Everybody loves a classic mystery. There are always heroes and villains. There’s usually a femme fatale. And an investigator who’s usually down on his luck but who has a thirst for the truth — like Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon”. It looks like we have the makings of a mystery in Palmetto Bay that could have been written by Dashiell Hammett.
This mystery begins with a plot of land just to the east of Palmetto Bay’s Village Hall. There was concern over a proposed charter school for 1,000 kids opening and the Palmetto Bay’s leaders wanted to see it didn’t happen. They reached out to the landowner where the school could have been sited, right next to the softball fields of Palmetto Bay Park.
At first, the idea was to buy the entire 5.34-acre parcel. But the appraisal came back at about $10 million, too rich for the Palmetto Bay’s blood. So, a new idea was hatched: buy just enough land to keep the charter school from moving in, but not all of it.
A resolution was drawn up for Palmetto Bay to buy the eastern most two acres. It went before the Village Council. Everybody talked about how the Palmetto Bay was buying two buildable acres: the then Mayor, Manager, Council Members, and the then Village Attorney. It passed by 3 votes to 2.
The Village Manager was authorized to pay the developer $3 million for the two acres. And the deal went through. Three million dollars was syphoned from the town’s reserves and put in the developer’s back pocket. That was in 2018.
Fast forward to today and the Palmetto Bay Council has changed. Four of the five people on the Council are gone. Karen Cunningham was elected Mayor in 2018 and David Singer lost to Steve Cody last November. They have a new Manager and a new Village Attorney.
Cody campaigned on the issue of the town’s purchase of the property, calling it the worst decision that could have been made. He proposed that the town should sell off the two acres and put the whole experience behind us. So, like a down on his heels gumshoe, Cody started investigating and this is where the mystery begins to unfold.
When the deed that was signed by the developer was recorded, it was sent to the Property Appraiser. The Appraiser looked at the property description, one of those lengthy “metes and bounds” descriptions and figured out that the town only got 0.97 acres of the 2 acres it had contracted for.
It looks like Palmetto Bay got less than half of what it bargained for, but still paid the full $3 million. Cody told me the Village couldn’t sell the land now until it was sure what it really owned.
That’s when he drafted a proposed resolution asking the Manager Nick Marano and Village Attorney John Dellagloria to investigate the transaction. It looks like Palmetto Bay got cheated, but it isn’t clear yet who did the cheating.
Maybe the Property Appraiser messed up and needs to recalculate the size of the land from the description in the deep. Maybe Palmetto Bay needs to hire a surveyor to tell them what they got versus what they thought they paid for. Maybe there needs to be a lawsuit filed that tags an additional acre so the Palmetto Bay gets what it paid for and the developer can’t sell the land until all the dust settles. Maybe a lawsuit against a number of folks needs to be docket so that justice is done.
Or maybe Kathy Fernandez Rundle needs to let the Grand Jury sort all of this. They could issue a civil report or bring forth one or more indictments. It would be up to them.
In any case, the people of Palmetto Bay were cheated out of an acre of property and $1.5 million dollars. The Palmetto Bay Village Council will hear Cody’s proposed resolution during its April 5th evening meeting.
The mystery won’t get solved that night. But the suspects will be identified, I’m sure, and the mystery will begin to unravel.
Cody reminded me of the lyrics of one of his favorite Don Henley songs, “In A New York Minute” that goes: “Lying in the dark, I hear the sirens wail. Somebody’s going to emergency. Somebody’s going to jail.”
Let’s see what happens in a Palmetto Bay Minute.