Miami-Dade County

300 apartments on U.S. 1? Palmetto Bay tells developers to think again.

Traffic woes along U.S. 1 in South Miami-Dade

The morning commute for drivers in South Miami-Dade along US-1 North is full of stops and stalls. This time-lapse video shows how part of the drive, an 11.5-mile stretch along US-1 North, took 62 minutes on a recent Thursday morning, April 20, 201
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The morning commute for drivers in South Miami-Dade along US-1 North is full of stops and stalls. This time-lapse video shows how part of the drive, an 11.5-mile stretch along US-1 North, took 62 minutes on a recent Thursday morning, April 20, 201

Palmetto Bay council members turned down plans for a project that would put 300 new apartments on U.S. 1, the region’s busiest road. On Monday night, they also voted 4-1 to revisit the proposal in June if the developer pares it down.

Monday’s discussion lasted more than four hours, with dozens of residents lining up to ask the council to deny the application.

“I’m totally against this project and the over-trafficking of the neighborhood,” said Carol Vega. “This to me looks like a monstrosity. I don’t care how cute you make it sound. These projects never turn out that way.”

The application for the Park View project outlined a six-story building with 300 one- and two-bedroom apartments, each with an average square footage of almost 900 square-feet. It would have a swimming pool, fitness center and clubhouse and would sit right next to single-family homes, adjacent to Palmetto Bay Park on Southwest 174th Street. It would have about 500 parking spots and take up  3 1/2 acres.

The project was proposed by the current property owners — Jorge L. Morales, Pedro and Linette Gonzales, and Raggedy Ann and Andy’s Pre-School Corp. — on behalf of Anthony Pugliese III, who would buy the land and develop Park View if the site plan is approved by the council.

In 2015, with hopes of revitalizing the downtown area, the council approved a new city code that offers incentives to builders who develop properties with certain environmental features such as a LEED certificate for an energy-conscious design, ample green space, or a design that encourages use of public transportation. Those who meet the criteria are eligible for bonus units from the city’s “reserve residential pool” while they last. Those units are meant to be distributed to developments that bring life to the downtown area.

In this case, the development would be LEED certified. Developers of the project currently have the right to 74 units, and were asking for 226 bonus apartments — a number that the mayor called “obscene.”

“Your entire project is car-based. I haven’t heard any mention of trying to get people to the rail, no stops, circulators to come pick people up. Everything is about cars and parking spaces, as far as you’re concerned,” Mayor Eugene Flinn said.

Opponents argued that the development would inundate roads with traffic on streets that are already congested during rush hour.

“We just bought this house in December and my wife and I have a child on the way. We bought here in Palmetto Bay with an idea of living in a community of single-family homes. The additional influx of people will make my child’s life less enjoyable, less safe for my child to grow up in,” one resident said.

Traffic engineers hired by the developer said their traffic study, based on county standards, stated that only 6 percent of the traffic from the potential future development would be turning east into the surrounding neighborhood during peak travel times.

People in the audience laughed.

“Everyone can scoff at the results, but the only competent evidence is this analysis,” said Graham Penn, the project’s attorney.

But the council members didn’t budge, asking developers to edit their plans and reduce the project’s density, including making it a three-story building instead of six.

Planners offered to donate $100,000 to the city, contingent on the plans being passed. Councilman David Singer asked the number be bumped up to $250,000. The mayor joked and suggested $1 million. At the end, talks about $2 million were on the table.

“You know what? I’d rather you keep your $2 million and scale down this project,” Flinn said. “And I really don’t buy the traffic studies. It lead to the conclusion that the traffic issue alone is enough to reject this project. I strongly recommend that you come back and rethink this thing.”

But the project’s density isn’t the only aspect that has received attention. So has the developer, Pugliese.

Pugliese is a Delray Beach developer who in August, 2015, pleaded no contest to conspiracy and one count of grand theft over $20,000 for defrauding a partner in a huge development project in Central Florida called Destiny. He served four months in Palm Beach County jail. Destiny was never developed.

In February, in a civil trial, a Palm Beach County awarded Elisabeth DeLuca, the widow of the defrauded partner, almost $3 million in damages for fraud and civil theft.

Pugliese was not present at Monday’s council meeting. He did not return phone calls and emails from the Miami Herald.

Several council members said they were aware of Pugliese’s background, but they didn’t mention it at the meeting, and the village’s attorney said that didn’t disqualify him from being a developer.

“A criminal conviction does not deprive you of rights to utilize land. A land owner is not restricted because of his prior criminal record. We can’t restrict property use based on prior criminal activity,” said Village Attorney Dexter Lehtinen.