By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The Indian River County Commission assured their constituents they would be the ones making decisions about the county’s future development plans, not a South Florida regional planning group, during a recent meeting.
On Dec. 18, dozens of people spoke up during the county commission meeting to let commissioners know they were not in favor of the county’s participation in a 50-year, seven-county regional planning group known as Seven50, and a majority of the commission agreed.
The meeting room was packed with people, the majority of whom were not in favor of the planning group. Some audience members waved current and past American flags, including a bright yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, demonstrating their concerns that Seven50 would take away their way of life and community values and impose property restrictions and higher-density living in the name of efficiency.
For the past few 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 for the future.
Some members of the audience said they believed regional planning as touted by Seven50 was headed down a road that would throw away values Indian River County residents hold dear: home rule, low-density, small government and fiscal responsibility.
Other members scoffed at the idea that 50-year planning was even feasible as even business plans fluctuate constantly.
Also unsettling for residents was the fact that the decision makers were “faceless bureaucrats” and unelected people.
Kevin Foley, chairman of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and Marcela Camblor, director of the Seven50 project, were in attendance and addressed several concerns mentioned by the public.
Mr. Foley pointed out that elected officials, such as Commissioner Peter O’Bryan, were included in the Seven50 group, as well as well-regarded members of the community, including Indian River State College President Ed Massey, demonstrating the group was not “faceless.”
He said right now the group is halfway through a three-year planning and researching stage and there is no obligation at the end of the three years to remain in the group. He requested the county stick around and make their views known to the group throughout the rest of the process, and if at the end there are things the county doesn’t like, to withdraw then.
After the public comment on the issue, four commissioners voted to withdraw from the group, which was voluntary to begin with and required no cash investment.
Commissioner Peter O’Bryan was the only one to vote in favor of staying with the group at least through the end of the three-year planning period to see what it has to offer the county.
While the county as a governing body has removed itself from the Seven50 project, the cities of Sebastian, Vero Beach and Fellsmere and the Indian River County School District are still participants in the organization and will be involved in the planning, Mr. Foley said.
For more information about upcoming county government meetings, visit www.ircgov.com.