Motivated by a fear of “McMansions” and a love of trees, neighbors to a proposed development of seven single family homes in South Miami want the city to reject a builder’s request for a waiver of land regulations.
The dispute has included discussion of environmental conservation, as well as some of the finer points of local development rules.
The “waiver of plat” application process has been anything but expeditious, and final consideration by the commission is scheduled for Tuesday’s commission meeting.
The city’s planning board first heard the proposal in June, when it received a unanimous recommendation of approval without much scrutiny from neighbors.
However, when the two applications were first scheduled to come before the City Commission on July 2, the commission pulled them because of a technical issue. But that did not stop a number of neighbors from expressing their objections to the project in the hopes of preserving more than two and a half acres of densely wooded land at 6520 SW 56th St.
The commission took up one of the applications on July 16. Neighbors told the commission about the abundance of wildlife they’ve seen on or around the property, including a variety of birds of prey, hummingbirds, cardinals, orioles, butterflies, raccoons and the occasional red fox. Many of them see it as one of the last pieces of relatively undeveloped property in the city. The site is fringed by Australian pines, but has dozens of oaks and palms on the interior, including two 70-foot-tall live oaks.
However, the issue was deferred because of confusion over the county’s rules about waivers of plat. The county’s ordinance about subdivisions states that the recording of a plat (the normal and lengthier platting process) will not be required if “the land to be subdivided is to be divided into no more than six (6) parcels” along with a few other conditions. However, both the city attorney and the developer’s attorney have said that county staff had told them that because the waivers of plat were sought through two applications, their application is consistent with county rules.
The applications were kicked back to the city’s planning board, where board members Antoinette Fischer and Yvonne Beckman voted to recommend denial of the waiver of plat resulting in a 3-2 vote in favor of approval.
The mother-daughter team organizing the opposition to the waivers of plat, long-time resident Patricia Donly and her daughter Tina Pellicane (a veterinary ophthalmologist who now lives in Davie but shares with her brother fond memories of the land across from her childhood home), started a petition that explains their view of the ecological value of the site, and states the site is an example of limestone karst topography that could have “as yet unknown archeological significance.” The petition, which has so far received more than 100 signatures according to Pellicane, asks the city to reject the platting proposal and find a way to purchase the property to build a park, preserving the site.
But land-use attorney Melissa Tapanes Llahues, who represents the developer, has a different perspective. Tapanes Llahues told the commission on July 16 that the proposed homes (which are planned to be two stories and larger than 5,000 square feet) “are not McMansions under any definition.”
She also disputed the ecological significance of the site, telling the commission that the wildlife on the site mainly consists of mosquitoes and rodents. She also said the only limestone on the property was brought there by a previous owner, and the development team has archaeologist Bob Carr on retainer should something arise
Tapanes Llahues sees the whole issue as rather simple, straightforward legal matter. She cited case law to the commission to explain that the decision to grant or deny a waiver of plat is a “purely ministerial or administrative function,” and that “a local agency may only deny a plat if the agency demonstrates that the application did not meet the objective legal requirements for approval.”
In essence, she is saying there is little room for judgment or discretion on the part of the commission.
Tapanes Llahues noted city planning staff had opined that the applications did meet the requirements and recommended approval of the waivers.
Carlos Tosca, one of the principals behind the project, said he thinks the opposition doesn’t “really understand what’s occurring.” He said the current zoning would allow for 15 lots, though the need for septic tanks for the houses lowers that number to eight or nine. Their two applications ask for a combined seven lots.
Tosca’s company paid $1.2 million for the land in December, according to county records.
Tosca thinks the neighbors will be happy once they see quality of the design and construction after the homes are built.
However, he said he thinks the opposition is trying to infringe on his private property rights.
“It’s kind of being hijacked by a mob mentality,” Tosca said.
“I certainly wouldn’t consider us a mob,” Pellicane said. “This is a group of educated people, and we’re trying to preserve one last little piece of green space in an area that’s been totally paved over.”
One of the newer arguments that has come up in opposition to the waiver of plat is that the proposed lots do not conform with the rest of the neighborhood because the frontage is too small, making the lots too narrow. Several of the lots have 75-foot frontages. Pellicane thinks five or six homes would be more appropriate.
“We’re not trying to prevent him from getting his worth out of the property. We’re just trying to make sure it’s platted properly,” Pellicane said.
Pellicane believes there is a mutually beneficial solution to the whole problem, and is currently trying to find backing from an outside organization to try to purchase the property to preserve it.
“What he’s going to destroy is irreplaceable,” Pellicane said. “You can’t recreate an ecosystem.”
“If they want to buy the land, then we’ll consider selling it,” Tosca said. So far, he hasn’t received any offers.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the government must pay fair market value if it takes private property for a park. In addition, the government can’t impose regulations that deprive the property of all value — unless the government pays for it..
If the project is approved by the city, the county would have to sign off on final approval of the waiver of plat. The developer will also need to go through a permitting process before he can start building, including obtaining permits to remove the trees on the site.