Palmetto Bay

Palmetto Bay Village seeks grant to upgrade infrastructure in Franjo Triangle area

Developer and major village and county campaign donor Wayne Rosen asked Palmetto Bay late last year to endorse his application for a $5million county grant to subsidize the mixed-use complex he has planned in the village’s Franjo Triangle area.

But in an unexpected twist, the village council unanimously approved a staff recommendation Monday night to go a different way — and apply for the grant themselves.

“This is a brand new grant application that the village of Palmetto Bay is putting forth for the public infrastructure,” said Ed Silva, village building director, adding that “not a single penny” would be used to fund the Rosen project.

The village had long ago decided to forego applying to the Building Better Communities bond program, believing that it couldn’t meet certain requirements — like guaranteeing a set number of long-term jobs as a result of the grant, or waiting a year to be reimbursed. But Silva said the county has now told the village that the rules are different for public applicants and that a market study, which the village has already commissioned as part of its redevelopment efforts, is acceptable to meet the employment requirement. The city also can be reimbursed on a pay-as-you-go basis, he said.

The Rosen complex, which included a 1,400-student charter school, was itself controversial, but he and his supporters on the Palmetto Bay dais had argued in favor of the grant by saying it aligned with the redevelopment effort the village is hoping to finally get under way in the area.

Others, like former council member Joan Lindsay and former mayor Shelley Stanczyk, argued that the school was unpopular in the village, and that the grant was an unnecessary handout at taxpayers’ expense.

“In having more conversations with the [county] staff and more conversations with our [county] commissioner, we realized that it would be better if we did this on our own. And that it would be a better benefit for the community,” Silva said.

Rosen was hoping the county grant would reimburse him for infrastructure updates around and inside his property — including helping to build a parking garage for the complex.

“I’m not sure if his grant had stayed alive that it would have passed legal tests at the county, because the grant supposedly is only for public infrastructure, it’s not for private parking garages on private property,” Silva said.

The village staff’s plan is to use the money on village property and village rights-of-way. It would pay to ground power lines, update water lines, widen sidewalks and put in new landscaping and lighting along Franjo Road. If the village ultimately gets the full $15million it seeks, Silva envisions a multi-level parking structure next to village hall at the corner of Franjo Road and East Hibiscus Street, with retail space below.

That parking might help Rosen meet his project’s parking requirements, Silva said, but the parking will be controlled by the village, and available to competing developments.

In other action, the council unanimously approved plans for a special election to be held on April 21 on the subject of the Alexander Montessori School’s request to increase enrollment from 270 to 329 students.

Following a 2009 voter-approved charter amendment, village law requires private schools seeking to increase enrollment to get 75 percent of the electorate living within 2,000 feet of the project to approve the plan before the question can come before the council.

The school has tried to clear this hurdle before: In 2013, it asked its neighbors to allow it the extra students, and 67.6 percent voted in favor. In the November election, the school tried a different tactic and asked voters to lower the 75 percent threshold to a simple majority. That failed, too, with 51.4 percent voting no.

The council also gave unanimous approval to updates on its comprehensive plan, which the state mandates be reviewed at least once every seven years.

With the meeting dragging on nearly an hour past midnight, council members again deferred a discussion of their village manager’s contract, which is set to expire on March 31.