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Pinewood protest continues despite new site revisions

More than 200 residents rallied on Aug. 1 to continue protesting a new charter school replacing East Kendall’s Pinewood Acres School despite design changes that reportedly would reduce its overall size by 10 percent.

“The projected enrollment of 2,000 students is the real issue here and it’s simply not acceptable,” said Jose Suarez, president of the East Kendall Homeowners Federation (EKHO), allied with CANE (Citizens Against 97th Avenue Development) in objecting to school expansion.

At a special meeting in the Chinese Christian Gospel Church, 10200 SW 107 Ave., residents applauded EKHO’s Tucker Gibbs who urged them to “show up and be heard” when the Miami-Dade County Commission considers the application to convert the neighborhood private elementary school to a pre-K through senior high school.

“Do not be fooled by whatever they tell you they will do,” he charged even before attorney Juan Mayol and school architect Rolando Llanes described changes to reduce the original building footprint and improve traffic flow at the 8.3-acre site at 9500 SW 97 Ave.

Somerset Bay at Pinewood Acres is the name for the new charter school proposed by the Leones family, 60- year owners of Pinewood, which has agreed to a limited partnership with the Academia/ Somerset Academy firm that operates charter schools throughout the U.S.

During recent years, pre-K to grade 6 classes totaling up to 200 students have occupied the cluster of one-story buildings in a low-profile campus surrounded by singlefamily homes and shade trees, north and south of SW 96th Street.

The new proposal would erect a two-story, L-shaped concrete building with capacity for 2,000 students, replacing existing structures along the south side of SW 96th Street with an entryway road off SW 97th Street to accommodate stacking of vehicles and school buses.

Initial review by the Miami-Dade County Developmental Impact Committee’s (DIC) Lower Council rejected a 101,000-square-foot structure as inconsistent with the existing neighborhood, leading to a revised plan scheduled to be heard next by the full 16- member DIC Council, probably in late September.

According to Gibbs, a recommendation to accept the revised plan would next go to the county commission for public hearings during November or December, a schedule that would likely project a final commission decision in January 2014.

Mayol and Llanes told the gathering that revised siting of school buildings along the south side of SW 96th Street would create open corridors and more equally divide campus facility placements, north and south of the street.

In addition, an on-site entry area off SW 97th Avenue was redesigned to accommodate up to 96 cars during loading hours. School parking spaces were increased to 196 to further reduce parking issues.

“While any change is welcome, such minor revisions do not eliminate the impact that a high school would have on the 97th Avenue neighborhood, including the future potential of a four-lane road to accommodate future vehicular traffic,” Suarez said. “We are really focused on expanding community support to oppose any increase in physical size or the current 290 cap on the current Pinewood School.”

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