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By a vote of 4-1, the Vero Beach City Council Tuesday followed the lead of the Indian River County Commission, which decided by the same margin last month to end its participation in a regional, long-term planning effort known as Seven50.
Headed by the Southeast Florida Regional Planning Partnership, Seven50 ‘s consortium of 200 participants, including city and county governments, colleges and universities, school boards, and businesses, are now 18 months into the three-year project.
The regional dialogue will lead to a long-term investment plan for services and infrastructure such as fiber optics, gas transmission, transportation and education.
Proponents of Seven50 say the seven-county region, now the fifth most populous metropolitan “mega” region in the country, needs to think collaboratively about how to maximize public investment in order to be more competitive in the global economy, while also preserving and protecting natural resources that are vital to sustaining the quality of life for Southeast Florida residents.
Marcela Camblor, director of the Seven50 project, told the Council its participation was voluntary and that the results of the project, funded by a $4.25 million grant from the Federal Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Transportation and by the Environmental Protection Agency, will not be binding on any of the participants.
“The region needs a business plan for coordinated investment, Camblor said. She assured the Council Seven50 is not controlled by the Federal government, but by local leaders such as County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan, Chairman of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, and Dr. Edwin Massey, president of Indian River State College. “Seven50 is not an effort to create another level of government,” she said.
Camblor urged the Council to consider the value of remaining a partner in the regional dialogue, “so that you can imbed your own vision in the plan.”
Following Camblor’s presentation, opponents of Seven50, who had begun filling the Council chambers 30 minutes before the meeting started, came before the Council one after another equating Seven50 with big government, regional planning with loss of local control, and sustainability initiatives with an assault on private property rights.
“I just fear it,” said resident Dorothy Frances. “The camel has parking meters in its shoulder bags, and it now has its nose in our tent,” she said, urging the Council to “kick the camel out before it is too late.”
The city’s commitment to Seven50 had been to participate in on-going discussions and to contribute up to $25,000 in in-kind contributions, mostly by providing information and staff assistance. City Manager Jim O’Connor told the Council that to date he had not be asked by representatives of Seven50 for any assistance.
Councilman Jay Kramer made the motion for the city to withdraw from Seven50. Kramer’s motion was supported by Council members Craig Fletcher, Pilar Turner and Richard Winger.
Councilwoman Tracy Carroll, raising many of the same points County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan made last month when the issue came before the County Commission, said she thought it was important for the city to continue to be a part of the regional dialogue.