A plan to locate a charter K-12 school on the south side of SW 72nd Street (Sunset Drive) just east of the Palmetto Expressway (SR 826) has rallied neighboring homeowner opposition against the Somerset Academy proposal.
The property owned by University Baptist Church lies just a half-dozen blocks east of the Palmetto Expressway and several blocks west of the South Miami city limits at SW 69th Avenue.
A ground lease dated Aug. 20, 2015, between University Baptist Church of Coral Gables and Somerset Academy Inc. for 9.15 acres of the 19-acre property has been submitted with the application.
A 1997 resolution approved the property for location of a church and provided for a day nursery, but prohibited using the grounds for a school, a primary basis for the current legal stand against the application.
To lead their protest, residents have engaged the services of attorney W. Tucker Gibbs, well known in Kendall for his battles to preserve neighborhoods against new commercial and institutional development.
“The property has a history under ownership by the University Baptist Church, dating back to the time when the commissioners approved a site plan for the church and nursery,” Gibbs said.
“Now, Somerset seeks to build a kindergarten through senior high school in the same footprint approved for a church and nursery. Because of the traffic and safety issues alone, the homeowners along Sunset are going to fight the application before the Board of County Commissioners.”
The issue eventually only will be heard by county commissioners following their 2014 ruling that charter school applications bypass community council zoning boards and are heard only by the commission, effectively eliminating a public hearing by Community Council 12.
“If this application is approved, we strongly believe it will subject our neighborhood to a traffic nightmare, reduce the value of our homes and create a general nuisance to our neighborhood made up of mostly of acre estates,” proclaimed an invitation to a Jan. 19 resident meeting at St. Matthew-Apostle Episcopal Church.
The school would be built on a portion of the 19-acre parcel at the corner of SW 73rd Court and 72nd Street that has remained vacant for several years following initial plans by the church to build a new facility on the property.
Residents at the January rally meeting were advised of the passage of the 1997 resolution “over tremendous opposition” that allowed a variance from 15 single-acre home estates to permission for a 185,000-square-foot church structure.
The residents are contending that the church was required to obtain a certificate of use for renewal on an annual basis as a condition of approval, contending that no certificate of use has ever been issued, cause for the variance to be reversed.
A chart accompanying the January meeting notice compared a day nursery operating from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., limited to 98 children, to school with an enrollment of 2,500 operating 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, noting that the proposed school would add a new speed zone during morning and afternoon hours along Sunset Drive.
Application for the new school was filed on Sept. 9, 2015 to modify Resolution Z-18-97 under the name “Somerset Academy at Christ Journey Church” for a special exception to permit a charter school.
The application provides for 25-foot landscaping buffers on the east and west side of the property that include a berm with a three-foot hedge and a double row of 16- to18-foot high trees, heights at time of planting.
The proposed school structure would be limited to two-stories in height and the site would provide off-street parking with a single entrance off SW 72nd Street, according to the Sept. 9, 2015 filing by Albert J. Torres, Land Use Consultant for the Miami law firm of Holland & Knight.