A special Palmetto Bay Village Council meeting on June 23 called to act upon two items deferred from previous meetings regarding the divisive issue of stadium lighting ended with both items failing to win enough votes for approval.
First on the agenda was Resolution 4 A, sponsored by Mayor Shelley Stanczyk and deferred from the regular council meeting of June 2, which would have placed on the ballot in November a proposed amendment to the village charter putting limits on outdoor lighting for a number of private “non-governmental” facilities.
The resolution seemed to be in response to an ordinance change concerning outdoor lighting sponsored by Councilmember Tim Schaffer and deferred from the regular council meetings of May 5 and June 2. Schaffer’s proposed ordinance sought to give churches, schools and other private facilities the same access to outdoor lighting permits that public parks have.
Only about 40 people attended the June 23 meeting, perhaps due to bad weather, despite the previous expressions of strong viewpoints on both sides of the issue. During public comments, both opposition to and support for the proposed charter change were voiced.
First to speak was James McGhee of the Alexander Montessori School. He thought the charter amendment banning recreational field lighting would be unfair and would hurt his school.
“We know this will apply primarily to private schools,” McGhee said. “It raises the question, why was the proposal made as an outright ban and not an election? That is to say, why should residents throughout the village be able to vote on a situation that will principally affect only the surrounding neighbors?”
Next was David Singer, a local CPA and activist often speaking in favor of Palmer Trinity School’s expansion plans and against litigation costs caused by previous village zoning rulings placing limits on the school.
“A number of churches have filed lawsuits, and won, against municipalities for discrimination, much like what is occurring in Palmetto Bay,” began Singer, who also stated that no other cities in Miami-Dade County have lighting code requirements in their charter.
Singer displayed an aerial photo of the Palmer Trinity property and neighboring residences, and indicated Councilmember Joan Lindsay’s house.
“Her house is approximately 100 feet away from Palmer Trinity’s property line,” Singer said. “The village has spent over a million dollars in legal fees fighting Joan Lindsay’s and the CCOCI’s war against Palmer Trinity and they want to continue. This charter will bring more litigation to the village and they just don’t care.”
Chet England of Christ Fellowship Church followed Singer at the lectern.
“I hope to support some of the comments that he [Singer] made,” England said. “I agree that the charter is no place for specific ordinances and regulations for things like lighting. Churches and private schools seek a level playing field with municipal uses around the community.”
Resident Lois Chumley said, “I feel that the lighting ban is unfair. It discriminates against private schools and churches. It is unnecessary and does not belong in our charter.”
Bev Gerald took to the lectern to address the council members with an opposing view.
“You’ve heard tonight from people who feel they’ve been discriminated against,” Gerrald said. “Well, I tell you, a lot of the residents feel like they’ve been discriminated against. They want some peace and quiet and some protection from lights that are intrusive, and it isn’t just a church or a school, it’s any public or private facility that needs lights.”
Don Waters, a resident and a developer who has bought properties and asked local governments for zoning changes, pointed out that it’s always a risk.
“We have to make sure that the single family owners or residents are happy that my business is coming into their backyards,” Waters said. “So many of the residents are being affected by these lights, or even expansion of the businesses, and by businesses I mean churches, schools, stores, they’re all businesses.
“They all operate with income and expenses, and that’s all it is. So I’m saying to give the residents the right to be able to protect their backyards, their private way of life, without the interferences that can come with the noise of expanding businesses, the lights of expanding businesses.”
Long time resident Warren Lovely, who had served on the original steering committee for village incorporation, asked that the council leave it up to the voters to decide.
When it went to discussion by council members, Mayor Shelley Stanczyk stated her views.
“This is not just about Palmer,” she said. “Tonight we have two choices. We have a choice to allow lighting across the village adjacent to homes in the future and now. Or we have the choice to elevate an ordinance to a charter amendment that is equally applied to all residential areas in this community that continues the effort of quality of life for our community.”
Councilmember Schaffer defended his proposed ordinance with an explanation, saying he wanted to give everyone the same opportunities.
“This has nothing to do with neighborhood protection,” Schaffer said. “It’s about liberties that were taken from targeted individuals back in 2012. “
This is about looking at a particular code section, 30-110, which took away a select group of residents…organizations… within our village the opportunity to submit to building and zoning for a lighting permit.”
Councilmember Lindsay showed a thick stack of printed email messages from residents who she said did not want stadium lights. She suggested that people who want the lights should get out and lobby for them and convince people to vote for the lights.
“Let’s give the voters of the village the chance to make this decision,” Lindsay said. “It is their government.”
Patrick Fiore said he had no problem with putting it to the voters, but took issue with the wording of the proposed charter amendment and sought clarification from the village attorney. Discussion on other possible wordings bogged down.
When it came to a council vote, placing the proposed charter amendment on the ballot failed 3 to 2, with Lindsay and Stanczyk voting for it, and DuBois, Schaffer and Fiore voting against it. The resolution won’t come up again.
Regarding Councilman Schaffer’s proposed ordinance. It was defeated by a unanimous vote, with even Councilmember Schaffer voting against it.