Cutler Bay town staff might need to order extra chairs for council chambers.
As the March 16 town council meeting date edges closer, town residents, staff and council members are anxious for a long-awaited discussion: whether to grant Cutler Properties a request to change the zoning for its development on Old Cutler Road and Southwest 184th Street.
Old Cutler Village is the name of the proposed project, which would be located at 18551 Old Cutler Rd. Cutler Properties is owned by Fortune International. Argentinian real estate developer Edgardo Defortuna owns Fortune International.
Current zoning allows 30 to 40 single-family homes, but the owner filed to change the zoning to a mixed-use development, allowing buildings of up to four stories.
Stefano Fanfani, president of Old Cutler Glen Homeowners Association, is part of a coalition that opposes the project.
“One of the things I believe this project has, that many other locations haven’t had, is that I have yet to see a person that agrees with the project being built,” Fanfani said. “Saga Bay has basically 500 petitions [in opposition] for about 100 percent of their homes. We haven’t been as organized as them but we have at least 60 petitions asking them not to vote yes on this.”
Council Member Roger Coriat would not give any indication about his vote.
“I can’t even count how many questions I’ve had from residents, and I’ve answered them all,” Coriat said. “I basically told them all the same thing, please come to Town Hall that night and voice your concerns in front of us. I had a meeting with the representatives of the owner about a year ago and I haven’t heard from them since. One thing I’ve been telling people whenever they ask me how I’m going to vote is if I were to start talking about that or even speculate on how other council members would vote, for both sides that presented their case to the council, it could end very badly.”
“In replying to every email, I’ve always copied the clerk so that will be a massive ex-parte communication,” he said. “I have yet to get one email from a resident to say they are in support of the land use change.”
A honk-and-wave protest against the master plan and zoning change is scheduled for 3 to 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, at Old Cutler Rd. and 184th Street.
Robert Gonzalez, vice president of the Cutler Cay homeowners’ association board of directors, said his community has collected more than 400 signatures opposed to the changes. A change.org petition has also collected nearly 400 signatures.
“You can’t deny there is a concern over what kind of negative effect this will have on our property values,” Gonzalez said. “Adding more commercial property to an area that really right now is struggling — if you go to the nearest commercial area, just south of us where the Publix supermarket is, just south of Old Cutler, there is probably six or seven empty stores.”
Gonzalez, Fanfani and others who oppose the changes wish the town would purchase the land and develop a park on the property. But Town Manager Ralph Casals would not say if that was an option, as it is currently not the town’s property.
“Right now it’s owned by somebody who is putting an application in front of the town council, and that is what we are going with right now,” Casals said. “Obviously a lot of residents have concerns about the project. Those will all be placed in the file. I told the folks the application hearing is set for March 16. Any interested parties please come to the meeting.”
Gonzalez speculates that if the property is not up-zoned for the project, the land might become available again.
“The thought is this,” Gonzalez said. “The current owner, Defortuna, is the key person in Fortune Reality . . . builders of high rises and multimillion-dollar properties. That’s his kind of thing. Right now the property is zoned for 30 or 40 residential homes. That’s not his kind of thing,” Gonzalez said. “If he doesn’t get the zoning request, I don’t see him making an effort to build 40 homes in an area where builders are having trouble selling their homes. If he can’t get the council to pass the zoning request, I think he would be ready and willing to sell.”
“My understanding from others that are active in the community is that there is enough money to purchase that piece of land and turn it into a natural park,” he said. “That is our pie-in-the-sky hope, to have Defortuna basically give up on this property . . . and maybe he will go back out and sell the property at a fair market value.”
The groups who oppose the project plan to meet every weekend to raise awareness regarding the council vote.
“This was an issue before I was even elected,” Coriat said. “I’m glad it’s finally slated for the March meeting. Fill up council chambers. Drown us out with your concerns. There is five of us and 45,000 of them.”
“It has been the most inspiring [issue] of passion among residents, the one that has gotten the most people the most involved.”