To get the fire station it badly needs to fill a longstanding coverage gap in its northeastern area and in neighboring Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay will have to fight its own residents in court – or find an alternate location.
“Clearly it doesn’t belong in a residential neighborhood. That’s our argument,” said Gary Pastorella, who lives immediately east of the vacant 1.17-acre parcel the Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue Department hopes to buy at the southeastern corner of Southwest 142nd Terrace and Old Cutler Road.
Pastorella had threatened to sue to keep the fire station out of his back yard back in October when the village considered site-plan approval for the project. The village gave the go-ahead to the fire department, and last Monday, Pastorella made good on his promise, filing jointly with his wife Carolyn both an appeal on the approval as well as suit against the village.
According to Kent Harrison Robbins, the family’s attorney, the appeal contends the village didn’t do enough homework when it granted the fire department permission to build a one-story, two-bay, 10,750 square-foot station without first considering more in depth the impact that the ensuing noise, light, and runoff the proposed station would have on neighboring residences.
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“To make it real clear: what would be required for site-plan approval was not considered …They said we’ll deal with it later. No later – under the law, they’re supposed to consider it then, and balance the relative interests,” Robbins said .
“The site plan review process requires analysis of impact on sewer – what type of sewer system they were intending on putting into place … what impact it would have on percolation of water into the ground. It would require detailed landscaping plans… None of those items were required to be disclosed at the time of the approval,” he added.
Palmetto Bay attorney Dexter Lehtinen said Monday that the village “did its due diligence” when it approved the site, and that it had been incumbent on the Pastorellas during the zoning hearing to show evidence of the negative impacts the station would have on neighboring properties.
“They presented no contrary expert evidence to our expert staff and the expert fire department,” he said. “As for water and sewer, they can’t put the building in without the appropriate permits later on.”
As for the suit, it alleges that the fire station by itself violates the village’s comprehensive development map, which designates the area residential.
Miami-Dade Fire Rescue CFO Scott Mendelsberg said that he would continue to work with the Pastorellas toward an acceptable compromise. Even before they filed litigation, he said, the fire department had already proposed a scaled-down version of the station, with added landscaping, to the village’s zoning department.
But the department would also be moving forward with asking for the county commission’s approval to purchase the property, he said.
Palmetto Bay also has coverage issues in the southern part of the village, and the fire department has been trying to place a station at the Palmetto Bay Village Center, the private bay-front office park located at the former Burger King headquarters. The property owner has thus far only been willing to let the village consider site-plan approval for the station within a greater rezoning package that would allow it to build homes on about 20 acres of forested land, and has been instructed by the village to address concerns voiced by environmentalists.