Preserving the Past, Reaching for the Future

Residents of Central Viera know the drill.  Invariably, as they are walking their dogs or jogging or taking their children to the park on a weekend morning, people in a vehicle with out-of-town plates will pull up and ask directions to a model home or the Viera Home Discovery Center.  And in most cases, once they arrive there, the home-seekers will not be alone, even if it isn’t the greatest time to be in the real estate market.

When the market was at its lowest, the engines of progress continued to roar in Viera.  New communities were opened, new homes built and existing properties bought and sold.  Companies like Lexus of Melbourne moved in to do business and work continued in earnest on the long-awaited Health First Viera Hospital and its adjacent medical park.  Conditions may not be the same as they were during the home buying frenzy of the last decade, but the master-planned community has continued to grow.  While some developers discussed cutting their losses, Viera’s continued to speak of progress.

“Forward,” as in “moving forward,” may be the most frequently used word among those who are responsible for planning and development of Viera, and they continue to go there, carefully.

Westward Ho!

“Over all, we’ve got a lot of things happening, with the hospital and the medical office (complex)  . . . . There are going to be a lot of new people coming into our community,” said Steve Johnson, president of The Viera Co.

That means westward expansion, for which the company has been preparing for years, and last Dec.15, the Brevard County Commission unanimously approved the Planned Unit Development (PUD) for West Viera.  The go-ahead to build the communities, which will have 3,500 to 4,000 homes, will come after final approval by various state agencies, as well as completion of the permitting process.

Though the areas to be developed will be “consistent with existing Viera development,” according to the company, they will have a different feel.  This will include mixed-use “villages” with diverse housing types and “village centers,” which are described as “centralized commercial/civic nodes.”  Here living, commercial, retail and recreational spaces are integrated together, with an emphasis on a pedestrian driven lifestyle.  For some of these residents driving to work, to shopping or to leisure activities will be a thing of the past.

Working Through the Details

“We’re going through the list of crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s.  It’s sort of a last phase,” said Tracy Duda Chapman, chief executive officer of the Viera Co.

“West Viera,” it must be added, does not mean simply the property west of Central Viera, the community’s current, westernmost residential area.  It includes the land that extends from Barnes Boulevard at the north to well south of the Pineda Interchange, all west of I-95.

Chapman and Johnson refuse to speculate about when construction will start on the new projects, as Central Viera, in the vicinity of Tavistock Road continue to attract residents. As Lauri Duda Buckley, Viera’s vice president of marketing said, “Those communities are doing well, with a true diversity of products and (prices).  Yes, we have high-end homes, but we have products at a variety of price points; something for everyone.”

West Viera’s first communities, tentatively called “Village One,” will be located just south of the medical complex, and it will have a community park, a “village center “and various recreational areas, including what is described as a “primary recreational lake.”

“Our goal is to offer innovative new housing products in Village One for the many new workers that will be employed at (the medical complex) and the new Viera hospital and the Viera Town Center,” Johnson said.

Redefining the Viera Lifestyle

The other project called “the focal point of West Viera development,” will be located within easy access of the Brevard County Government Center, Duran Golf Club and The Avenue Viera.  It will be a product of mixed-use development with a “main street” atmosphere, including a five-acre park and amphitheater as well as shops, restaurants and offices.

It is expected to “define Viera” and become “the hub of community events in the future,” according to Scott Miller, vice president for sales and marketing of the Viera Co.

But, because bringing in new businesses can be complicated by tight money, as Chapman said, “That’s all in the longer term.  The economy is not really where it needs to be for us to be expanding at a fast pace.  We have businesses that want to be here . . . . Right now, it’s about being cautious with your business opportunities.”

“We’re just going to work with commercial buyers . . . . That will change the landscape too,” Johnson added.

Stewarding the Land

So will new road construction, including the completion of the Pineda Causeway I-95 interchange; the widening of Wickham Road; additional streets near the hospital; the transformation of the Viera Boulevard flyover into an interchange, which is expected to take several years; and Washingtonian, which will link the Pineda Causeway to Eau Gallie Boulevard.  The latter is not expected to occur for some time, pending development and county requirements.

And then there is the landscape, literally.  The Viera Co. remains a subsidiary of A. Duda & Sons, one of the world’s foremost, privately-held agricultural companies, and its members, like Chapman, remain stubbornly attached to the land.  Therefore Viera will always be, in some part, “the ranch.”

“You know that phrase ‘stewards of the land?’” longtime Viera community relations manager Judi John asks.  “Well, they do. You hear it all the time from the Dudas, and they mean it.”

What they mean is responsibility to the areas that surround the communities and businesses that comprise Viera, which, despite its more than 15,000 human residents, remains home to several ecosystems.

A Place for More than People

It is not uncommon to see a bobcat in the backyard or an eagle perched atop a streetlight, and the developer intends to keep it that way; so part of its agreement for West Viera includes continued agricultural operations as well as enhancement of the 44,000-acre River Lakes Conservation Area, including “preservation of adjacent lands, which will create a permanent edge to development.”

The Viera Wilderness Park, 5,612 acres of conservation and rural areas, will serve as a focal point for wetland mitigation and habitat for various species, managed according to a comprehensive plan.  “We want to show good environmental stewardship . . . . Really, that satisfies part of the need of the people that want to build here too,” Chapman said. “They want to (live in) this type of environment.”

That adds up to a great deal of excitement for Chapman, an attorney who remembers the land as it was, as she plans for the land as it will be, “going forward,” in her words.

“From my perspective, it is so exciting to see Viera so vibrant and coming to fruition in this way . . . . We’ve been fortunate to have built a place in the right way; a place with a plan.  That’s very important to us as a family.  We’re very proud of Viera.”

Viera Medical Park:
What it Means to the Community and Village One

Upon completion next year, Viera Hospital will be a 100-bed, acute-care, not-for-profit hospital and centerpiece for Viera Health Park, a 50-acre campus at which a variety of health care services will be offered.

“The hospital has changed the skies in Viera,” said Steve Johnson, president of The Viera Co., and he spoke figuratively as well as literally.  Several hundred people now work on construction of the complex, and when it opens in early 2011, it will add hundreds of employees, meaning “potential residents and/or people with whom to do business,” in the eyes of Viera’s developer.

“Initially, we should have about 400 employees,” said Christopher S. Kennedy, president and chief executive officer of the hospital.

No wonder then that Village One will be built in the hospital’s back yard, separated from it by retention ponds and berms, and will offer a variety of housing choices and prices.

Officials of The Viera Co. have said that at least “10 percent of the next phase of residential development in West Viera will be targeted for construction as attainable workforce housing,” and so the villages are expected to include apartments, townhomes and condominiums, as well as single-family houses.

Construction is expected to begin on Village One as soon as regulatory hurdles are cleared.

West Viera:
A Community-Planned Community

First, The Viera Co. announced plans to expand west.  Then it formed a Community Advisory Panel of 25 local residents to help plan the way the area should look and act, and made presentations to local civic and neighborhood groups to get opinions from their members, too.  Add that to a series of open-house discussions and you have a community-planned community.

The panel met three times, starting in June, 2005, to provide suggestions and comments on the developer’s plan.  The plan eventually presented by representatives of Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin Lopez Rinehart in October, 2005, incorporated elements of concepts presented at the previous meeting.

The development proposal was presented to Viera residents at an open house July 12, 2005 and residents were given the opportunity to go over the plan at subsequent, similar events.  The plan for West Viera was unveiled at a third open house, a little more than two years later.