Palmetto Bay

Town home development that polarized community is back on the table

Eugene Flinn, mayor of Palmetto Bay, points out native plants and butterflies in a wooded area on Old Cutler Road that is earmarked to be a city park under a 2016 development plan. The plan will be up for reconsideration on Monday.
Eugene Flinn, mayor of Palmetto Bay, points out native plants and butterflies in a wooded area on Old Cutler Road that is earmarked to be a city park under a 2016 development plan. The plan will be up for reconsideration on Monday. pportal@miamiherald.com

The future of the Palmetto Bay Village Center site — a project that polarized the town and was at the center of the city’s ugliest debates last year — will be up for a vote Monday night.

The plans for the land at Old Cutler Road and 180th Street sparked an ethics investigation, a lawsuit and one of the nastiest elections in Palmetto Bay’s recent history. Now, the subject is back on the table. Although the council decided the project’s destiny last May, the November election changed the council’s makeup and gave the project’s opponents new hope.

Vice Mayor John Dubois, the project’s most vocal opponent, is calling on the council to repeal its decision to allow the construction of 485 multi-family homes on the property. He is proposing instead that the council revert back to an earlier plan — 100 condos and 300 senior housing units.

Dubois, whose $4.6 million bayfront mansion is just feet away from the site, says having nearly 500 homes at that location would flood the historic road with traffic and significantly increase density, a stance that served as his main campaign platform during the 2016 election.

“The people of Palmetto Bay don’t want the additional 385 homes worth of rush hour driving. By reversing it, we are reversing that — traffic,” Dubois said. “I think we are all pretty much in agreement that an elderly facility would generate less traffic than residential homes.”

If the proposal passes, the land would not include a hotel, which was in the developer’s original plans. Instead it would call for more than 300,000 square-feet of office space.

In May, the Village Council amended the development rights to allow Scott Silver to build 485 town homes instead of the 100 condos and 300 senior housing units he had proposed in 2008. Silver in turn agreed to donate 40 acres of rock pineland and wetlands along the bay to the city, 22 of them for a park.

Dubois’ proposal doesn’t address those 40 acres.

The project passed 3-2, with Dubois casting one of the dissenting votes.

In November, David Singer, who had opposed the project during his campaign, was elected to the council, potentially giving Dubois a third vote against the development.

Mayor Eugene Flinn has been the development’s biggest advocate and said that was mainly because of the 40 acres of green space that would be donated to the city.

“I will fight development in that 22-acre area. If somebody has a plan that says that development would never occur there, then we all can rest easily,” Flinn said. “As far as my vote, I’m going to have an open mind. I’m going to listen to the presentations and make a decision based upon testimony and any evidence in regards to this.”

The vice mayor has been subject of an ethics probe — which is still open — because he voted on the project after county ethics officials advised him not to because of the proximity of his home to the development.

Dubois provided a legal opinion from the Florida Commission on Ethics that said he did not have a conflict of interest in voting because “you are not likely to gain or lose more than other persons affected by the vote.”

Joseph Centorino, executive director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics, Dexter Lehtinen, Palmetto Bay’s attorney, said Miami-Dade law supersedes Florida ethics law.

Bette April Burch, who is Dubois’ next-door neighbor, sued the village weeks after the council approved the development. Burch’s attorney, Jeffrey Leary, shares office space with Dubois and Lehtinen said that also might create a perception of a conflict.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at Palmetto Bay Village Hall, 9705 E Hibiscus St.

  Comments