A ruling by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal on July 5 and an announcement on July 18 that the Village of Palmetto Bay would not fight it would seem to end finally the attempt to block expansion of Palmer Trinity School by imposing limits on student enrollment.
In an opinion filed regarding a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Circuit Court Appellate Division for Miami-Dade County, filed by the Village of Palmetto Bay, seeking to undo earlier court rulings that called for the village council to allow the school’s expansion, the court ruled against the village in favor of Palmer Trinity.
The petition by the village was filed before Linda Ann Wells as Chief Judge, Judge Barbara Lagoa and Judge Alan R. Schwartz, who is retired but currently serves as a senior judge. Their opinion, detailed in a 22-page document, made it clear that there were no grounds for overturning the previous mandate of the court issued in 2011.
Chief Judge Wells, in her conclusion, stated the background of the case and how the village council’s lowering of the student cap from 1,150 to 900 affected the ruling:
Based on its finding of the lack of competent substantial evidence supporting a “cap” below 1,150, the Circuit Court Appellate Division ordered the limitation deleted. Any other interpretation of the Circuit Court’s Feb. 11, 2011 ruling amounted to wishful thinking at best, and more likely a willful disobedience of that court’s instructions. The Circuit Court’s order enforcing its earlier mandate was therefore entirely proper and in no way justifies the issuance of the writ sought herein. For these reasons, the petition for Writ of Certiorari is denied.
“Palmer Trinity is pleased that the village council has finally accepted the ruling of the Third District Court of Appeal,” said head of school Sean Murphy. “We hope that the village council is sincere in the statements made July 18 at the Committee of the Whole meeting. As always, Palmer Trinity is focused on the education of our students. We look forward to moving ahead.”
Bill Kress, the village’s communications director, explained the village’s status after the ruling.
“The 900-student cap doesn’t stand,” Kress said. “That was found to be arbitrary. It is fair to say that Palmer will be able to proceed with its plans. The aspect of Palmer attempting to recoup its legal fees is still pending.”
There also is a resolution coming up for a final vote that many feel may be an alternative attempt to block the school’s expansion. The ordinance, sponsored by Council Member Joan Lindsay, seeks to establish a “moratorium on the issuance of building permits and certificates of use within the residential zoning districts for properties over an acre in size for the lesser of a four month period or until such time that an ordinance is adopted approving new regulations thereto.”
Since the school could not expand if it could not receive building permits for the new facilities, the ordinance could clearly delay Palmer Trinity’s plans.
“Palmer Trinity School has always been committed to, and has many times over the years, tried to resolve these issues with the village and with CCOCI (Concerned Citizens of Old Cutler Inc.),” said Palmer’s chair of the board, Joseph J. Kalbac Jr. “This is evident by our revised variance-free plan. It is time that the village and CCOCI seriously attempt to settle the pending claims for costs, attorney’s fees and other damages. We hope all involved can avoid further expensive litigation and finally put this behind us.”