Quoting Sir Winston Churchill, touting village’s economic-development programs, and – at one point – holding back tears, Palmetto Bay Mayor Shelley Stanczyk delivered her annual state of the village address Wednesday night to an audience of about 170 people.
Stanczyk said this year’s theme for the village is ‘charting the course.’
That ‘course’ is the village’s new goal: An initiative to revitalize its downtown by creating a residential and business community in a relatively undeveloped district
The project aims to improve the infrastructure and landscape of an area known as the Franjo Triangle – from Southwest 184th Street north to 168th Street and from the southbound lanes of U.S. 1 east to Franjo Road – to provide incentives for companies to open shop there.
That, said Stanczyk, will increase Palmetto Bay’s commercial tax base.
Currently, 8 percent of Palmetto Bay is occupied by businesses. Village businesses account for 21 percent of its tax revenue. The rest comes from residents.
“This renaissance of economic development must be done to help shift the burden of taxes from our residential sector by growing the commercial tax base,” said Stanczyk during her address.
To create a thorough vision for Franjo Triangle’s redevelopment, Palmetto Bay has enlisted the help of about 40 residents, a group called the Downtown Redevelopment Task Force, who voluntarily provide their professional input, regularly meet to create a comprehensive plan for the new downtown, and seek input from other residents.
“With the exception of Village Hall, we’ve never spent any money in that area,” said Edward Silva, who is in charge of the task force and also the director of the village’s Department of Building and Capital Projects
Added Stanczyk during her address: “In the future, when we are debating which is the best restaurant in Palmetto Bay, where to shop, or where to hang out and people-watch, we’ll remember the foundation we all helped establish.”
For this fiscal year, the village has budgeted $1 million to upgrade streets, widen sidewalks and improve landscape in the Franjo Triangle.
The downtown redevelopment project is a change in course for the village.
So far, Palmetto Bay has made headway with other initiatives, such as parks, sidewalk improvements, an Art in Public Places program, and an education compact between the village and the county that will allow the village to have a close working relationship with the county school board so village public schools can better enrich educational opportunities. The education compact allows the village to reach into "the labyrinth" of Miami-Dade County Public Schools and "find the right people" who can help the village find resources, such as matching grants, to improve public schools, said Leanne Tellam, a member of the village’s Education Compact Advisory Committee.
The municipality boasts five parks and, just recently, completed improvements to Coral Reef Park’s tennis courts and re-opened Thalatta Park, home to the historic Mediterranean-Revival Thalatta Estate. More batting cages will also be added to village parks.
The village’s Art in Public Places program strives to bring visual art to Palmetto Bay. As a result of the program, a new sculpture will soon grace Village Hall’s courtyard.
But as in any municipality, Palmetto Bay has its share of issues.
Stanczyk took the time to recognize that, acknowledging that Palmetto Bay was one of the few incorporated local governments in Miami-Dade County where property values decreased this year.
The county property appraiser reported a 0.62 percent drop in the village’s property values. Stanczyk said that is “due to a lack of private investment in the commercial sector of the village.”
As for its residential sector?
“We have a very stable community. That means people have lived here a long time,” Stanczyk said after the speech, adding that recently she has seen more homes go up for sale.
Another rough patch in Palmetto Bay’s history: Ongoing litigation with the private Palmer Trinity School over expansion that has went on for the last five of the village’s 11 years since incorporation.
“Palmetto Bay has recently taken steps to attempt to positively and peacefully resolve lingering legal issues,” said Stanczyk.
The Village Council has approved a settlement with Palmer to end all lawsuits, which were filed by the school against the village. The terms of the settlement, however, will be reworked to reach a medium between what the school wants and what residents want in order to protect their quality of life. The document, along with a site plan for the school’s expansion, will eventually come back to the council for a vote.
Before she embarked on her speech, Stanczyk recognized village department heads and held back tears when it came time to name Village Attorney Eve Boutsis.
“Eve, your intelligence, strength of spirit, and wisdom will be sorely missed,” said Stanczyk. “I can predict that regardless of where your future leads you, happiness will be part of it.”
Last week, a divided council decided to dismiss Boutsis, of Figueredo and Boutsis, from her post as village attorney. Stanczyk and Councilwoman Joan Lindsay dissented.
“Our decisions are not always easy to make,” said Stanczyk when she recognized her fellow council members during her address. “While we may not always agree, there is no doubt that we all serve with great conviction.”