Following the unveiling of new bronze sculpture – a mangrove, complete with sea turtle and pelican – in the Village Hall courtyard, Mayor Shelley Stanczyk gave Palmetto Bay’s twelfth annual state of the village address on Wednesday night.
Last year’s speech announced the launch of village redevelopment efforts in the southeastern commercial district along U.S. 1 known as the Franjo Road triangle, and this year’s address highlighted the work of community engagement done since to get resident feedback about the project.
The hope is to rewrite village rules and make improvements to the area to attract more businesses and make Palmetto Bay’s downtown a destination spot for area residents – as well as to diversify the village’s tax base, which is now roughly 80 percent residential.
“All of our outreach is beginning to pay off,” said Stanczyk, who is in the midst of a tough reelection campaign. “I look forward to witnessing the birth of a livable, walkable downtown, where I can eat dinner at a nice steak house, go to the theater, and end my evening strolling down a pleasant, well-lit sidewalk to have coffee and desert at an outdoor café.”
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Last year’s speech theme was “charting the course.” This year’s? Action. In that vein, Stanczyk announced “a significant improvement project for Franjo Road from Southwest 184th Street north to U.S. 1” expected to start this year. “This is just the beginning,” she added.
Last year’s speech conceded slightly declining property values in the village while values rose elsewhere in the county. This year, values went up – though by about half as much as they did county-wide – and Stanczyk, who is up for reelection in November, celebrated evidence of a burgeoning financial rebound in Palmetto Bay. She pointed to growing assets, increased building permit applications, a relatively low and steady municipal tax rate, and the village’s Standard and Poor’s rating upgrade from an AA- to AA.
“This evidences our significant financial improvement and continued sound management. I’m very proud of our fiscally conservative approach,” said Stanczyk.
Other reasons to believe things are looking up: A global insurance company, BUPA, just moved in to the Palmetto Bay Village Center, the bay-front office park in the southern part of the village, adding 400 new jobs to the community, she said.
From there, Stanczyk moved on to the three Ps of municipal life: police, parks, and public works. She touted consistently fast police response rates, low crime rates, and plugged informational programs the police department runs for residents and their kids.
She acknowledged continued concerns about speeders in the village.
“I know that the commander has heard from many of you and I can assure you that we will be stepping up our efforts,” she said.
Stanczyk also reviewed parks, where she noted new programming at Thalatta Estate, a youth fitness program in the works with Baptist and plans for a new community room at Coral Reef Park, and ongoing renovations at Palmetto Bay Park.
Thalatta became an unlikely election issue this year, with at least two mayoral candidates, Peter England and Eugene Flinn – who organized the purchase of Thalatta during his time as mayor – complaining that the historic estate was closed all too often to the public for private events. Following repeated complaints filed to the state agency that helped fund the park’s purchase by village resident David Singer, the village announced more public-access hours and programming, although it insisted that the programming had been in the works for months.
As for public works, Stanczyk pointed to 13,000 feet of repaved roads this year and 1,100 feet of new sidewalks, continued Safe Routes to School improvements and the village’s concluding efforts to get itself rated with the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System. The village already participates in the NFIP, but the CRS is a voluntary program that carries further discounts for residents in participating communities.
“I think the state of the village is doing well,” said Dolores Triana, a 40-year resident of the village, after the speech. “I think they have a great vision for the village. I am all for neighborhood protection, but I also know that we have to improve our tax base. I know we’ve had a little divisiveness lately, but hopefully it’s going to go away.”
For years now, the village has been bitterly divided – both on and off the dais – over the expansion of Palmer Trinity school, a private parochial school in a residential neighborhood. The village gave final site-plan approval to the expansion this summer and resolved the only sticking point, zoning-wise, between the school and Village Hall. But litigation filed by the school against the village remains unsettled, and many candidates in November’s race – including Stanczyk’s challengers – have made uniting a divided village top campaign items.