Saturday , 1 November 2014
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Charter school plan raises opposition from neighbors

Despite a growing protest of nearby residents, Pinewood Acres School plans to reopen in Sept. as Somerset Charter School with plans for a two-story campus development accommodating up to 2,000 students.

For the past 60 years, the neighborhood private school has consisted of several one-story buildings on five contiguous lots along the west side of SW 97th Avenue, north and south of 96th Street, adjacent to a neighborhood of singlefamily homes.

A notice posted on the school’s website confirms that “after 60 wonderful years, Pinewood Acres will close its doors in May of 2013,” adding that “Somerset Charter School will open its doors at the Pinewood Acres location in the fall of 2013 for PK4-sixth grade.”

Sale of the school property to the statewide charter school firm and plans for an expanded facility designed to accommodate Pre-K to Grage 12 were described in a Dec. 19 application by the Lones family ownership of Pinewood Acres.

Their filing seeks a special exception and two variances to allow a phased development to build an L-shaped, twostory building fronting the west side of SW 97the Avenue and continuing around the corner on the south side of 96th Street.

Variances, if granted, would allow the school to build a main entrance on SW 97th Avenue with a two-way interior traffic pattern along both frontages of the main building. The property on the north side of 96th Street would retain a onestory building with more than 50 percent of its adjoining area set aside for parking. If approved by county zoning authorities and the county commission, the completed school campus “would add 100,000-plus square feet of building structures on the existing properties,” declared Jose Suarez, an architect whose residence abuts an existing Pinewood property.

“School enrollment will go from a maximum of 290 students to 2,000, greatly affecting our peace and tranquility, not to mention the value of our properties and their resale value,” he declared.

Noting that initial plans call for three school bus loading areas, Suarez said, “The safety and noise issues created by the increased traffic are critical reasons why residents are objecting to this plan.”

Suarez and fellow neighbors hosted a special meeting on Feb. 24 with 40 attending to plan appearances in public meetings to protest the development.

The first public hearing was scheduled Feb. 27 before the Development Impact Committee Lower Council, an agency that precedes reviews by the Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources that administers zoning.

Charter schools requiring a process in zoning are first heard by both County Developmental Impact Committees (Lower Council and Executive Committee) before a final public hearing by county commissioners, according to Hilda Castillo, spokesperson for the department.

While all five properties in the application carry an EU-1 (Estate plus one acre) residential zoning, the use codes of four include provision for private school development. A fifth parcel, upon which the Lones family resides, carries only a residential use code.

Somerset Academy currently operates 11 private charter schools in Miami-Dade County and 16 in Broward County. In its website notice, the Pinewood Acres School noted that alumni, students, parents and friends can continue support of Pinewood through a newly established non-profit organization, the Pinewood Educational Foundation.

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