Palmetto Bay council member Joan Lindsay’s Town Hall meeting on May 21, revealed many facts to the standing-room-only crowd about the Palmer Trinity School expansion issue. Village Attorney Dexter Lehtinen really took the lead with his presentation clarifying the issues (posted on the attorney’s page on the Palmetto Bay website). It now appears that the adverse campaign instigated by Palmer and their supporters was not supported by facts.
Several issues came to light that I found integral to the discussion:
• The pending lawsuits are not about the site plan. The school has been able to build with the approved site plan since 2012. Lehtinen called the lawsuits leverage lawsuits meant to force the village to allow the school to include items in their site plan they are not legally permitted to have such as lights.
• The League of Cities insurance covers the attorney and any damages that may result from the federal claims ($5 million per occurrence or claim). The insurance will also pay the attorney. Lehtinen concurred with Jeff Hochman (the insurance attorney) that the claims are frivolous.
• The village’s liability for the state claims is limited by sovereign immunity to $100,000 per claim.
• Of the 14 claims publicized by Palmer: two state claims have no monetary demand; two claims have a monetary claim subject to the $100,000 cap); five are federal claims covered by insurance; and five claims were dismissed or not directed against the village.
It seems to me that the settlement put forward by three members of the Council of $200,000 cash ($50,000 insurance payment) and $600,000 in building fees is far in excess of what Palmetto Bay would pay if they lost everything in court which seems very unlikely, according to the attorney. When asked by a resident what did he think about trying the case, Lehtinen said that he would enjoy taking them to court as the claims lack merit.
Jeanne Bunten, Palmetto Bay
Village attorney gave great presentation
Dexter Lehtinen, Palmetto Bay’s new village attorney, came on like a lion at Councilwoman Joan Lindsay’s town hall meeting May 21. Lehtinen skillfully unraveled the issues surrounding the litigation by Palmer Trinity against the village, which began in 2008 when a zoning change on their 33-acre mango grove was denied.
Lehtinen put those fears to rest with his thorough analysis of the Palmer Trinity lawsuit that has been amended five times since 2008.
Lehtinen made it clear that both he and Jeff Hochman, the attorney for the village’s insurance company, both think this is a nuisance lawsuit.
Using a Power Point presentation, Lehtinen said: “Palmer Trinity alleges that delay caused by various civil rights violations … resulted in monetary damages.”
Lehtinen’s response, “Damages from delay would be premised upon immediate building upon receiving approval of land uses; yet no action to build taken since final approval to land uses issued in 2012.”
Of the eleven counts pending against the village, some are federal claims covered by insurance up to $5 million for each occurrence and defense fees. Others are state claims for which the village has sovereign immunity – either completely or above $100,000 liability.
Palmer Trinity sent the village a “take it or leave it” offer in August. Following a public hearing Sept. 9, three Village Council members voted for a proposed settlement that included land use issues, $200,000 in cash, and $600,000 in credit for building permit fees, inspections, etc. Based on Lehtinen’s presentation, this decision should be reexamined.
Despite approval of its plans in 2012, the school wants changes and has submitted a site plan modification to the village. According to Lehtinen, the application “is to be considered on its own merits, without regard to litigation.” However, Palmer Trinity has been using their lawsuit to bully the village to get what they are not entitled to by law — such as athletic field lighting.
The complete Town Hall Meeting audio/video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUkr_g-nhIY.
Helen Sandow, Palmetto Bay
South Miami wrong to allow tree-cutting
In South Miami, the Snapper Creek area is (or was) an urban park setting. It is a certified sanctuary for bird species, butterflies, insects and plants . Man and nature in harmony.
But unfortunately, destruction is all around. Just this week, at least four mature oaks, many gumbo limbos, some mahoganies, scrub pines and others were cut down on 81st Street. An oak, whose “feet” are stuck in concrete on 82nd Street, was hat racked. This is just part of the epidemic that has befallen our area. We cannot trust elected officials, including Mayor Philip Stoddard, Vice Mayor Walter Harris, commissioners Bob Welsh, Josh Liebman and Gabriel Edmund and City Manager Steven Alexander. They have approved one lot-splitting after another without thoughtful evaluation or environmental-impact analysis.
Stoddard, in an email, called single story houses “space wasting.” He has bought into the New Urbanism model, he and his family and friends are openly touting the need for more height and density. The wishes of residents to maintain a balance with nature are no longer of importance in South Miami.
On the north side of town, the commission is lurking after Poverty Inc. affordable housing projects and dollars. Because someone has to pay for services and salaries, the tree inventory in our area is raped on a daily basis to accommodate more (mostly ugly) McManions, squeezing out the middle class.
In South Miami, City Manager Alexander , who was ousted from Palmetto Bay, was given a raise and a (premature) extension of his contract the same day he brought out the worthless tree ordinance. The very next day, the aforementioned trees were ripped out of the ground to make space for more concrete buildings. Review of said ordinance was withdrawn from the Planning Board, no reason cited. There was no public discourse, no workshop, nada.
Thanks for nothing , South Miami government.
Yvonne Beckman, South Miami