A near-overflow audience of 200 West Kendall residents wearing “Just Say No” T-shirts left a Community Council 11 Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on Sept. 6 without a final decision on a proposed cemetery at the southwest corner of Krome (SW 177th) Avenue and 136th Street.
The third of three hearing continuances since Apr. 14, the session was occupied largely with detailed descriptions by attorney Jeffrey S. Bass and consultants explaining how a newly changed design of “West Kendall Memorial Park” answered previous homeowner and council concerns.
As an adjournment approached, attorney Brad E. Kelsky, representing abutting homeowners Joe and Ileana Retisco, vigorously protested being “shut out of the time needed to present our own expert testimony.”
Such statements would refute rationales of cemetery consultants, including statistics on rates of cremation and burials in Miami-Dade County and Florida, basis for arguments of potential contamination of groundwater tables that occupied much of the pro-application presentation by Bass.
Cemetery consultants also disputed traffic and safety issues residents claimed would result from funeral processions on two-lane Krome Avenue.
Testimony beginning just before 8 p.m. and heard at times in a courtroom-like procedure, ate up nearly an hour until 9 p.m., a half-hour short of a 9:30 p.m. adjournment imposed by the impending closing of facilities at Arvida Middle School.
Now deferred until Tuesday, Oct. 4, the hearing, which ended at 9:40 p.m., was shortened by two other zoning matters heard between 7 and 8 p.m.
“It is totally unfair that 500 people against this cemetery haven’t even had a chance to address our concerns,” declared Ms. Retisco taking the microphone alongside Kelsky to criticize the 9:30 p.m. closing time and asking for “just nine minutes to hear a single expert.”
However, chair Jeff Wander, supported by County Attorney Tom Robertson, ruled, that arrangements with the school required shutting down the session by 9:30 p.m.
“There was nothing else we could do since the school had to be locked up by 10 p.m. and the auditorium was available only until 9:30,” Wander explained a day later. “At Kendall Civic Center, where the last hearing was deferred, we had a standing room-only situation so it was decided to schedule a continuation in the larger school auditorium.” (At press time, the location for a fourth session was still undetermined.)
Ms. Retisco said a petition containing 698 names objecting to the cemetery location would be entered when the hearing re-convenes, and that as president of the Suburban Acres Preservation Society, she would continue to represent “hundreds of residents in the area who oppose the cemetery.” The Petiscos have resided for eight years on land adjoining the south boundary line of the cemetery property.
A change from Interim District (GU) to agricultural (AU) zoning would be required to permit opening of a burial ground and mausoleums in a Phase One development of 8.7 acres of a 47.8-acre tract at the southwest corner of SW 136th Street and 177th (Krome) Ave.
First heard on Apr. 14, the application of Hugo Pereira, president, Krome Agronomics LLC, a Florida company, was continued due to a 3-3 tie vote of council members — Patricia Davis, Joseph Delaney and Wander voting “yes” and Miguel Diaz, Beatrice Suarez and Ileana Vazquez voting “no.”
At a second hearing on May 17, ownership attorneys agreed to amend the original application to further satisfy council concerns, including withdrawal of special setbacks and re-siting mausoleum locations, key issues raising questions from residents, as well as several council members.
When a revised application with amended planning came before the council in front of an overflow crowd on July 19 only three of six members attended.
With less than a minimum four-member quorum to take action, the hearing was continued until Sept. 6. On Aug/ 10, changes for mausoleum locations included in a revised application led Kelsky to question whether the new plan was still formally part of the original application or an entirely new document. Robertson and zoning staff ruled changes remained part of the initial filing.
The county Planning and Zoning Department approved the revised application with 13 conditions that included restrictions on burial sites (including locations above a designated water table), modifications of landscaping and use of excavated fill only on cemetery siting, and not for resale.
Five county departments including the Department of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) listed no objections to the project. Miami-Dade Transit reported “no comment” and Miami-Dade Fire- Rescue objected only to a locking device proposed for an entry gate.
The Planning Department stated the “cemetery is a public necessity due to the finite numbers of years left of burial and cremation spaces, and… insufficient land as “suitable alternative parcels…inside the Urban Development Boundary (UDB) where this use is allowed as a special exception.” The cemetery property is located 1.4 miles west of the UDB in southwest Miami-Dade.
The Planning and Zoning staff found the rezoning to agricultural use “would bring the property into conformity with and would be consistent with the Land Use Plan” and the “majority of the surrounding properties.”
Appearing for the application in support of those findings were attorney Tony Recio; Andrew Dolkart, a Miami-based economist; Ed Swakon, professional engineer, Coral Gables, and Kathy Sweetapple, Fort Lauderdale traffic and transportation specialist.
The consultants were opposed briefly for the less than 15 minutes that remained before adjournment by Kelsky and Richard Weisskoff, University of Miami professor, appearing on behalf of the resident group.