After five years of court battles over the expansion of Palmer Trinity School, the litigation may soon end for the village of Palmetto Bay.
The Village Council is scheduled to vote Monday night on whether to accept a settlement offer from the private school.
“This has got to end,” said Councilman Patrick Fiore. “I think we will come to a conclusion shortly, and I hope all my colleagues see it that way. I know it sounds cliché, but we need to move the village forward.”
Under the terms of the settlement, drafted by Palmer Trinity’s attorneys, the village would pay the school $200,000 in cash and give the school a credit of $600,000 toward future building permits and inspection fees. Any fees the school has to pay for re-submitting its revised site plan to the village would be waived and not included in the $600,000 credit.
Palmer Trinity would bring its expansion plan based on the settlement conditions to a quasi-judicial hearing. Village Attorney Eve Boutsis said the litigation is not truly settled until the council approves the school’s plan at that hearing.
The school plans to expand from 600 to 1,150 students using vacant land adjacent to its existing site at 7900 SW 176th St. The school is surrounded by a residential neighborhood.
The settlement places milder conditions on the school as most of the previous council-approved conditions part of a 2010 resolution and two follow-up amendments have been eliminated and some have been changed.
“Yes, we want to end this” litigation, said resident Gary Pastorella. “But the bigger concern is if we eliminate many of these conditions, it would directly affect the quality of life for their neighbors. Palmer Trinity wants lights. Palmer Trinity wants traffic. It appears that Palmer Trinity doesn’t want to be a good neighbor and their actions speak louder than words.”
Some of the conditions in the proposed settlement are:
• Once the school’s enrollment reaches 900, it would commission a traffic study. If the study shows that traffic mitigation is needed, then Palmer Trinity would pay for the needed improvements.
• Students would use the school’s Southwest 184th Street entrance, once it opens, to enter or exit campus. Faculty, staff, parents, buses dropping off students, and delivery trucks would use the Southwest 176th Street entrance. This would be a changes from the council-approved resolution, which dictates that Southwest 176th Street is to be used only for student drop off and pick up, and all other traffic is to use Southwest 184th Street.
• Lights would be installed at all of the school’s athletic fields. According to council’s resolution, lights are not allowed on the fields but only at parking areas, underneath the surface of the pool and where required by law. In its settlement proposal, Palmer Trinity School says that it has enlisted the help of an Iowa-based sports-lighting design and manufacturing company, Musco Lighting, to ensure that light will not spill over to nearby homes. Lights on the school’s athletic fields will be turned off at 8:30 p.m., according to the proposed settlement.
• The school would place a 50-foot landscaped buffer all around the property. Previously, the council had approved a 75-foot landscaped buffer along the east, west and south ends of the school’s 8001 SW 184th St. parameters, and a 50-foot landscaped buffer along the east, west and north entrance of 7900 SW 176th St.
The proposed settlement also eliminates other council-approved conditions part of the 2010 resolution, including a requirement that the school pays for the construction of additional lanes on Southwest 184th Street and for an off-duty police officer to monitor traffic during morning and afternoon rush hour.
Palmer Trinity’s proposed settlement does not include several other defendants in the school’s litigation, including Councilwoman Joan Lindsay and a residents’ organization.
Concerned Citizens of Old Cutler, Inc., is made up from a group of residents who joined the village as a defendant in one of the lawsuit to support the elected officials in their fight against Palmer’s expansion. Attorney Tucker Gibbs, who represents CCOCI, said he will be present at Monday night’s meeting to speak of his client’s position.
Palmetto Bay and Palmer Trinity have been engaged in a series of legal battles for at least five years. In 2011, after two appeals in which judges said the village arbitrarily and unreasonably prevented the school from moving forward with its expansion plans, the school sued for millions of dollars in lost tuition and other expenses.
“We are approaching the end of a long process,” said Mayor Shelley Stanczyk. “We hope that it is going to be something that would be fair, and I think it is a process that we hope will bring all aspects of the village together.”
Added resident Davis Singer: “I think everybody at the village should be ecstatic that the village litigation could be over on Monday night. I am very happy that that’s what they (the school) are settling for. From what I was told, the village of Palmetto Bay could have been on the hook for $5 million. I don’t want my tax dollars going to Palmer. So if they cut them a $200,000 check and give them $600,000 in credit is great for the village.”