Miami-Dade County commissioners voted unanimously on Thursday to uphold a Westchester Community Council’s decision to deny an application for a 200-student school and daycare.
More than 70 parents, teachers and even some New Horizons students from a different campus were at the meeting supporting the school. Neighbors and members of the neighborhood’s homeowners association spoke out against the school.
After nearly two hours of hearing witnesses from both sides, Commissioner Juan Zapata said the way the county approaches zoning and variance requests is flawed.
“This county has approved now numerous charter schools,” he said. “Every single one has been detrimental to the community.”
The applicant, Julmar 147 Investment, was requesting a rezoning to allow a school in a low density residential area, an unusual use permit for a daycare and variances reducing the required setback distances.
County staff recommended approval, but members of the West Dade Homeowners Association and county commissioners cited problems with the property size, traffic and lack of parking.
The landowner’s attorney, Melissa Tapanes Llahues, said there were five other daycares in a two-mile radius, and two of those are New Horizons, which would consolidate into the new location.
“The neighborhood is transforming from vacant, underdeveloped lots into a neighborhood,” she said.
Tapanes Llahues said the plans were “aesthetically and architecturally compatible.”
Zapata asked county staff how they enforce landscape plans, at one point saying, “Basically, you’re admitting we get suckered into thinking they’re going to comply with the landscape plan.”
West Dade Homeowners Association president Ernesto Frye was against the location, but not the school, because “there isn’t any space between the daycare and houses.”
Ramiro Carbonell, who lives directly behind the property, said he moved to the area in January 2012 after his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s because he was looking for somewhere quieter and with less traffic.
“I’m the first to put my house on sale,” he said, if the commissioners had voted in favor of the school.
Commissioner and Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa agreed that the school wasn’t the issue, but the size was.
“When you have a school that has enough space to create a buffer, it’s an entirely different situation,” Sosa said at the end of the hearing.