By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Indian River County's participation in a regional economic development plan is being questioned and members of the community are invited to speak their opinions on the plan during the Dec. 18 county commission meeting.
Within the past couple of months, the Treasure Coast and South Florida regional planning councils, with the financial backing of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban and Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have been traveling to different locations in the Treasure Coast region to lay out a 50-year plan for seven counties in Southeast Florida.
The overall idea for the economic development project is called the Seven50 sustainable communities initiative, and is self-described on its website as "a blueprint for growing a more prosperous, more desirable Southeast Florida during the next 50 years and beyond."
The two regional planning councils are joining together with Southeast Florida Regional Partnership, a collaboration of more than 200 public, private and civic stakeholders, to map out a strategy for high-quality lifestyles, but some Indian River County residents spoke out against the Seven50 plan during the Dec. 4 county commission meeting.
Phyllis Frey of Vero Beach said lumping Indian River County together with the other counties would cause it to lose its uniqueness and engineer it into a new place she would not recognize as her home.
The values that Indian River County residents have repeatedly said are important: low-density, small government, home rule and fiscal responsibility, would be lost in a regional planning overlay.
Stephanie Austin, also of Vero Beach, said she went to a Seven50 workshop in Indian River County to see what the ideas and suggestions were all about.
She said she was troubled because the people coming up with the ideas are unelected and therefore unaccountable to anyone living in the region they are talking about planning for.
Ms. Austin said she believes her elected officials are quite capable of making long-term plans for the county, looking for ways to make life more sustainable and being good stewards of the lands under their jurisdiction.
Both women asked the commissioners to immediately remove themselves from the group.
Several of the commissioners also expressed concern about the Seven50 project.
Commissioner Bob Solari said the Seven50 plan would lead to bigger bureaucracy and take away some authority from local government bodies.
He said he also attended the meeting and did not believe heading down the road of mass regional planning would be the right plan, calling it "anathema" to the principles laid down by the founding fathers of the United States.
In a letter to some members of the regional councils, Commissioner Solari said the workshop felt like "a cleverly designed indoctrination session," because the flow of conversation seemed steered and directed at all times in a pre-determined direction.
In his letter, he said the Seven50 plan and its representatives at the workshop spoke of about regional "deeply held values" that would be upheld in the 50-year plan, but were unspecific as to what those values were.
He said if the values of each community in the seven county-region were the same, the communities would all look the same, but they do not because the values of Indian River County are different than those of the neighboring counties to the south.
Commissioner Peter O'Bryan was not as quick to denounce the idea of a regional plan, but agreed that public discussion on the subject would be valuable.
Public input on the issue is expected at the Dec. 18 meeting.
For more information about the Seven50 initiative, visit www.seven50.org.
For more information, or to view upcoming agendas for county government meetings, visit www.ircgov.com.