The Miami Herald
BYLINE: Howard Cohen; hcohen@MiamiHerald.com
A Palmetto Bay council member wants the village to declare a moratorium on building permits for nonresidential uses in residential neighborhoods.
At Monday’s Village Council meeting, residents appeared puzzled about why council member Joan Lindsay would propose such a freeze.
“In the land development code we have zoning guidelines for building commercial establishments in residential areas and for residential properties in commercial areas,” Lindsay explained. “What we don’t have is guidelines for nonresidential in residential areas.”
The biggest nonresidential use now planned in a residential part of the village would be the Palmer Trinity School, with whom the village has been embroiled in a court battle for years.
But Lindsay said Palmer Trinity is not the target of her proposal. The moratorium “has absolutely nothing to do with any prior development orders,” she said Tuesday. “Palmer Trinity has their development order from 2010 and this does not affect their development.”
Palmer Trinity wasn’t mentioned at Monday’s council meeting as officials tried to clear up confusion about the purpose and effect of the moratorium.
Many residents had the mistaken impression it would stop homeowners from fixing their roofs or making other improvements.
But the moratorium would not apply to residential properties of 1 acre or smaller nor to the commercial or mixed-use districts.
Lindsay said her neighborhood protection idea was to simplify the process of imposing conditions on developments and to define criteria for setbacks, buffers, construction staging, landscaping, traffic, noise and other concerns. The proposed four-month moratorium would be enacted until the village’s final adoption of revisions to the land development code, she said
However, the wording on the original agenda item made no mention of the 1-acre-or-less exception — which represents the vast majority of homes in the village. This led to some of the confusion as well as a blog item from the village’s former mayor Eugene Flinn that suggested the buying and selling of homes could be affected and that the village council was “actually working to create a defined recession” if the moratorium was passed.
At the meeting he blasted the item for its lack of specifics, questioned whether the moratorium was “even legal” and pronounced the council’s actions “as a circus” which drew a sharp rebuke from resident Jerry Templer, Lindsay’s husband. “I’m embarrassed for several people who have given miscommunication out there” and for what he saw as “scare tactics” on Flinn’s part.
On Tuesday, however, Flinn wrote a new blog item praising the residents for their “activism” and the council for its “flexibility.”
“Once again, the council listened to the public concerns,” he wrote. “The council discussed a last-minute substitute for the Zoning in Progress/Moratorium Resolution. This was the much kinder and appropriate substitute. The new resolution targets only residential properties exceeding one acre. The council did not have this matter noticed as a resolution requiring public hearing, so the matter will be rolled over to a special council meeting. This council has demonstrated ‘flexibility’ on controversial issues.”
Indeed, while the item was heard as a resolution at the Monday meeting and accepted public comment for the record, the council deferred voting since staff had not prepared the item in time, Lindsay said, and, instead, scheduled a special council meeting for May 21 to allow for more public input.
Mayor Shelley Stanczyk expressed disappointment that residents spoke out days prior to the meeting without having accurate information and urged that, in the future, concerned residents with questions about agenda items should call her or fellow commissioners.
“There were so many emails telling others what it was about instead of asking us,” she said. “I got one phone call and my number is on the website and has been published in this village for 30 years. Five people sent me an email. I would have welcomed a phone call.”
Moratoriums of varying lengths have been enacted in the village by previous councils in 2005 and 2009 concerning zoning revisions. “Zoning is what gives us a quality of life and the look of our village,” Stanczyk said. The proposed four-month moratorium, she said, “does not provide for a complete shutdown of permitting. Residential under an acre is excluded, the majority of homes in our village are under an acre, emergency repairs, roofing, shutters, and if you have commercial you are exempted. This is a very narrow scope we are going for.”
Residents offered conflicting views on the proposed moratorium.
“I have a problem with the council putting a zoning moratorium that is ethereal in nature,” said Chris Salisbury. “If it needs to be adjusted, adjust it. I don’t think we need a moratorium every time we do an adjustment. I haven’t heard the rationalization for it.”
Sammy Flores, campus pastor for Christ Fellowship, which has its main branch in Palmetto Bay, also expressed concern over the need for a limited moratorium. “A moratorium is a serious action intended when a city has a serious problem that needs to be addressed. I’m not sure I have specific examples of uncontrolled development that would require a moratorium. We urge the council to consider potentially negative impacts and consider the possible violations of law [concerning] religious organizations for land-use discrimination. This could be a target for more legal attention for the village.”
Flores said after the hearing that the church was not intending to expand.
Maria Stout-Tate also urged discretion.
“Be careful how we speak about churches and schools,” she cautioned. “These establishments have been here for many years. During the 1960s the schools and churches purchased a lot of land around them because they had a vision of the future to provide services for an upcoming community and to assist with families, children, adults and the elderly. They were here first and you buy a house near a park you will have lighting and noise and you will have changes if you live near a school.”
Henry Clifford, however, disagreed. “Looking at the map of Palmetto Bay, we are not the village of schools or churches, and we are not the ‘Village of Parks,’ contrary to what it says on our signs. The vast area is single-family homes and the revenues to maintain the parks is from single-family residential areas. Everyone against this moratorium does not want a Wal-Mart in their backyard. They want to be left alone for the quiet enjoyment of their house.”
In other action Monday, the council voted 3-2 in favor of council member Howard Tendrich’s idea to broadcast live streaming video of charter revision committee meetings. Stanczyk and Lindsay voted no. The first committee meeting to stream live will be May 30.
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