Palmetto Bay council members have taken a step toward ending the remaining litigation with Palmer Trinity School.
In a Monday-night meeting that ran past midnight, the council voted 3-2 to accept a settlement drafted by the private school’s attorneys.
“We’ve got to focus on the future of this village,” said Councilman Tim Schaffer, who voted for the agreement. “Do we put the potential future of this village in the hands of courts or do we go ahead and accept their offer and accept their olive branch that they’ve put forth that they are going to work with the village?“
Palmer Trinity and Palmetto Bay have been engaged in legal battles for five years. It started in 2008 when the school sued the village after the council did not approve a rezoning request for a 32-acre plot Palmer purchased with hopes of expansion. After losing two appeals, the Village Council approved the rezoning for Palmer’s vacant land adjacent to its current campus at 7900 SW 176th St. and allowed an increase of student enrollment from 600 to 1,150. The school is surrounded by a residential neighborhood.
The settlement places milder terms on the school compared to the council’s previous decisions. For example, the school will be allowed to have lights on its athletic fields, although the lights will have to be directed entirely onto the school’s property, and will have to be shut off by 8:30 p.m.
“This settlement is garbage,” said village resident Bev Gerald at the meeting before the council’s vote. “They know we want to move forward. But it’s like saying this is a take it or leave it deal and this is an insult to our residents.”
But Palmer’s attorney Stanley Price said the approved settlement was not a “take it or leave it deal.”
The school will work with village residents and council to change the settlement’s terms so that a happy medium is achieved between the school and its neighbors, he told the Miami Herald.
“We are not going to go door to door. We are going to ask the mayor to identify groups in the community, and we are going to have an outreach program,” he said.
Village Attorney Eve Boutsis said that the next step is the drafting of a more detailed settlement in a development agreement, by the parties’ attorneys.
“This settlement is basic concepts that then have to be put into detail in a development agreement. The basic concepts will be the same but there will be a lot more detail and modifications in the document,” Boutsis told the Herald.
Then, the development agreement would go to a public hearing, and, if it is approved, Palmer would come back for a quasi-judicial hearing asking for council’s approval of expansion plans based on the conditions outlined in the detailed development agreement, said Boutsis.
“The development settlement agreement would be contingent upon what happens at the quasi-judicial hearing,” she said during the meeting.
“Hopefully a settlement will be reached that will preserve the livability in the community,” said Councilwoman Joan Lindsay after the meeting. She represents the part of the village in which the school is located.
Lindsay and Mayor Shelley Stanczyk were the two dissenting voices Monday night, voting against approving the settlement.
“With most of the conditions on the resolution removed, the settlement voted on last night was like signing a blank contract,” said Stanczyk in an email to the Herald. “I am relying on the promises made by Mr. Baiamonte (Chairman of the Board of Palmer) and Mr. Price (Palmer’s attorney) to meet with residents and not only listen to them but incorporate the conditions that the residents feel are important to the future livability of our community.”
The decision to move toward a settlement with Palmer was not much consolation to village resident Stanley Kaplan, 77.
“After so many years we are no closer to resolving it even with this vote tonight,” he said, adding that the litigation will soon circle back to the courts.
Part of the settlement approved Monday night says that if a third party challenges the agreement, the settlement will be terminated. And, Kaplan added, he expects that there will be a challenge.
The approved settlement does not include several other defendants in the Palmer litigation, including a residents’ group, Concerned Citizens of Old Cutler, Inc., which voluntarily joined the village as a defendant to support elected officials in their fight against Palmer’s expansion.
“There can be no settlement with CCOCI without addressing the resolution’s conditions, which were crafted by village staff,” said the group’s attorney Tucker Gibbs during the meeting. “My clients are adamant that these protections remain in place.”
Also still on the hook: Councilwoman Lindsay.
“Both claims against her are still pending and meritless, and she anticipates prevailing in a lawsuit that can be characterized as a spite,” said her attorney Benedict Kuehne, adding that the remaining claims against Lindsay are conspiracy and spoliation, or the intentional destruction of evidence, in this case emails.
In other decisions action on Monday, the council voted unanimously to approve:
• An education compact between Palmetto Bay and the Miami-Dade County School Board creating a partnership between the two entities that will provide more opportunities for students in the village. The four main parts of the agreement are student achievement, community involvement, better facilities and communication. The school board has been forming such education compacts with other Miami-Dade County municipalities.
• A bid award to a Pompano Beach-based tennis court construction company, Fast-Dry Courts, for tennis and racquetball court resurfacing in the village. The company was the second-lowest bidder at about $36,300. The village did not choose the lowest bidder because the organization turned in an incomplete application and there were issues with a previous resurfacing job it did for the village, according to village staff.
• A bid award to a Palmetto Bay tree and landscape company, Tip-Top Enterprises, for a landscape maintenance contract for about $71,200. Tip-Top was the lowest bidder.
• A bid award to asphalt-paving company H&J Asphalt to resurface parking lots at a village park. The company was the lowest bidder at $84,200
The rest of the agenda items were rescheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at Village Hall, 9705 E Hibiscus St.