Palmetto Bay

Palmetto Bay postpones grant application for development in Franjo area

The Palmetto Bay Village Council postponed a vote Monday night on whether to support an application by developer Wayne Rosen for a controversial $5 million county grant that would help build a mixed-use project in the Franjo Triangle area.

The village has been trying to encourage redevelopment around U.S. 1 and Franjo Road, and Rosen is proposing a development in that area.

The county grant would come out of $75 million set aside from the Building Better Communities 2004 ballot initiative that gave Miami-Dade the authority to use property taxes to borrow billions over several decades to fund infrastructure and construction projects.

The money would reimburse the developer for public services in the area, such as a sewer lines and streets.

The problem? The rules tied to the program require the applications to be for a minimum of $10 million, a restriction put in place to guarantee that projects are large enough to actually impact the economy. The county mayor’s office pushed earlier this year to have the rules re-written to allow for smaller grants, but backed off from the proposal earlier this month. Rosen’s application, backed by a 3-1 recommendation from the county commission’s Economic Development Committee, asks that rule be waived.

Mayor Shelley Stanczyk spoke against the item, arguing it would probably raise county taxes, and that its benefit to the village was unclear.

“It certainly doesn’t fall into the ‘game changer’ [category] that was the original impetus for the bond,” she said.

The Rosen project, which includes a 1,400-student charter school, has been controversial in the village. Council members John DuBois, Tim Schaffer and Patrick Fiore all noted the council’s “unanimous” approval for the project back in March, but council member Joan Lindsay noted how grudging her yes vote had been.

“It is to fund a project that many, many people in this village were adamantly against. I felt I was forced to vote for it because the law did not give me any wiggle room,” Lindsay said.

Because charter schools are designated “public schools” according to Florida statutes, a municipality cannot turn down a site-plan application unless its violates the community’s comprehensive growth plan.

“I think this is pay-back for generous campaign contributions on the part of this developer. This developer contributed very generously to certain county commissioners and he has contributed generously to many races in this village, including this election coming up,” Lindsay said.

Schaffer, who sponsored the item, hasn’t received any money from Rosen, but DuBois, who also indicated support for it — before suggesting the vote be postponed — has. Personally and through his companies, Rosen gave at least $2,000 to DuBois’ 2012 vice-mayoral campaign.

DuBois also got $1,000 between contributions from Academica executive Magdalena Fresen and owner Ignacio Zulueta. Academica, one of the country’s largest charter school management firms, will manage the school being built by Rosen. DuBois also received $250 from Civica, the architecture firm that designs many Academica schools, including this one.

Fiore, in his bid for the mayor’s seat this election cycle, took in at least $2,000 from Rosen or Rosen-owned companies.

The item was postponed with a 4-1 vote, with Schaffer in the minority.

Also on Monday, DuBois told the council that his neighbor's property, at 17601 Old Cutler Road, was going to be sold and could a good site for a fire station — long needed to fix a coverage gap in the southern part of the village.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue has been pursuing a piece of property nearby, at the office park at 17901 Old Cutler, but efforts to buy the land have been stalled by environmental concerns, with the property owner so far refusing to ask for the necessary rezoning from the village on the 1.5 acres the fire department wants outside of a larger rezoning package that would allow them to develop 20 acres of forested land.

Fire Rescue CFO Scott Mendelsberg confirmed the department is interested in the property at 17601 Old Cutler, and had inquired about pricing.