A land purchase by the Village of Palmetto Bay to prevent the construction of a charter school now has some community members outraged over a proposal to build a community center in its place.
During an April 5 town hall meeting, some attending residents complained that building a community center at the corner of Park Drive and 180th Street would increase traffic and incur unnecessary expenditures. Local developer and President of Frenchtex Don Waters argued that the village’s estimated annual maintenance cost for the center, $160,000 per year based on retail store income of $25 per square foot, was inaccurate.
“My commercial landlord experience indicates that this could become much less, and that $12 to $15 square feet is much more realistic, especially since this is a landlocked building with no traffic flow,” Waters said. “Therefore, income could come in as low as $265,000 and would cause a loss for the first few years of $425,000 per year. If this situation were to continue for many years of the permanent mortgage loan, the Village cash outflow could be impacted by as much as $2 million per year.”
The projected three-year construction would serve the recreational needs of a diverse community with multiple ethnic groups, different income levels and various age groups, according to a PowerPoint by Ballard King and Associates LTD, the development consultant firm hired by the village.
“The benefits of community centers include: providing the opportunity for people to be involved in a wide range of learning, social and physical activities – most of which are not offered by the private sector,” Mayor Eugene Flinn wrote in an email. “Obviously, we would have no need for a community center if these activities were provided by the private sector which has long pre-existed Palmetto Bay.”According to a December 2017 conceptual plan published by the village, the cost of the estimated 61,780-square-foot center, which would feature a 30,890 rooftop deck, would be offset by leased retail spaces located on its 26,479-square-foot ground floor. The center’s lease-based annual net revenue is projected at $529,580.
The 2.24 acres of land the center will sit on are part of a 5-acre parcel initially sought by the charter school, Somerset Academy. State law requires charter schools to apply with school district, according to Florida Charter School Alliance Executive Director Lynn Norman-Teck. Once approved, the school can look for property on which to build the school and go through zoning hearings to receive city or county permission.
Somerset Academy was progressing through this process, Norman-Teck said, when the village swept in and took it from them.
“[Somerset Academy] had gone before zoning folks and had a couple of community outreach meetings together, feedback and they were looking at that property, but before anything could be finalized, the property owner sold it to the village,” Norman-Teck said.
Village Council members cited increased traffic congestion caused by the charter school as one of several concerns the village had regarding its construction.
“The charter school basically revolves around traffic,” said South Miami Vice Mayor Robert Welsh, a vocal opponent of a proposed Somerset Academy on Sunset Drive last year. After community and governmental pushback, the school construction was ultimately stopped.
“When you have 2,500 kids going to [a] school that’s a charter school, where most of the children will be arriving in cars and you have a state road that’s practically gridlocked, you wouldn’t be able to get emergency vehicles from west of the Palmetto to South Miami hospital,” he said.
Lost public school funding was also a factor in the village’s decision to buy the land.
“Charter schools are known to have a severe impact on surrounding area schools by loss of funding to our public school system, targeting only the best students for admission, less money for our local classrooms, less control by our Miami-Dade public education system, less diversity and a reduction in teacher’s salary who work for these schools,” Councilman David Singer said. His complete statement can be found on the Palmetto Bay Leadership thru Transparency Facebook group.
But public funding may now be negatively impacted, according to Village Manager Edward Silva, who said during a March 2017 committee meeting that the village is “at risk of serious fiscal problems in about 18 months” if tax revenue isn’t increased.
“This could lead to reduced services in the village,” he said at the time.
More recently, however, Silva changed his tune, stating that the center is part of an ongoing investment in the village’s downtown area adjacent to the Palmetto Bay Village Hall.
“We do not see the serious fiscal issues threatening the tax base because of this purchase,” he wrote in an email. “This project was requested to the Council by the residents in this general area since 2004-2007 when a community driven master plan was established for our parks system.