With the Village Council chambers full, Palmetto Bay council members made strides toward resolving two major issues for the village – Palmer Trinity’s expansion and fire station coverage.
Council chambers erupted in applause after the council voted unanimously to delete over 80 conditions from Palmer Trinity’s site plan – the only sticking point, in terms of zoning, remaining between the school and village after a tense and litigious six years.
In July, the village council approved site-plan modifications to the private school’s 32-acre expansion with the promise that village staff would work with the school to whittle down the over 100 conditions still attached to the site plan from its 2010 approval and 2012 amendments. The school argued at the time that most of the conditions were redundant, outdated, or already accounted for in the actual site plan.
Zoning Director Darby Delsalle told council that of the original conditions, the staff and school were in complete agreement about all but five, which he recommended the council make a final determination about.
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Palmer Trinity lawyer Eileen Ball Mehta argued that of those five conditions, one was likely “just a simple mistake” since it made reference to a non-existent chiller plant; three referred to a part of the village’s green building code which did not apply to schools and had not previously been applied to schools; and one, which required the school to opt for silent digital signage instead of a typical classroom bell, was “excessive,” since staff had confirmed that bells on the campus already meet code requirements for allowable noise.
Council members voted unanimously to strike those five conditions and adopt the joint Palmer and staff recommendations about the rest.
With the council’s vote, more than 20 conditions remain attached to the school’s site plan, the great majority of which are related to traffic mitigation.
Mayor Shelley Stanczyk made a point of underlining before the vote that all was not said and done with Palmer Trinity’s litigation outstanding against the village and some of its residents.
“We’ve been promised a new era tonight,” she said. “But I think that era only starts – in my estimation – when those lawsuits get dropped.”
Ball Mehta said on Tuesday that the school was looking to end litigation, but would not say whether or not it would seek a settlement.
“Discussions are going to commence and I anticipate that we will find common ground so that the parties can reach an acceptable resolution,” she said.
The village needs two more fire stations – one in the south, one in the north – to meet coverage needs, and the council learned on Monday that the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department was investigating two sites – across the road from one another – to fill the need for a northern station.
The revelation came while council was considering site-plan approval for a fire station at 14200 Old Cutler, and several residents came to complain, telling council a better site had been found just across the street on 142nd Terrace.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue chief financial officer Scott Mendelsberg confirmed told the council that the department was investigating the site on 142nd Terrace and that it was in fact – being cheaper and larger – better suited for a station.
The fire department would be asking the council to consider site-plan approval on Oct. 20 for a station on that property – whose owner, the Old Cutler Presbyterian Church, is willing to sell – but it still wanted site plan approval now for the 14200 Old Cutler site in case that deal fell through, he said.
“I don’t know what could happen in the next 30 days, but I don’t want to give up this. Because this is the closest we’ve come,” Mendelsberg told council. “This doesn’t force me to buy this site, this gives me the opportunity to buy this site.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the site plan with minor conditions.
The council was also initially scheduled to hear a rezoning package on 22 acres of mostly forested land to allow for single-family homes and fire station at the Palmetto Bay Village Center, the 80-acre bayfront office park that once housed Burger King’s world headquarters in the village’s southeastern quadrant.
The item was first deferred from July, when criticism from environmentalists about developing forestland peppered with Pine Rockland – an imperiled habitat unique to South Florida and the Bahamas – led council members to direct staff and the property owner to gather more information about the forest’s environmentally sensitive properties.
Last week Stanczyk, the item’s sponsor, withdrew it from consideration after staff told her that the appropriate information had not yet been gathered.
“Mr. [Scott] Silver [a partner in the office park] has contacted some of the [environmental] groups, he has done some things but I don’t have any thing in writing at this point that is available to me to show that those environmental concerns have been addressed,” she said on the Thursday before the hearing.
Environmentalists who spoke out against the measure in July, including Tropical Audubon Society Executive Director Laura Reynolds, have said they wouldn’t have a problem with the village rezoning just the 1.5 acres necessary to site a fire station on the northern tip of the parcel.
But Silver said on Tuesday that the company has no intention of splitting up the rezoning package to allow the village to make a decision on the fire station separately from the housing development.
“There was a problem in the way the zoning language was implemented several years ago, we’ve tried to get that corrected for six years, even the village officials realized that it wasn’t consistent … we need to get all the language resolved so that it’s fixed once and for all,” he said, adding that an application should be ready “in the next couple of months.”
In other business, council members voted 3-2 to give final approval to next year’s now $14.6 million budget. An additional $200,000 were earmarked out of the police budget’s surplus this year to go back to police instead of into the general fund. Council member Patrick Fiore and Vice-Mayor John DuBois in against the spending plan.