded Vero's industrial park.

So two years into this, we now have a new $1.3 million airport control center and a mayor, Airport Commission and airport director who feel immune to our repeated calls to test Michael Field for lead.

Mayor Craig Fletcher has acknowledged the public health issue of lead emissions from his airport, yet claims that it's not the city's obligation to test for lead, observing that "I don't think there is a high concentration of lead there."

Vero's airport director has stated that he would never support lead testing beyond the airport limits, and the Airport Commission hasn't had much of anything to say on anything in more than three years.

And we have been asking.

We are all now on notice that ignoring this public health issue places the city at a greater degree of neglect and liability than Mayor Fletcher's unscientific and uninformed statements suggest.

Willful neglect is the art of acknowledging a public health issue while choosing to simply ignore its consequences.

So come out and see the grand opening of our airport control center, and maybe we might ask Mayor Fletcher why as little as 0.004 percent of that money might have been spent to supported a legitimate testing of Michael Field. If only to ensure that the 20,000 kids who use his park annually play safely.


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