A charter-school company has again revised its plans for a new school in east Kendall, but neighbors remain opposed to the project.
The company wants to build Somerset Academy Bay at Pinewood Acres, a school serving kids in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, on the property of the Pinewood Acres School at 9500 Southwest 97th Avenue.
Pinewood has been owned and operated by the Lones family for the last 60 years, until the family signed a five-year lease-to-purchase deal with Somerset. The school had never enrolled more than 290 students while the new plans call for a 1,850-student campus. Earlier proposals had called for 2,000 students, but neighborhood leaders say the new number is still too high.
“We basically are against the increase in students, not because we are against education,” said Jose Suarez, president of the East Kendall homeowners federation. “We are completely against the amount of traffic this is going to cause. The increase in traffic is tremendous. As it is today, it’s extremely dangerous for us to drive out of our streets.”
“With an additional 1,850 students we will never get in and out,” said Suarez, an architect who also lives in the neighborhood. “For emergency vehicles it’s going to be an issue with that amount of traffic. Ninety-seventh Avenue is a two-lane street with no turning lanes. The place is 100 percent residential.”
Miami-Dade County’s Developmental Impact Committee, a group of county staffers from various departments, and the the neighbors each voiced concerns after Somerset proposed a 2,000 student campus in February 2013. Hugo Arza, an attorney for Somerset, submitted a revised letter of intent on March 13 that reduced the number of students to 1,850.
“I have no clue why they did that,” Suarez said. “It’s a ridiculous number.”
A three-acre north campus would be on the northwest corner of 97th Avenue and 96th Street. The north campus would accommodate 450 students in pre-k through second grade.
“In an effort to address those comments and questions, including the comments from the community, we reconfigured the campus, which resulted in a reduction in the size of the proposed facilities, and consequently the number of students was reduced,” said Rolando Llanes, a principal of Civica, the project’s design firm. “When the demand for high quality charter education is so high, any reduction is significant. That said, the school is sensitive to the comments from staff and its neighbors, and has been willing to make necessary adjustments to its proposal.”
The south campus would be on five acres on the southwest corner of Southwest 97th Avenue and 96th Street and accommodate 1,400 students in the third through 12th grades. The campuses would be open from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Juan Mayol, a partner for Holland & Knight and attorney for the school, said there is a waiting list of more than 1,000 students for the new school.
“The expansion of the school has already received the blessing of the school district and now requires approval by the Miami-Dade County Commission,” Mayol said. “We are currently working through the zoning approval process.”
A traffic study said that the north campus would attract 346 new vehicle trips while the south campus would attract 852 new vehicle trips during the morning peak hours of 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
“The neighbors like 290 students and that’s what people in the area moved there knowing,” Suarez said. “It was a small private school with 290 students. We don’t have a problem with that. We have been living with it. We do have a problem with 1,850 students. We have a problem with anything over 290 because the traffic it’s going to cause. 1,850 students are not in scale or compatible to the neighborhood.”
But Saili Hernandez, principal at Somerset Academy Bay at Pinewood Acres said that “the road network is adequate.”
“While we respect the neighbors’ comments, Somerset has secured the services of a professional traffic engineer, who has analyzed the proposal and has determined that the road network is adequate to serve the school without adversely impacting the neighborhood,” Hernandez said. “As a school of choice, the safety of our students, staff, visitors and neighbors is paramount to Somerset. Our design professionals have developed a program that, when implemented, will result in a safe and efficient school operation, ensuring that these questions are addressed.”
According to an engineering study commissioned by the developer, traffic at most nearby intersections would not get significantly worse. An exception is the intersection of 97th Avenue and 104th Street. Engineers use school-style grades to rate traffic conditions, and the study indicates that conditions at that intersection would drop from a “C” to a “D” during morning rush hours, due mainly to longer delays for eastbound and westbound drivers.
Westbound cars on 94th Street at 97th Avenue also would see longer delays, with service dropping from a “B” to a “D.”
Mayol said the school is awaiting comments from county staff about the revisions as part of the approval process.
“As to when we find out if it’s approved, the expansion requires approval by the Miami-Dade County Commission, and the application has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing,” Mayol said.