Building along Old Cutler Road in Palmetto Bay might get a little trickier.
The village council has voted to put parameters on future housing developments along the historic road. The ordinance, which passed 4-1 on first reading Monday, says that any project with more than 30 residential units east of Old Cutler Road would need to have a traffic congestion rating of a grade C or above, on a scale of A to F, in order to be ultimately approved by the village council. Councilman David Singer dissented.
The ordinance would require that developers submit a traffic study for the immediate area that would be affected. That area will be defined by the city.
If that grade results in a rating lower than a C, the developer would have to create a traffic relief plan to address the issue and then get it approved by the village council.
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“The issue really is that there are only two north-to-south arteries in Palmetto Bay and they go all the way through the village — Old Cutler and U.S. 1, which are heavily used for rush hour traffic,” said Vice Mayor John Dubois. “Both of them are basically parking lots during peak hours.”
Because U.S. 1 has wide, two-lane roads, along with the South Dade Busway and Metrorail, limiting development along the corridor doesn’t make as much sense, Dubois says.
“Old Cutler has no county public transit and it’s protected by historical designation,” Dubois said. “It’s important that we don’t have to remove that historical designation in order to accommodate the increasing traffic.”
The council voted to apply the ordinance only to the east side of Old Cutler Road because the west side is already built out by single-family homes. Old Cutler runs from Southwest 136th Street to Southwest 184th Street within the municipality.
When developers submit a site plan for their projects, a traffic study is required. This ordinance would require that the grade be a “C” or above. Another ordinance was passed earlier this year that requires traffic studies be paid for initially by the village and then reimbursed by the developer.
“That way, the integrity of the study is maintained,” Dubois has said. But councilwoman Larissa Siegel Lara chimed in on the dais, asking Dubois, who lives on Old Cutler, if the creation of the ordinance was for personal gain.
“A question can be asked: Why Old Cutler? Why nowhere else? What’s the intent?” Siegel Lara said.
Dubois: “Yes, I happen to live on Old Cutler. I happen to be lucky that I don’t have to use it during rush hour so it doesn’t affect me. However there are a lot of people who live on Old Cutler Road and are impacted by the traffic and it’s our responsibility to preserve their quality of life.”
It’s not the first time officials have questioned Dubois’ intentions. Dubois for years has been vocal in opposing development on Old Cutler, specifically the Palmetto Bay Village Center project on the former Burger King site, citing endless traffic and clogged roads as the crux of the issue.
The development called for 485 condos that would be built along historic Old Cutler, right next door to his ocean-front estate. Dubois was told by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics that participating in the vote would be a conflict of interest. Two weeks later, Dubois voted anyway and the project passed, 4-1, with Dubois dissenting.
His action sparked an ethics investigations which is still under way. Dubois told the Miami Herald that the ethics commission never told him he had a conflict. Dubois provided a legal opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics that said he did not have a conflict of interest in voting because “you are not likely to gain or lose more than other persons affected by the vote.”
Since then, Dubois has continued to participate in votes concerning the development. In April, a divided council passed on first reading a proposal that would revert to the developer’s earlier plan for a hotel, apartments and housing for senior citizens — instead of 485 condos; the vote was 3-2. To make it official, the measure has to get the council’s final approval sometime this month.
Whether it was legal for the council to vote on the measure in the first place is still up in the air, according to the village’s attorney, Dexter Lehtinen.
The Palmetto Bay Village Council will revisit the traffic study ordinance in July on second reading.