Council votes 5-0 to follow court on school’s zoning

By Gary Alan Ruse….
After a three-an-a-half hour zoning hearing, July 19, on the issue of the village’s May 4, 2010 resolution regarding a zoning application by Palmer Trinity School, the five-member Palmetto Bay Council voted 5-0 to follow the order of the 11th Judicial Circuit Court to eliminate two key points of the resolution.

Conducted at Christ Fellowship Church, 8900 SW 168 St., before a crowd of residents and other interested parties, and also broadcast on the Internet in a streaming video on Realtor Hal Feldman’s website, the meeting began at 6:30 p.m. Each member of the council stating that they had received calls and emails from residents about this issue but had to tell everyone that under the Jennings Rule they were not allowed to discuss it before the quasi-judicial hearing. Each council member said that they could be fair and impartial.

Stanley Price, attorney for Palmer Trinity School, asked for the right to cross examine the council members and anyone that would testify. Attorney Tucker Gibbs, representing the neighborhood group Concerned Citizens of Old Cutler Inc. and also the attorney for Councilmember Joan Lindsay, objected. Village attorney Eve Boutsis began with a brief recounting of the history of the litigation regarding the Palmer Trinity zoning issue which began in 2006 when the private school sought to expand its facility across a parcel of land it had acquired between its original property and SW 184th Street. The school wished to add additional classrooms, a lighted sports facility and other features that would accommodate 1,400 students.

That request was denied by the council in 2008, but in 2010 after legal action by the school, the council passed a resolution granting the zoning application but limiting the number of students to 900 and placing a 30-year prohibition on any additional expansion requests. The school challenged that ruling in court, and in March of this year the 11th Circuit Court ordered the council to eliminate those two restrictions and take no further action.

After lengthy discussion of the legal points — whether public hearing comments would be allowed, whether any new evidence could be discussed, and questions by Councilmember Howard Tendrich and Vice Mayor Brian Pariser, Councilmember Joan Lindsay made a motion to take a vote on following the court’s order to quash the two conditions and delete all references to them in the resolution and take no further action. It was seconded by Pariser.

“I am ready for this as all of you are,” Lindsay said. “I think it would be a grave mistake for us to do anything other than what the court has said to do. Mayor Shelley Stanczyk agreed with that view.

“I think our job tonight is very clear,” Stanczyk said. “It is to quash the limit of the 900 and the 30-year prohibition.” Councilman Patrick Fiore pointed out that this issue has cost the village at least a half million dollars in legal fees and divided the community, “neighbor against neighbor.”

Vice Mayor Pariser said, “I believe we are in good faith following the court’s order.”

After the unanimous vote, the meeting ended at 10:08 p.m. Neither attorney would say whether their respective lawsuits would continue or not.

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