Will thousands of children from kindergarten though 12th grade be interested enough in aviation curriculum to fill a new charter school in Kendall? Many residents don’t think so.
More than 50 concerned citizens crowded the Crossings Clubhouse on Sept. 12 with a unified voice as part of an SOS 120th Street Committee meeting.
They are all in opposition to a proposed charter school on a 9.5 acre property at 13300 SW 120th St. The committee has held several such meetings on the topic since learning about the plans for the 165,100-square-foot facility.
“First of all, the main thing is to get people aware that there is an attempt to create a school on 120th and 132nd Avenue that will potentially have 3,000 students — and the traffic is going to be tremendous,” said Michael Paris, SOS 120th Street Committee chairman.
“Traffic in this area is horrendous. We are not against education. We are not against schools,” he said. “But right now, to get from point A to point B, if there is no traffic, would be 10 minutes, but because of traffic it takes an hour or 45 minutes.”
Smart Charter Group has an application before the Miami-Dade County Commission asking for a special exception from zoning restrictions in order to construct an Aviation Charter School. Smart Charter Group is an affiliate of MG3 Developer, based in Hollywood.
“The general concern is not against having schools,” said Miles Moss, transport engineer and former Winston Park Homeowners Association president. “Everybody is in support of having schools. In fact, many of the people involved are teachers and educators. The concern is that this specific location is a location that cannot be expanded. There is no right of way to make the road wider. It’s already over capacity and over congested. Adding this additional traffic will just make the matter worse for the rest of the world living there.”
The proposed school is located in a “no school zone,” due to its proximity to the Miami Executive Airport, according to county zoning code. The zone currently prohibits “new educational facilities,” except “aviation schools.” The applicant labels its proposed school as a “K through 12 aviation charter school.” Bridge Prep Academy of Village Green is the current name of the school, formerly known as The Heritage School. That school was grandfathered in as it was built before the airport was constructed.
“We filed an initial application for what will be Florida’s first Aviation Charter School at a site in Kendall that has been the home of an existing school for decades. Parents in the community are excited about having an A rated tuition free public school that offers instruction in subjects pertaining to this fast growing sector of Miami Dade’s economy,” said MG3 spokesman Emilio Fuster.
Moss, like other residents, isn’t buying the idea of kindergarteners learning a serious aviation curriculum.
“How could you have a charter school for kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, sixth? What are they going to be learning about aviation? How to build paper airplanes? It’s pretty clear that the purpose of putting the name (aviation) charter school on this is only to get around the restriction that would not allow a school at this location,” Moss said.
The existing zoning for the school was granted via a 1979 exception for a private school of up to 600 students. The new application calls for the expanded enrollment of 3,000.
MG3 is a team that invests “in real estate and land development projects that provide the opportunity to create and capture value,” according to its website.
“Our near-term focus is on charter schools facilities and other real estate opportunities, while maintaining our long-term commitment to land development projects across Florida,” its website says.
MG3 “has in the past purchased land and developed properties and then they resell the properties to charter schools,” Paris said. “The MG3 development corporation is not even an educational institution.”
Moss says residents are worried that travelers who use traffic apps like Waze will utilize local streets instead of being stuck in traffic, making for unsafe neighborhoods.
“When somebody is backed up in traffic and finds a deserted route they can use, they try to make up for the time they lost so they end up going faster,” said Moss, who often testifies as an expert witness regarding traffic accidents. “So cars going quickly, accelerating on a residential street not meant to handle that kind of situation, is going to lead to accidents in addition to the delays.”
According to the applicant’s traffic study, the school would generate an additional 7,400 daily car trips on 120th Street. Attendees at the meeting claimed that the increased traffic would overburden an already jam-packed 120th Street and push cars into 104th Street, North Kendall Dr., and surrounding neighborhood streets. The applicant’s traffic study said that the “main access driveway (to the school) is projected to fail as a stop-controlled intersection.” That means a police officer would be needed to control traffic during the school’s peak periods.
“Our goal is to provide a rigorous Aviation program to prepare students for career opportunities in college and in the aviation industry,” Fuster said. “There is a lot of interest from the aviation industry in partnering with our Aviation Charter School. County staff is in the process of reviewing the application and providing us technical feedback. We will continue to work with staff, the aviation industry, and the local community to refine our application as we move forward.”
The Miami-Dade Police Department objected to the proposed zoning modification in its review of the application.
“The existing traffic conditions in the area and surrounding roads are already overtaxed,” MDPD Director Juan J. Perez wrote in a memo. “The current configuration will expose the area to an increase in the existing excessive traffic during peak times and the lack of adequate egress and access to and from the school onto arterial roadways will require law enforcement intervention in perpetuity to facilitate the movement of said traffic.”
The SOS 120th Street Committee is comprised of residents of the neighborhoods closest to the proposed location of the school. SOS 120th Street was created to raise funds and pay the costs necessary to oppose the Smart Charter Group’s requested exception. The committee is working alongside the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations, among other associations.
Paris said that the committee sells T-shirts, has a change.org petition and hopes to hire a lawyer for representation.
“At some point we need to engage a lawyer to represent us,” Paris said. “Somebody has to pay the lawyer. We have to raise some funds.”
The Miami-Dade County Transit department had no objections to the proposed project. The Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources’ Division of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) did not approve the application. DERM opted to defer the application until it could be found in compliance with its requirements. Public Works called the project “unacceptable” in its denial.
The current property was acquired for $6.7 million in 2014. An existing 26,274 square feet of buildings are set to remain on the site. Photos of the proposed campus include a football field, gym, media center and playground.
“My conclusion is that it will create a hazardous condition and will lead to people diverting from the roadways onto the residential streets, and that will lead to accidents,” Moss said. “The solution to the problem? One day the traffic situation might be improved. If it gets to that point you might be able to support additional traffic. Right now, I think the conclusion that the police department reached on this application and the conclusion that the public works department reached with this application is that the roadways are already over capacity and this type of school expansion should not be allowed.”
More than 500 people have signed a petition asking for the county commission to deny approval on the application.