In the history of bad ideas, the county’s Rapid Transit Zone (RTZ) is one of the worst. The county is pushing ahead on its RTZ initiative that would forever change our beloved Palmetto Bay. Twenty years ago, I was part of the movement to incorporate as a village. We residents worked hard to establish our beautiful suburban community. The cornerstone of the incorporation movement was to determine our own zoning and control development in our village.
How proud I was on June 6 of this year, when the Palmetto Bay Village Council voted unanimously to oppose the county’s RTZ initiative. The RTZ calls for 15-story buildings, 125 apartments per acre, and high intensity uses along the U.S. 1 corridor. The RTZ would supersede our ability to make decisions about commercial and mixed-use apartment buildings extending up to ½ mile from U.S. 1 into the village.
Two days after the Council took its strong stand, the county held a Sunshine meeting about the RTZ at county hall between County Commissioner Oliver G. Gilbert, the RTZ sponsor, and Raquel Regalado, the District 7 Commissioner. Dozens of municipal officials attended, including myself. Palmetto Bay Mayor Karyn Cunningham appointed Vice Mayor Leanne Tellam to represent the Village’s position. The Village Manager, Nick Marano, accompanied the Vice Mayor.
I was dismayed when Manager Marano failed to mention in his remarks to the standing-room-only crowd the Village’s official position opposing the RTZ. Equally disturbing was when Vice Mayor Tellam rose to speak and she too failed to mention the Council’s unanimous opposition. I had been instructed by the Village not to speak due to Florida’s Sunshine Law, but I certainly would have shared the facts once I realized that the Manager and Vice Mayor remained silent about the Village’s opposition.
Two days later, I asked the manager directly why he did not announce the Council’s position. He said, “Speak to Vice Mayor Tellam.” This caught me by surprise because the Sunshine Law allows me to talk about Village business only at a publicly-noticed meeting. I told him that I could not ask her. I asked again why he hadn’t announced the Village’s opposition. He repeated, “Speak to Vice Mayor Tellam.”
It looks to me like the Village is telling our residents one thing – “We strongly oppose the RTZ!” – then going to county and city officials and doing something else – “Let’s keep it hush-hush.” Why?
The RTZ proposal is moving along rapidly. I encourage residents to become involved, attend meetings, and keep our officials’ feet to the fire. Call Councilmembers. Call the Village Manager. On my end, as your Councilmember, at the upcoming Tuesday, June 21, Council meeting, I will follow through on the manager’s suggestion. I will ask Vice Mayor Tellam why she and the manager both felt they needed to omit the fact that this Village took a strong stand against the RTZ, a policy that would be highly detrimental to our village.
As Aldous Huxley once said, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” The RTZ is a clear threat to our quality of life and the Council recognized this fact with its unanimous opposition. However, the Vice Mayor and Manager chose not to share the Village’s resolution to a roomful of powerful officials who will soon decide whether the RTZ becomes law. If it does, Palmetto Bay returns to the unhappy days of county control of U.S. 1 zoning before incorporation.
Let’s get to the bottom of why the Vice Mayor and Manager chose to hide the facts to county and municipal officials, while back home the Village tells residents it opposes the RTZ.