Palmetto Bay

Future of controversial development in Palmetto Bay may take a turn

View of the 22 acres of land slated that was donated to Palmetto Bay in exchange for developmental rights.
View of the 22 acres of land slated that was donated to Palmetto Bay in exchange for developmental rights.

The future of a controversial development project that has been at the center of Palmetto Bay’s recent local election may be unclear.

During last week’s run-off election, John Dubois was reelected as vice mayor. David Singer, a political newcomer, was elected as a councilman. Both city officials have been vocal about challenging the Palmetto Bay Village Center during their campaigns, a project that was given the green light to move forward in May in a 3-2 vote. Dubois and councilwoman Karyn Cunningham dissented.

But now support for the Village Center may flip as the new council transitions onto the dais.

The Palmetto Bay Village Center, a 300,000-square-foot business complex, sits on Old Cutler Road. The 80 acres next to it are slated to one day include 485 multi-family homes. Across the future project’s site are 40 acres of wetland and foliage.

Seven months ago, the Palmetto Bay Village Council voted to allow local developer Scott Silver to build hundreds of condos along historic Old Cutler Road. As part of the deal, Silver will give the village the 40 acres of green space.

“It would be a tragedy for Palmetto Bay if we lost this opportunity to take 40 acres of environmentally significant land, 22 of which have developmental rights attached to it,” Mayor Eugene Flinn said. “The most important thing to me is that we protect those acres and prevent any development on them and have them open to the environmental use of our residents.”

Silver’s original plan, approved in 2008, was to build 100 condos, 300 senior housing units and a hotel on the site. The new plan calls for 485 condos instead. The rights to the 85 additional units were transferred from another property Silver owns nearby. He dropped the hotel from his plans.

The project ultimately passed after a consultant reported that traffic on the road isn’t at its legal capacity yet, which made the majority of the previous council comfortable in supporting the move. However, after the election, it looks like the landscape of support will shift.

Dubois, who lives next door to the Village Center, told the Miami Herald on Thursday that he didn’t “feel comfortable” addressing whether or not he will challenge the project until it is out of litigation. All other council members also remained tight-lipped for the same reason.

Back in May, after the council approved the development, Bette April Burch, a Palmetto Bay property owner and Dubois’ neighbor, sued the city.

That lawsuit led Dexter Lehtinen, Palmetto Bay’s village attorney, to accuse Dubois, who voted despite a previous conflict of interest, of having another conflict. Lehtinen said that Dubois’ attorney, Jeffrey Leary, is also the attorney for Burch.

Leary shares office space with Dubois. Burch owns a horse farm adjacent to Dubois’ property. Lehtinen said there might be a perception that Dubois is paying Leary to move forward with the lawsuit, or otherwise supporting the lawsuit. At the time, Dubois said Leary was free to represent whom he chooses.

Singer, who will be sworn in as councilman on Monday, told the Herald, “I can only make a better assessment in the near future whether there’s hope to overturn the project, but only after I review the approvals, procedures and previous legal documentation.”

“It’s time for Palmetto Bay residents to take a stand against over-development and send a message to Village Hall that it will not be permitted,” Singer said in an email to the Herald and residents.

Although the previous council approved the developmental rights, the new council would oversee planning and zoning actions.

“The approval of this project is far from over,” Flinn said. “We have not given any OK’s for any permitting on a single unit yet. I would hope that we can all leave our campaign games behind and work together on all of this.”

Neither Dubois, Cunningham nor Singer would say what their plans are regarding the project, or whether they would bring it up for discussion at a future council meeting. Lehtinen did not return phone calls and messages from the Miami Herald on Thursday and Friday.

Monique O. Madan: 305-376-2108, @MoniqueOMadan