Palmetto Bay passes moratorium on development

Palmetto Bay gave final approval on Monday to a four-month moratorium on building permits for nonresidential uses in residential neighborhoods so that the village can work on revising its rules to preserve neighborhoods.

The Village Council voted 3-2 in support of council member Joan Lindsay’s proposal for the freeze. Lindsay explained that the moratorium, which would not affect residential properties an acre or smaller, nor the commercial or mixed-use districts, was necessary while the revisions are developed to allow staff to work on this issue without distraction. She promised at the meeting that the moratorium would not extend beyond four months and that the language would be written within that time frame. Previous moratoriums in Palmetto Bay’s history have been extended.

“It is my goal to have this done,” Lindsay said. “I am working diligently with our village attorney, and it is our goal to get this done. So when you go on your summer vacations, I will stay in town and do the work that needs to be done so I don’t have to come back and ask for an extension. That’s my promise to you.”

Currently, the village’s land development code offers zoning guidelines for building commercial establishments in commercial areas and for residential properties in residential areas. But, unlike the county’s more complete guidelines, which take into account noise and dust disturbances from construction, odor, lighting and the placement of landscaping buffers, Palmetto Bay’s code isn’t quite so complete, she said.

“If you want to build a nonresidential use in a residential area, you should know what you have to do by going to the code,” Lindsay said. Mayor Shelley Stanczyk and Vice Mayor Brian Pariser voted with her, and residents in the packed council chamber applauded her efforts.

“I think this is much ado about nothing,” said resident Eric Tullberg. “Put your effort into what you think should be in the final rule. In four months you can’t do anything anyway.”

Bev Gerald, who has also opposed Palmer Trinity School’s expansion plans, also applauded the majority vote. “I support the moratorium and want to thank the members of the council who stand up for the rights of our citizens even if it costs us money. This is not anti-church or anti-school, this is about getting our house in order.”

Stanczyk said the resolution was about making the playing field equitable and clear for both resident and developers.

However, the mood in the room, stoked by the village’s recent defeat in its lengthy and costly six-figure legal fight with Palmer Trinity, in which the Third District Court pronounced the village “willfully disobedient” and “intransigent,” also turned on the majority. Several residents see the moratorium as little more than a way to pass by ordinances what the courts have disallowed, a viewpoint Lindsay and Stanczyk vehemently deny. Council members Pat Fiore and Howard Tendrich both argued that the language could, and should, be written without asking for a divisive moratorium.

“Why create problems where there are none?” Fiore added.

Lindsay countered that the moratorium is required to allow staff undivided attention on crafting the language. However, applications for developments have not been pouring into the village’s in-basket at this time or since the moratorium idea was first proposed at an April public meeting.

“My issue is not so much revamping zoning laws or instituting ones we need to operate and run, my concern as a young voter is I have seen this village create a community but over the last five years things have gotten worse and worse,” said Tyler Kalbec, 20. “This moratorium is exclusively aimed at private schools and churches and we are discouraging young people from seeking those things — education and faith — and though that might not be the intention of the council, in your efforts to protect people and create quieter neighborhoods we’ve seen nothing but greater dissention and disagreement among the entities in this community. This concerns me the way we approach this through frivolous spending on the law.”

Village resident David Singer, an executive the Berkowitz Development Group, a retail development firm in Coconut Grove, went a step further, encouraging residents to sign a petition to recall Stanczyk, Pariser and Lindsay. Singer, using Florida Statutes that require 10 percent of the total number of registered voters in a municipality sign a petition for recall, hopes to place the question on the November ballot.

“The majority of your constituents are tired of your wasteful spending, unnecessary litigation, hypocrisy and your divisiveness,” Singer said in an email to the council members and to The Miami Herald. Singer also called for a recall at the council meeting during public comment.

J.B. Harris, who was removed by the council at a previous hearing and who filed an intent to sue letter, was allowed to return and address the council. He, too, echoed Singer and called for the removal of Village Attorney Eve Boutsis.

“Lindsay’s sugar-coated words are another attempt to strangle Palmer Trinity now that they are allowed to have 1,150 students through their gates. The $600,000 in legal fees could have doubled the police force, beautified the entire strip, but you threw it away to torment an innocent school whose students grew up to be far better people than you ever will be.”

Boutsis, working with the national law firm White & Case, on behalf of the village has seen attorney’s fees spiral to more than $600,000 over the six-year fight. She called for a closed door attorney-client meeting Wednesday with the council, a move blasted by Fiore and Tendrich who wanted the meeting to be open to the public. Stanczyk, Pariser and Lindsay voted against opening the legal meeting.

“That’s been our practice all along. Once you lose that attorney-client privilege, it’s not good business,” Stanczyk said Tuesday.

Tendrich was not mollified. On Tuesday he said, “by them not agreeing it is taking away the transparency they are trying to say exists in our Village Council. If you are not going to let people hear what you are saying, you aren’t going to be transparent.”

The council majority, however, said opponents of the moratorium were incorrect. Palmer Trinity and Christ Fellowship, a popular church in the area, are not in the crosshairs with this moratorium

“That is clearly not true,” the mayor said. “People will understand when they see the product coming out. Once we are able to present it to them, as it’s worked on, and as they get to have input, their concerns will be allayed. They’ll feel better about the process and see the direction that is taken and see it’s not aimed at them.”

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