Members of the Palmetto Bay Village Council voted 3-2 to accept a settlement offer from Palmer Trinity School that appears to offer hope that a dispute beginning in 2006 over the school’s planned expansion may soon be resolved. The vote was taken at the Sept. 9 council meeting that lasted past midnight.
The item was placed on the regular meeting’s agenda by Vice Mayor John DuBois after a letter was received from attorney Sean M. Cleary, representing PTS. The issue had divided the community and both the school and the village had spent a considerable amount of money in ongoing court battles.
The meeting, which was dominated by the topic under “other business,” featured discussion by council members, public comments from a standing-room-only crowd in the council chambers, and statements made by attorneys representing both sides.
Michael Baiamonte, chair of the school’s board of trustees, opened the comments.
“Our board made the decision that we felt that it was time to move forward with this situation with the school and the village,”Baiamonte said. “We made the choice to have the attorneys craft a letter of settlement to send to the village. That letter caused a dialog between the village and our attorneys and ultimately the negotiating committee on the board at the school.”
Baiamonte also made a promise to residents and village officials for the next stage of the process.
“The school will, in fact, contact the interested parties that have comments, questions and issues with these matters and we will work together to craft the development agreement so that when it comes back in front of this council we have an agreement that is defensible, number one, and number two is representative of the community.”
Comments from residents in the public hearing portion of the meeting varied greatly as people on both sides of the issue came to the microphone to speak.
“I must say that on our block, thanks to my good neighbor Mr. Minton, we had a discussion with Palmer Trinity and we seem to have come to amicable decisions at least in our area,” said Eric Tolberg.“I’m sure not everyone on the block agrees.”
Stanley Kowlessar was among those who were glad to see an end to the long running dispute
“I’m excited,” Kowlessar said. “I look forward to putting this to bed so we all can celebrate coming together for something we have fought so hard for so many years and now we’ve come to an agreement, starting tonight, and hopefully in the next month or so this will be over.”
Gary Pastorella, president of Concerned Citizens of Old Cutler Inc., a group long opposed to the school’s expansion and also involved in the lawsuits, had a different view.
“They’ve come here tonight and want to negotiate a settlement, but their actions speak louder than words,” Pastorella said. “The proposal they’ve put toward the council is completely and totally unacceptable; however it does get them and the village to move off of the issues that the village staff put in place for the protection of the quality of life for the neighbors.”
Bev Gerald and others still objecting to the expansion expressed concerns about stadium lights at night, increased traffic problems and the buffer zones between the greatly enlarged facility and the neighboring residents.
Comments from council members also were divided, with Joan Lindsay, a former member of the CCOCI, saying she could not vote to approve the settlement because her constituents would not want her to. John DuBois spoke in favor of the settlement and Tim Schaffer and Patrick Fiore seemed agreeable to it. Mayor Shelley Stanczyk seemed to welcome PTS’s willingness to move forward, but had some lingering reservations. Village attorney Eve Boutsis was encouraged and optimistic about PTS’s willingness to work things out.
The settlement, which among other issues allowing the expansion to take place, would also award Palmer Trinity School $200,000 in cash to offset legal expenses and give it $600,000 in credit to be used for village building permit fees, inspection fees and other fees.
Although there was some last minute discussion about making changes to the proposal or even delaying the vote to another meeting, a vote was finally taken, 3 to 2 in favor of accepting the settlement, with Mayor Stanczyk and Councilmember Lindsay casting the “nay” votes.