As the vote looms to determine whether Cutler Bay’s town council will accept a zoning change request for a new development on Old Cutler Road and Southwest 184th Street, some residents are growing more concerned.
The proposed project, Old Cutler Village, would be located at 18551 Old Cutler Rd.
“The people of Cutler Bay have expressed division on this,” said Steve Zarzecki, president of the Concerned Citizens of Cutler Bay. “[Citizens say the] property should be acquired by the town and turned into a passive park. The first meeting we had to talk about this ... we had a standing room only crowd.”
Cutler Properties, which has requested the zoning change, is owned by Fortune International, which is owned by Argentinian real estate developer Edgardo Defortune.
“We asked for a show of hands on how many people were opposed to the application and opposed to the rezoning and how many were for it and it was unanimously for opposing the zoning change,” Zarzecki said.
The development is poised to have a bed and breakfast, café, townhouses, condominiums and an office building, according to the designer’s website.
Current zoning allows 30 to 40 single-family homes, but the owner filed to change the zoning to a mixed-use development, allowing buildings of up to four stories.
Before building the development with the proposed design, its representatives need to come before the council for zoning hearings and a vote. According to town manager Ralph Casals, the developer application, with a traffic study and environmental impact study, has been resubmitted and is currently under review by town staff and professional consultants. Casals said it will not be on the June council agenda.
Last year, Hugo Arza, Juan Mayol Jr. and Jose Castillo registered as lobbyists for the development. Arza and Mayol Jr. also registered this year as lobbyists for the project. Mayol contributed to Peggy Bell’s 2014 mayoral campaign while Castillo was hired by Bell and Seat 2 council member Sue Loyzelle for campaign work.
But Bell said that when it comes time to vote, she would judge the application on its merits, not “personalities.”
“As to influence, I can only speak for myself, but I do not owe any lobbyist anything,” Bell said. “All of my paid campaign staff has been paid in full and they do not expect and will not receive anything else from me. My allegiance is to Cutler Bay and only Cutler Bay.”
The development is on nine acres, adjacent to the coastal wetlands restoration project and several communities, including Cutler Cay, Saga Bay, Old Cutler Glen and Lakes by the Bay.
“I always encourage zoning applicants to meet with residents and surrounding business owners to try to accommodate their concerns prior to coming before the council,” Bell said. “I share the residents’ concerns in that I only want what is in the best interest of the town, and that is the standard by which I always evaluate zoning applications. I also believe residents deserve to receive complete and correct information and not partial, biased or incomplete information.”
Town residents protested the zoning change on April 25th, voicing their concerns of a high-density development, traffic gridlock, and impact on their quality of life.
“We have 505 single-family homes in the community of Cutler Cay,” said Robert Gonzalez, vice president of the Cutler Cay homeowners’ association board of directors. “We have been collecting signatures on letters against the proposed zoning change. I believe we have in excess of 400 letters signed by residents.”
Nearby residents are hoping that the town buys the land from the developer to put in a public park.
“We strongly believe that the building that they are proposing on that site would very adversely affect the value of our homes ... the whole atmosphere in our communities here,” Gonzalez said. “Not only Cutler Cay, which is part of Cutler Bay, but Cutler Glen and all of the surrounding communities. It’s out of place. We have a residential strip on a historic highway. There is really no need for what they are proposing. We feel that the developer is essentially just trying to get as much bang for his buck investment in that parcel of land.”
Bell said she encourages residents to review the application, come to council meetings and voice concerns when the application is presented.
“From what I understand there are some delays related to the traffic study that the applicant submitted and that it probably won’t be for at least a few months, maybe September, before it goes before the council,” Zarzecki said.
Zarzecki said that he has “no doubt” that there will be another protest if the applicant does not approach the town council before September.
“There are individuals who are urging the township to see what the value of the land is and see if the developer would be willing to sell the property instead of going through this fight because I know he is going to face heavy opposition to any kind of development that he is proposing right now,” Gonzalez said.
Bell said that a 40 percent increase in population, the expansion of a private school leading to a new entrance on 184th Street and the addition of 400 employees at the Palmetto Bay Center have created additional traffic concerns in the area.