Board approves turning townhomes into school

By Richard Yager….
Miami-Dade’s nation-leading downturn of housing starts turned up a brand new private school to replace an existing row of townhomes in the Kendale Lakes area.

A 4-0 vote of Community Council 11 approved a change of restrictions despite a six-page report by the county Planning and Zoning Department that recommended denial. The recommendation was largely due to the planned school’s failure to meet county standards for school open space and parking.

Nevertheless, the plight of owner Pedro Camejo, unable to sell units within the existing residential development, will now be relieved by conversion of 11 attached townhomes for a toddler care center and classrooms serving grades 1-5.

The new school for up to 260 students will remodel the townhomes into 18 classrooms and administrative space in the connected two-story buildings that total 16,750 square feet.

“It was the collapse of the housing market that brings us to ask for this change,” said Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, attorney representing Camejo, adding the request “resulted directly from the owner’s inability to sell the units in a sharply declining housing market since 2006.

“They came on the market at the worst possible time, immediately before real estate sales collapsed,” he told the board that later agreed a small school development on the property would make better use of the land than what is now planned for the site.

“While such changes go against two restrictions on land use and parking, the school, its traffic and parking plan, while eliminating an approved but un-built office development, simply makes good sense for best use of the property in this economy,” concluded council chair Patricia “Shannen” Davis who cast the fourth and final vote for the change of covenant restrictions.

Concurring with her were council members Ileana Vazquez who moved for approval; Joseph E. Delaney, who seconded the action, and Miguel A. Diaz. Vice chair Jeff Wander and member Beatrice Suarez were not present.

The northwest corner site at SW 59th Street and 135th Avenue originally was part of a larger land tract rezoned from RU-1 single-family residential to RU-5A (residential-limited commercial) granted in 1969, allowing development for the mixed use of a three-story office complex and residential townhomes.

In reviewing Camejo’s school proposal, planning officials largely objected to a provision for 70 parking spaces at the expense of open land (26,000 square feet planned against a minimum of 53,475 required for school use), and the proposed (up to 260 students) for exceeding a code requirement of a maximum 169.

In both instances, De la Portilla claimed the restrictions “were outmoded for suburban development as it now exists in the county,” countering that the “retro-fitting of the site will offer an expansive playground that should be (but isn’t) counted against the open space requirement.”

He also noted that extensive planning for access and egress to parking will create a traffic flow that gained initial approval of the Department of Public Works, and will remain a condition of the newly approved covenant for the parcel.

Questioned by Diaz and Vazquez, De la Portilla said the ownership would agree to all conditions and restrictions under the revised application, adding that school hours (7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday) would not interfere with area traffic, as attested by the DPW’s agreement with the submitted site plan.

All other county departments listed “no objection” to the planning except for the Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) that will require landscaping and buffering in accordance with code restrictions for school usage.

No objections of abutting owners were recorded by Planning and Zoning to the application that attracted only two speakers at the Dec. 7 public hearing.

Lawrence Percival, Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations executive vice president, supported the plan as a private citizen, followed by former Blue Lakes Elementary School principal Joseph Cabya, now retired from 35 years with the Miami-Dade School District, who declared “this is a forward step for a community in need of schools.”

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