The fight over what type of development in Palmetto Bay will bring more traffic to one of the region’s primary and already congested roadways is far from over, even though it appeared to have been settled a year ago.
Will 485 condos and a passive park bring more gridlock to the narrow and historic Old Cutler Road? Or will 100 apartments, 300 units for the elderly plus a hotel bring on more bumper-to-bumper misery? That was the battle Monday night at Palmetto Bay Village Hall, when a divided council voted to reverse a deal made last May that would have brought almost 500 condos and a park to the area.
Passed on first reading on a 3-2 vote, the proposal would revert to the developer’s earlier plan for a hotel, apartments and housing for senior citizens. To be official, the measures must get the council’s final approval in June.
David Singer, who was elected in November, cast the deciding vote. Singer voted with vice mayor John Dubois, who was reelected on the same ballot and has been the project’s most vocal opponent. Both men’s campaigns centered on how the project would flood the historic road with traffic and significantly increase density.
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Councilwoman Karyn Cunningham also voted to reverse last year’s decision; Mayor Eugene Flinn and Councilwoman Larissa Siegel Lara opposed the move.
“What you saw is a case of the council listening to the wishes of the residents and doing something within their legal discretion to do so,” Dubois said.
But whether it was legal for the council to vote on the measure in the first place is still up in the air.
Dexter Lehtinen, the village’s attorney, said in order for the council to repeal the project, circumstances must have significantly changed since the time of the original vote. Although the project’s opponents didn’t speak at Monday’s meeting about any changes, the measures they approved said circumstances had changed substantially with accelerated development in the communities around Palmetto Bay and worsening congestion on Old Cutler Road.
On Monday night, village planners said there were no changes.
Lehtinen also said that the council’s decision last year should be considered final, despite a lawsuit that was filed by April Burch, a Palmetto Bay resident, appealing the council’s decision to allow the 485 units. Like Dubois, Burch lives next to the proposed development.
That opinion was countered by John Herin Jr., an independent attorney who was hired by the village to explore the situation. He argued the council indeed had the legal authority to rescind the project and that the pending lawsuit helps their case.
Jerry Proctor, Silver’s attorney, suggested that Singer and Dubois shouldn’t participate. Proctor said Singer’s nasty campaign materials showed his bias. He also pointed out that Dubois is the subject of an investigation by the county ethics commission over whether he had a conflict of interest in voting on the project because he owns neighboring property.
Any time a comprehensive land plan is altered, it must be reviewed by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity before it comes back to the council for a final vote. If it passes the review, second reading for the measure will take plan in June.
The developer, Scott Silver, had agreed to donate 40 acres of undeveloped land to the village for a park and green space if his project was approved. But that land is zoned to allow 65 to 220 homes or apartments and Silver said he’d probably build on the land rather than donate it if the council takes back its approval.
“You have to be careful what you ask for because you might get it,” Silver said. “I don’t think this is good public policy. To appeal this essentially would give us no choice but to explore lawsuits. Those are just the economic facts.”