About 50 people attended a special meeting on Tuesday, May 13, in the Palmetto Bay council chambers called by Vice Mayor John DuBois on the subject of lighting regulations in the village.
The meeting — not a council meeting, town hall or COW meeting — was arranged by the vice mayor following the regular monthly council meeting on May 5 during which District 2 Councilmember Tim Schaffer proposed lighting modifications to the Neighborhood Protection Ordinance, 30-110.
This reawakened concerns among some in the community regarding Palmer Trinity School’s planned expansion which includes an athletic field and stadium equipped with tall light poles for nighttime events. Neighbors living near the school and others who object to that plan appeared at the May 5 meeting to protest the proposed ordinance changes. After heated discussion, the village council voted 4-1 to defer the item regarding Councilmember Schaffer’s proposed lighting modifications to Ordinance 30-110 to the June 2 council meeting. Schaffer voted against the deferral.
Emails before and after that meeting had been circulated by Concerned Citizens of Old Cutler Inc. (CCOCI) against the ordinance change, which prompted a reply by Councilmember Schaffer.
“I’ve studied ordinance 30-110 for months and it is unfair and is government over the people by forcing only the private sector to obey, non governmental assembly uses, government uses do not have to obey,” Schaffer stated. “The lighting portion is the most glaring example of government over the people. That means village-owned property, to include village parks, has lights and can put in more lights where the private sector cannot.
“Ordinances that place government over the people may only lead to more expensive litigation. I’m sponsoring the amendment out of fairness and avoidance of possible future litigation. I’m not in favor of more lights in our village parks, but I am in favor of fair government.”
Schaffer said that there may be more portions of 30-110 that will be reviewed in the future.
“It’s a shame that a small group of people, some of which supported me, turn everything this council does into a Palmer Trinity issue and promotes such anger through misinformation. It is time to move forward.”
Schaffer did not attend the May 13 special meeting, but Vice Mayor DuBois opened the session with the announcement that he had just received word that Palmer Trinity had submitted a new site plan that did not include the lights.
“Let me give you some of the background on this,” DuBois continued. “Institutions, specially private schools, churches, daycare centers, are not allowed under the code to have lighting in residential areas. Public parks, city parks, public schools, others are.”
He also said that he understood the concerns of neighbors since he once lived next door to Palmer Trinity School.
The informal meeting was then opened to public comments and a number of people came to the microphone to address the vice mayor and new village attorney, Dexter Lehtinen. One of the first to speak was Gary Pastorella, president of CCOCI.
“There’s been more outcries about this issue in Palmetto Bay,” Pastorella said. “You’ve got hundreds and hundreds of emails. Now, with them withdrawing the request for lighting, if we walk away and this bill is allowed to go through, I know that at some point in the future when it’s not a political issue, the school will resubmit their plan with the lighting. We know they want the lights.”
Barb Yager, an officer of the Southern Cross Astronomical Society, raised an issue that has long been a concern about the lighting affecting visibility for the stargazing group.
“We’ve been located at Bill Sadowski Park for 28 years,” Yager said. “Palmer school is one of the top private schools in Dade County, but I do not appreciate their attitude toward bullying others around on this expansion issue. Palmer school is providing a Christian education. We’re involved in scientific education right across the street. So I’m hoping that we can work this out together.”
She urged that the politicians work to make Palmetto Bay a “flagship community” that starts with extensive light pollution systems throughout the entire community “to preserve the beautiful and natural wonder overhead.”
Jerry Templer, who is the husband of Councilmember Joan Lindsay, stated that he wants to put it on the ballot in November that residents can vote for no stadium lighting for public schools and institutions. Village attorney Lehtinen said that was possible.
“It can be done,” Lehtinen told him, and pointed out some of the procedures that must be followed to place it on the ballot.
DuBois explained that when he ran for office most people told him they were concerned about the high costs of litigation resulting from the lawsuits over the years of fighting the Palmer Trinity School expansion.
Resident Andy Newman expressed his feelings on the issue.
“When I bought my home in 1997 I knew the school was there, no problem,” Newman said. “But when I heard about the expansion and the lights it scared the hell out of me.”
Everyone who came to the microphone to speak voiced opposition to the ordinance change. No one spoke in favor of it.
Editor’s Note: A town hall meeting was called by Councilmember Joan Lindsay on the subject of the lighting and Palmer Trinity School, set for May 21, after the deadline for this issue but before its publication.