After a five-hour debate over whether the move would benefit village residents, the Palmetto Bay Village Council voted early Tuesday to allow a local developer to build 485 condos along historic Old Cutler Road. As part of the project, the developer will give the village 40 acres of green space.
The decision was made after a consultant reported that traffic on the road isn’t at its legal capacity yet, which made the majority of the council comfortable in supporting the move, they said.
The project was approved by a 3-2 vote, with Vice Mayor John Dubois and Councilwoman Karyn Cunningham dissenting.
Developer Scott Silver’s original plan, approved in 2008, was to build 100 condos, 300 hundred senior housing units and a hotel. The new plan calls for 485 condos instead. The rights to the 85 additional units were transferred from another property Silver owns nearby. He dropped the hotel from his plans.
Because Silver already had the right to build about 400 units, the changes won’t significantly impact traffic woes, the consultant said. The quick analysis of Old Cutler Road between Southwest 168th Street and 184th Street was done by a team of consultants hired by the village of Palmetto Bay.
According to Joe Corradino, who led the team of municipal and engineering consultants who did the study, Old Cutler Road has a capacity of 21,000 daily trips. Currently, about 17,000 daily trips are taken, giving the historic road room for about 4,000 more cars every day, he said.
Audience members laughed out loud as Corradino announced the statistic. Some were angered by his finding.
“His development shouldn’t really substantially increase in traffic on Old Cutler,” Corradino told the Miami Herald after the meeting.
“Since those 400 plus units don’t exist yet, many people are confused. But the developer has always had the right to build those units, they just haven’t been built yet. Now, he’s asking to change the type of units he wants to build, not the amount. Some are under the impression that these are brand new units being built, but reality is, that land for years has had the ability to hold those units. So, compared to the ‘old 400 units’ to the ‘new  units,’ there will be no significant increase.”
Some residents didn’t buy it. They noted that the already-congested road, deemed historic, can’t be expanded. On Monday night, nearby residents from Pinecrest and Cutler Bay also jumped into the conversation, asking the council to reconsider the development because of the impact on traffic.
“Old Cutler Road is a parking lot in the morning and in the afternoon,” one resident said. “Does this mean it’s also going to be a parking lot 14 hours a day?”
Silver has 80 acres on the site. He said he will build on half of his acreage and donate the other 40 acres to the village to use as green space and a passive park; the village would be responsible for taxes and maintenance.
Eighteen of those donated acres are environmentally protected wetlands; the other 22 acres are restricted by covenant as a “buffer zone” between Old Cutler and the office buildings that make up Palmetto Bay Village Center — the former Burger King headquarters.
The buffer zone is intended to preserve drivers’ views. It was mandated by Miami-Dade County in the 1980s, back when the community objected to the building of offices along Old Cutler. At the time, Palmetto Bay was not an incorporated city.
Many residents were passionate about preserving the wetlands. Others said they were excited about a new passive park.
Silver said he switched from senior housing to condos because the time has finally come to build “higher-end condos.” He said “times have changed” since his project was originally approved.
“2008 was the start of a great recession, nobody was really looking to build until last year,” Silver told the Miami Herald before the meeting. “Today, it makes more sense to not have an age restriction. There aren’t higher-end apartments and condominiums in Palmetto Bay. This offers a housing type that just doesn’t exist in Palmetto Bay.”
Although on Monday Council passed the refined plan on second reading. Silver will still need to come back before council members and present detailed site plans for approval along with an in-depth traffic study.