A controversial resolution allowing for the construction of a multi-purpose room on the property of the Thalatta Estate was unanimously voted down by the Palmetto Bay Village Council during its Apr. 2 meeting after wide-ranging criticism against the plan was voiced by several council members, residents and former village officials. Some still spoke favorably of the million- dollar expansion plan at the meeting, including Palmetto Bay Vice Mayor Brian Pariser.
“We have Thalatta now as an asset, and as an asset it has to be maintained by personnel and also physically maintained,” Pariser said. “And if it’s between raising taxes and limiting park hours, I’d rather have people come from the outside and pay for that property to rent it at reasonable prices, bearing in mind that this should always be considered a public park first.
“So what’s being proposed is not out of line with what was the original intent when the grant was first sought. In fact, in the grant papers it said that the carriage house would be converted to a kitchen to allow for events.”
He said the main house really needs repairs, probably shouldn’t be open to the public and isn’t big enough for events, so they need a larger air-conditioned space for weddings and quinces.
Councilmember Howard Tendrich took an opposing view.
“I sort of totally disagree with the vice mayor,” Tendrich said. “Nowhere in the plans earlier did it say there was to be an enclosed glass house of 7,500 square feet. It showed an open area and in fact somewhere along the way we have a 9,500-square-foot enclosed area in our village already which is larger than what we have and the necessity of it doesn’t seem necessary.
“The park is supposed to be open to the public and that’s one thing, I still feel that it is not open enough to the public. We might need to have more personnel, but I feel the park should be open at least Monday through Friday, from 10 till 6, so people don’t need to go, ‘well, if we go on Monday it’s open from 10 to 2, if we go on Wednesday it’s open from 4 to 7. We need to have standard hours.”
He mentioned that at an event that was just held at Thalatta there were cars parked all along Old Cutler Road and traffic was very heavy and it was dangerous trying to get out of there.
Resident Eric Tolberg in public comments said that he had a lot of concerns about the traffic and parking as well as pedestrians and bikers. He also was concerned about the added costs.
Dr. Ed Feller, a former village councilmember, spoke about the history of the property’s acquisition.
“When myself, Gene [Flinn], our village manager at that time and our parks director went to Tallahassee when we got the $2.2 million grant, the organization that we presented it to, it’s function was to take threatened land and keep it public, keep it away from private development and keep it public,” Dr. Feller said.
He mentioned that they had considered having events there but never discussed it in detail. He said that it was important to preserve the house as a historic site.
“Never was the concept brought up of having a huge catering area sitting behind the house,” Feller said. “I believe that’s the antithesis of what the state gave us the grant for and what the concept was for.”
Former Mayor Eugene Flinn spoke with emotion about the new plan not being in keeping with the original purpose of the park property, and said that the three agencies that provided grants to buy the property might ask for the money back. A number of other residents also spoke against the plan.
Councilman Patrick Fiore said, “Government is not in the wedding planning business. Period.”
Joan Lindsay said she agreed with Howard Tendrich, after attending that recent special event at the park.
“I saw all those cars parked along Old Cutler Road, realizing that the way those cars were parked, those people were going to have to back out onto Old Cutler Road,” said Lindsay. “So I really started rethinking this issue because of this traffic.”
Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, originally a proponent of the plan, joined the other council members in voting it down after considering all the opposing arguments.
“I think we need to listen to our residents that have had an honest opinion about what we should do and how they want to use the park and the access,” Stanczyk said. “I think one of the first things we’ll do is consider what hours that really need to be open and how we can man the park, because it does need to be manned.”
Thalatta Estate was scheduled to be inspected by the Florida Communities Trust on Tuesday, Apr. 10, to see if the development of the park complied with the terms of the original grant.