Part 1: What Happened to Indiantown’s Grand Vision?

What Happened to Indiantown’s Grand Vision?

A community that historically treasured its diversity, Indiantown today is starting to show signs of division that just a few years ago were unimaginable. In part, that’s because two iconic visionaries who helped launch Indiantown’s incorporation movement, E. Thelma Waters and Art Matson, have died.

It is also because of the actions of its current village manager, Howard W. Brown Jr.

Matson and Waters helped steer Indiantown toward the objectives previously set by the Indiantown Neighborhood Advisory Committee for Indiantown’s Community Redevelopment Area and toward incorporation to meet those objectives, create new jobs, and positively impact all Indiantown lives.

In fact, when Indiantown native and businessman Brian Powers spoke to a gathering of residents in early 2017 about the possibilities of incorporation, he pointed to the framed CRA plan on the wall of the Indiantown civic center.

“We can do this,” he said. “We know how to do this. We’ve done it before.”

What Powers didn’t know then is that those two influential voices would be gone, that the highly regarded Powers family would be shoved aside, that the Indiantown Chamber of Commerce members and incorporation activists would become outcasts, and that Martin County and anyone connected to the county would be considered an enemy engaged in an ongoing attack on Indiantown.

He also did not know – and likely could not have imagined – that racial lines would be drawn where racial diversity had so long been celebrated. Almost overnight, the grand vision shattered.

Indiantown citizens had been told that this village of some 6,700 could qualify for state revenue-sharing funds, hold onto more of the cash from its substantial industrial tax base, and those sources combined would mean they annually could budget around $5 million – more than double what most other Florida cities the size of Indiantown have as a base for their budget.

They could operate a government with sufficient surplus to enable huge changes to their quality of life:

  • Create a major youth sports program and expand recreation and education opportunities for a town with the youngest population in the county.
  • Improve the drinking water, build pathways for pedestrians and golf carts, hire their own dedicated code enforcement officer, and beautify and expand parks.
  • Even make the five-laned Warfield Boulevard safer for pedestrians and more attractive, recruit at least an urgent care facility, if not a hospital, and bring meaningful jobs to Indiantown.

The incorporation leaders said it could be done without adding a penny in new taxes.

They did not anticipate a Howard Brown landing in Indiantown with a different agenda.

Incorporation passed. The council was elected in March 2018. The mission and vision statements were crafted with widespread public input, facilitated by Dr. Kim Delaney of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, at no cost to Indiantown.

Work began immediately on the new rules that would fit rural Indiantown and its needs – instead of the suburban coast that wanted to tightly control its growth – to bring those new jobs and new housing options to the village.

Just as important, the council decided that a bevy of citizen committees should be formed – from budget oversight to development regulations to beautification to parks to education – committees to advise the council prior to making their decisions.

Their first citizen committee, comprising local builders, was to select an engineering firm for council approval to assume the duties of its first building department and code enforcement. This would be a true citizen-centric government.

The village also received state funding for a new economic strategy study, which confirmed the village was on the right path. Kimley-Horn & Associates, an engineering firm who conducted the study, found Indiantown’s location “enviable.”

The vision statement written by residents that guided the study ended with “… Indiantown has opportunities for tourism, trade, and industrial expansion like no other community in Martin County,” exactly what incorporation organizers had told state legislators who doubted that Indiantown could sustain itself as a separate municipality.

Kimley-Horn called the Florida Commerce Park “the gem” of Indiantown with shovel-ready, permitted industrial sites along the CXS railway, and called the historic Seminole Inn “the diamond” of Indiantown. Both should be promoted by the village, they wrote.

The engineers encouraged the village to make a major investment in its airport, promote ITS Fiber, develop a hotel and/or resort at Indiantown Marina, and support its working waterfront at Indiantown Marine Services.

They provided the village a step-by-step outline and steps the council could take immediately, even with a small staff, for the creation of a sustainable economy with the ability to weather even a regional economic downturn.

The first step, said Kimley-Horn, was to seek developers to identify the challenges they had faced previously in trying to build in Indiantown as the village began work on its Comprehensive Growth Management Plan.

The village council had already done that months earlier by selecting one village resident apiece, plus two Indiantown business owners, to sit on the Comprehensive Plan Review Committee: Veverly Gary-Hamilton, chair, Scott Watson, vice-chair, Kevin Powers, Roger Bulmer, Maria Rosado, Mike Garrett, and Milton Williams.

The committee was charged with drafting the village’s Comp Plan with the assistance of the village’s planning consultant, Bonnie Landry, director of planning.

Although it was Landry’s first time writing a growth management plan, many of the members of the committee were experienced in interpreting and applying Martin County’s growth plan rules to real-world projects. It seemed to be a prudent decision by the council to have them work together; however, in less than a month after Brown’s arrival, the citizen committee was dissolved by the council that had appointed it.

Kimley-Horn also urged the village to collaborate with the Indiantown Chamber of Commerce, the Business Development Board of Martin County, the cities of Okeechobee and Stuart, and Martin County in order to tap into their expertise, assets and tools currently unavailable to Indiantown, to develop a local business retention and expansion program, to identify underutilized properties, create teams to meet their goals and seek grants from a host of state agencies for added expertise, not limiting themselves to grants for infrastructure needs.

Kimley-Horn’s two-year-old “Invest in Indiantown” plan, along with two previous comprehensive economic studies funded by Martin County and FPL, remains filed away, untouched since its release in May 2019.

Indiantown’s focus had changed by then. The village council already had written a brand new vision statement and its own strategic plan, which included building a village hall. The village’s path seemed now to be directed by a carnival-barker-style con man.

Howard W. Brown Jr., arrived Jan. 14, 2019.

–Barbara Clowdus

Watch for A New Beginning, or the Beginning of the End, PART 2 of What Happened to Indiantown’s Grand Vision? coming Tuesday morning, March 30.