Palmetto Bay leaders are considering buying centrally located land in their downtown core but don’t know for what purpose.
Last week, the village council agreed to enter negotiations with one of Miami-Dade County’s biggest builders, Wayne Rosen, who is selling two acres of a five-acre property for $3.2 million.
The land is currently zoned for a charter school, but that was a designation that the council made reluctantly several years ago. Officials say they don’t want a school there — and that constituents agree with them.
The idea of a charter school in the center of the city has for years caused contention among its residents, who say the institution would bring in loads of traffic to an already ultra-congested area. But although a charter school has been strongly opposed, the community hasn’t agreed what it does want to see built there.
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More condos or apartments? Negative — they cause too much traffic.
A park? Not a money-maker and there’s one down the street.
A community center? Doesn’t quite match the city’s vision of creating a stellar and dynamic urban downtown.
The two-acre parcel along Franjo Road and Southwest 180th Street was valued at $2.96 million by an appraisal paid for by the village. However, Rosen is asking for $3.2 million, an amount the city can’t pay because of state statutes that don’t allow municipalities to buy property above appraised value.
The property owner wants $3.2 million for the two-acre parcel but city officials say the village can’t pay that price because it’s higher than the $2.96 million set by a property appraisal.
Among the conditions: Close on the property by Sept. 1 and secure site plan approval for at least 280 condos on the other portion of the land.
City officials say meeting that deadline won’t be possible but they will try to negotiate anyway.
“[Rosen’s] going to have to understand that this is going to be a process that’s going to take longer than two weeks,” said Councilman David Singer, who sponsored the agenda item. “But look, [Rosen] can easily default to a charter school if we don’t take this jump, and the village will have another school that the village doesn’t want or need.”
Vice Mayor John Dubois said he didn’t “see the logic” in trying to enter negotiations.
“Spending $3 million of taxpayer dollars to stop a landowner from using an undesirable use is a bad precedent,” Dubois said. “I can’t support even getting started on this.”
But it’s the discord among council members and the community that illustrates a longtime sense of disarray in a village that has mixed feelings on what its identity should be while city leaders struggle to rewrite their downtown zoning code, with the help of a paid architectural and land-planning firm.
Singer sees the transaction as an opportunity to wipe out the chance of having a charter school that would worsen snarled traffic. His idea: Pull $1 million from village reserves and the rest of the purchase price from impact fees that would come from almost 1,000 apartments slated to be built. The council will decide in the fall whether to impose impact fees on downtown development — approximately $3,500 for every unit built.
Impact fees generally go toward infrastructure, traffic, transportation and park facility improvements, according to village staff.
The idea is to build something there that would make money for the village, perhaps some retail, maybe a parking garage and a community center. … It can be a tremendous asset for Palmetto Bay.
Councilman David Singer
“The idea is to build something there that would make money for the village, perhaps some retail, maybe a parking garage and a community center,” Singer said. “It cannot be a park. Maybe some land can have green space, but it cannot be an active park. It needs to be developed at its highest and best use. It can be a tremendous asset for Palmetto Bay.”
Councilwoman Karyn Cunningham couldn’t disagree more.
“I’m extremely baffled. What are the benefits of purchasing the two acres? We’re looking at having initial conversations but we really don’t know what’s going to be there. We have no real plan in place. No public input,” Cunningham said. “I think there are a lot of unanswered questions. What if the community says ‘we want a park there?’ ”
But residents too are torn about what they want to see built. Those who spoke at the council meeting said they don’t want a charter school or apartments there for the same reason: traffic. In a recent survey, 72 percent of participants said they believe what’s lacking most in the downtown are quality restaurants.
“There’s obviously mass confusion,” one resident told council members during the Aug. 22 meeting.
Another resident: “I understand why you want to buy the property in exchange for getting rid of the charter school. I understand the intent to buy, but we’re putting the cart before the horse again.”
I’m extremely baffled. What are the benefits of purchasing the two acres? … We have no real plan in place. No public input.
Councilwoman Karyn Cunningham
In 2014, elected officials unanimously approved plans for the 1,000-student K-8 charter school at Franjo Road and Southwest 180th Street. But that decision didn’t reflect what the people living there wanted, officials say.
The property’s zoning designation and laws governing charter schools all converged to force the council’s hand to approve the project. Because charter schools are designated “public schools” according to Florida statutes, a municipality cannot turn down a site plan application unless it violates the community’s comprehensive growth plan.
But prior to the 2014 site plan approval, the village council denied Rosen’s application, saying it was incomplete and lacked a charter provided by the Miami-Dade School Board. The property owner sued. The two sides settled the dispute in May 2013.
That settlement stipulated that Rosen could resubmit an application for approval without a site-specific charter granted by the school board, as long as Rosen demonstrates he’s in compliance with the village’s general land use rules and promises to cap enrollment at 1,000, instead of the original 1,400.
The vote to begin negotiations was 3-2, with Dubois and Cunningham dissenting.