Gables ordinance has village officials, residents concerned

In the foreground are (l-r) Palmetto Bay Councilmember Tim Schaffer, Coral Gables city attorney Craig E. Leen, Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn and village clerk Meighan Alexander.

In the foreground are (l-r) Palmetto Bay Councilmember Tim Schaffer, Coral Gables city attorney Craig E. Leen, Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn and village clerk Meighan Alexander.

An ordinance drafted and approved by the City of Coral Gables allowing the City Beautiful to levy fines against homeowners living in the Village of Palmetto Bay has aroused the ire of village officials and residents, and prompted an emergency meeting the morning of Monday, Feb. 22.

The ordinance was brought to light when violations regarding alleged standing water that could contribute to mosquito breeding were reportedly discovered on property in Palmetto Bay, technically outside the jurisdiction of the City of Coral Gables

Residents of Palmetto Bay were alerted by email message and a notice posted on the village website that officials of both cities would be meeting at 6525 SW 152 St. (Coral Reef Drive) at 9 a.m. It turned out to be a difficult location to find since there are no signs or markings to identify the property, owned by Florida Power and Light.

Those from Palmetto Bay who attended were surprised to discover not a stationary meeting, but a “walking tour” conducted by FPL and a few county officials across a piece of land more spacious than many golf courses and uneven in spots with grass and rocks and deep ruts of dirt. There also were warnings of fire ants. The two sites with standing water are on the other side of the fences bordering the FPL property, not on FPL property itself.

Attending from the Palmetto Bay side were Mayor Eugene Flinn, Councilmembers Karyn Cunningham and Tim Schaffer, village manager Ed Silva, village clerk Meighan Alexander, village attorney Dexter Lehtinen, Village Police commander Gadyaces Serralta and public information officer Jackie Calzadilla.

Representing the City of Coral Gables was city attorney Craig E. Leen.

Concerns were expressed by both village officials and residents about standing water in the area and especially whether the Zika virus could be involved.

Mario Porcelli, a biologist with Miami-Dade County Mosquito Control, spoke to the assembled group. Porcelli said that there were no reported Zika findings and that the type of mosquito which carries it does not normally inhabit the brackish water of that area.

Flinn was upset that Gables Mayor Jim Cason and other elected leaders had not come in person, only sending their attorney. Flinn and Schaeffer also were angry about the fact that the City of Coral Gables had not arranged talks with the village and other surrounding municipalities to work things out prior to implementing the ordinance and levying fines. Flinn asked that the process be halted until arrangements could be worked out in a “neighborly” fashion.

Flinn, in a somewhat heated statement to the Gables city attorney, expressed the position of the village on behalf of its residents.

“I’m asking you today, as a resident of Palmetto Bay and a government official of Palmetto Bay, especially based upon our visit here today where we’ve seen numerous violations in a residential area and in this area in Coral Gables, not on any property in the Village of Palmetto Bay, to stand down on this ordinance,” said Flinn.

“This ordinance is not legally supported. There’s no evidentiary basis for it and I just want to lay this predicate so that when we go and strike this ordinance that we have our grounds laid out that will entitle us to attorney’s fees because I do not believe our residents should have to bear the cost of litigation in any suit, should it be required to protect our rights.”

Leen responded, “Just for the benefit of those here, the city is prepared to defend this ordinance. We’ve hired our counsel, Kozyak Tropin, they’ll defend us. We’d much rather work it out. Ultimately it’s a public health issue. We’re trying to address this specific property. We think it’s a public good. Certainly it’s in good faith. That’s all I have to say.”

Some residents are concerned, off the record, that the ordinance is really just a first step toward the property being taken over by the City of Coral Gables for the purpose of building a park and a marina there, which might result in traffic and other problems for residents in the area.

Richard Gibbs, a Florida Power and Light spokesperson attending the meeting, wanted to stress an important point.

“Regarding the upkeep on our property, we have a rigorous program of spraying on the grass and vegetation, and we feel that those efforts will curtain any significant mosquito larval growth on our property,” Gibbs said. “We’re committed to keeping up that schedule and making sure that we keep the best interest of all the neighbors in mind.”

Cunningham agreed with others on the council and with residents.

“The Gables ordinance, however well intended, leaves a few substantial legal questions as to the extraterritorial exercise of its police powers over property located within Palmetto Bay, as well as how Coral Gables can lawfully impose fines and jail terms due to mosquitoes entering Coral Gables,” Cunningham said.

Palmetto Bay resident Jane Blakely was worried and attended to find out what could be done.

“The ordinance that Coral Gables passed is one where they have no jurisdiction as far as we can tell,” Blakely said. “This particular property [FPL] is located in Palmetto Bay. We’re concerned that Coral Gables can come in and enforce an ordinance on property that doesn’t belong to them.”

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