Palmetto Bay

Palmetto Bay council defers old Burger King property zoning; approves Palmer Trinity’s site-plan changes

Hasty amendments led Palmetto Bay council members to ultimately defer or settle in part the two blockbuster items from their Monday night hearing regarding development on the old Burger King property and private school Palmer Trinity’s expansion.

The first item on the agenda, the old Burger King property, would have changed land-use and zoning designations on the 22 privately owned, wooded acres lining Old Cutler Road to allow for single-family homes and a fire station.

The village badly needs a fire station in the area to fill a long-standing coverage gap in its eastern quadrant, and Mayor Shelley Stanczyk said she had sponsored the last-minute rezoning package so that the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue department could get their purchase of the parcel’s northern 1.5 acres budgeted into the upcoming fiscal year.

But assurances by Fire-Rescue CFO Scott Mendelsberg that a delay in rezoning wouldn’t put the purchase in jeopardy – or substantially delay it – let the Village Council defer an item which more than one council member had called rushed or hasty, and which even Palmetto Bay zoning director Darby Delsalle referred to as “written as quickly as I could.”

The rezoning package came at the request of the Palmetto Bay Village Center, the company that owns the roughly 80 bayfront acres in the village’s southern tip that once housed Burger King’s world headquarters.

South Florida environmentalists lined up during public comment to voice their opposition to the rezoning request, which would have allowed a housing development in a forest now peppered with Pine Rockland – a habitat unique to South Florida and the Caribbean – and hardwood hammock.

The rezoning package acknowledged the environmentally sensitive nature of the area, and had built into it conditions to cluster the homes in such a way as to maximize the preservation of tree canopies.

But many, including Tropical Audubon Society Executive Director Laura Reynolds, insisted that clustering homes to protect individual trees wasn’t the way to adequately protect a habitat.

“I’m glad that the council members had the foresight to defer this, because it was rushed…

“You would think that there would be federal and state review, but in this particular case the county turned everything over to Palmetto Bay, so the only thing protecting this property is the zoning designation,” she said after the hearing.

Scott Silver, a partner in the Village Center, says he’s fine with the deferral, which will give the village and the development group more time to consult with environmental experts and the public.

“Even in talking afterward with some of the environmental groups, I think there’s conditions including pathways for animals, preserving the understory … believe it or not, that I think we can all live with.”

The rezoning package would have changed the land-use designation of all 22 acres from Parks and Recreation to Village Mixed-Use, and amended that designation to allow for public-use facilities such as fire stations. The package would have also changed the zoning designation on a little over 20 acres from Interim – essentially a placeholder zoning designation – to Village Mixed-Use – Single-Family Residential, a new zoning category for the village.

The vote to defer the item to a Sept. 22 hearing and to arrange a Sept. 17 council workshop on the matter succeeded 4-0, with Vice-Mayor John DuBois having had recused himself before the hearing.

The second major item saw the council ultimately approved a site-plan modification to Palmer Trinity’s 32-acre expansion, but not without first promising the school that it would re-hear the resolution to amend the 104 conditions still attached to the site plan from its original council approval in 2010.

Councilman Tim Schaffer wondered out loud Monday night why the modifications couldn’t have been dealt with administratively – a sentiment echoed by many who spoke both on and before the dais, saying they just wanted to move on from an issue that has divided the city for six years now.

Palmer Trinity representatives first suggested jettisoning the 104 conditions in favor of 6 it had written, saying it had incorporated many of the original 104 into their site-plan already, and that the others referred to outdated code.

Stanczyk countered that “governments write resolutions, not applicants,” but council members then discussed voting on the resolution as-is, with all 104 conditions, but promising in principle to sit down with the school to whittle down the conditions afterward, and to re-hear the resolution if the school applied to do so.

If the school applies to re-hear the resolution, a new public hearing will be required.

“We still have work to do and it is our hope that we will do that work together cooperatively and with mutual respect. We think that this is a good step to move forward in that direction,” Palmer Trinity lawyer Eileen Ball Mehta said after the hearing.

Mehta would not say whether or not a new deal between the village and the school over the site plan’s conditions would be enough to get Palmer to drop its outstanding suits against the village.