Palmetto Bay's Village Council on Thursday tentatively agreed to a zoning change needed for the expansion of the Palmer Trinity school -- a proposal that has created the biggest issue since this South Miami-Dade coastal community incorporated.
The outcome, delivered briskly after public comment, sets the stage for final approval Tuesday night. The school wants to add a chapel, gym and administrative building, and increase enrollment to 1,150 students over 15 years.
Perhaps, especially given the elaborate swearing-in process, disclosure testimony from the council, the unusually packed hall at the Deering Center for a zoning hearing, including Palmer Trinity headmaster Sean Murphy, and the truck in the parking lot festooned with signs screaming, "Save Palmetto Bay."
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Almost assuredly. That's because Florida's Third District Court of Appeal recently overturned a local judge's ruling in favor of Palmetto Bay, meaning that the village had to reconsider its decision to deny the zoning change.
Julien Perez, Palmetto Bay's planning and zoning director, delivered the staff report and recommended that the zoning change proceed.
The passage and Tuesday's likely acceptance didn't come without a sour aftertaste for several council members, such as Shelley Stanczyk and Ed Feller, who were on the council when it rejected the zoning change in 2008.
"I do not agree with the court," Stanczyk said, her voice betrayed by a bout with bronchitis. "We put time and effort, and there was nothing improper. We did our job and it was based on traffic at the time."
Citing "intimidation tactics'' from some members of the community over the controversial issue, Stanczyk added that the "court failed to recognize the job we did."
But she voted in favor of approval Thursday. "We must submit to the court. Not because we want to. But because we should."
"We voted against it on the basis of a traffic study. The court directed us to change that."
The council could still reject the school's site plan on Tuesday, however, several land-use lawyers told The Miami Herald last week.
Though school officials and several parents whose children attend the private Episcopal school applauded the decision and feel confident passage is imminent Tuesday, some members of the community continued to speak out against the zoning change.
George Pustai, a 29-year resident of the Palmetto Bay area, said he had concerns about the loss of the orchard field Palmer Trinity owns. The 32-acre mango grove would eventually house new school buildings if the rezoning and site plan wins approval.
"The village spent a bunch of money for green standards," he said. "Those trees serve a purpose. So much property is being eaten up and destroyed."
Susan Swakon said she would prefer to see single-family homes on the grounds rather than "large schools."
But Ramon Leira, whose twins attend Palmer Trinity, said his family chose the Palmetto Bay community as the sort of place "to carry us into our years of retirement." He spoke in favor of the zoning change. "We hope the council takes the recommendation of their staff."
And so they did on Thursday.
The 7 p.m. Tuesday second reading and site plan zoning hearing is expected to draw a large crowd, so it has been booked into Christ Fellowship Church, 8900 SW 168th St. The public can comment but with time restrictions of three minutes apiece.