PB: Neighborhood Protection = Tear Us Apart

by SDM

According to the online code repository, http://www.municode.com, Palmetto Bay’s code prohibits schools and churches from having lighting on their athletic facilities:

DIVISION 30-110. RELIGIOUS FACILITIES, PRIVATE SCHOOLS, CHILD CARE FACILITIES, AND OTHER NON-GOVERNMENTAL PUBLIC ASSEMBLY USES

Sec. 30-110.7 (9)(d) Lighting shall not be installed (or used) for outdoor recreational areas. (Underwater lighting used for the illumination of a swimming pool, fountain and other water features may be permitted) consistent with section 30-60.6

The above section of the ordinances was adopted by the council in 2012 and lots of us in the community warned that its adoption would be inherently contentious and unfair. This is so because the Village of Palmetto Bay is prohibiting schools and churches in our community from having the same lighting (and other fair uses of their property) that other schools and village parks are allowed to have.

Councilman Tim Schaffer made a courageous choice as part of settling the longstanding public feud that has torn apart this town to amend the above section to state the following:

Lighting shall not be permitted to be installed (or used) for outdoor recreational areas consistent with Section 30-60.6. (Underwater lighting used for the illumination of a swimming pool, fountain and other water features may shall be permitted) consistent with Section 30-60.6.

Instead of calmly evaluating Mr. Schaffer’s provision, which would allow Palmer Trinity, for example, to light their athletic fields, Mayor Stanczyk and Gary Pastorella charged out into the community with their bullhorns. The predictable result was a council chamber filled with ugly personal attacks on Mr. Schaffer’s character and motives.

So here’s the question for those of us who don’t live next to Palmer and are not star gazers who think Bill Sadowski park is their personal property: Do we think having lighted athletic fields (to 10 pm on weekdays and 11 pm on weekends) violates the sanctity of our neighborhoods?

Unfortunately for Mr. Schaffer, a tiny but increasingly loud minority of Palmetto Bay residents have decided that they cannot tolerate lights at Palmer just as they hate the idea of any lights at Coral Reef Park. So for those of us who work late and can’t make a ball game at at Palmer at 4 pm or even 5 pm, we don’t get to watch our kids play.

And for those of us who spend an hour or more behind the wheel, we don’t get to walk or jog through Coral Reef Park for about half the year because the facility must close at nightfall.

And then there’s that little problem of treating private schools and churches differently from the rest of the public assemblies in our community. Some of our elected officials are so confident in their religious discrimination that the see no issue with segregating these uses into a separate section of the code.

One never knows for sure if Palmetto Bay’s regulations constitute reverse spot-zoning prima facie – courts are notoriously inconsistent with zoning decisions. But at least our council has mooted the issue of whether they are treating schools and churches differently; the code is clear on that issue.

SDM Says: Some day we might get an answer on whether Palmetto Bay is illegally discriminating against religious institutions. Then again, maybe some day the vociferous folks who want to shout down these schools and churches will themselves be shouted down by fed up taxpayers.

P.S.: For those of you who keep harping on the fact that “these institutions” don’t pay taxes, you really need to contact state and federal officials to require religious facilities to pay property taxes. And one more thing: cities are a composition of those that vote and those that locate their businesses, schools and churches here. You don’t have any right or power to ignore their needs just because it suits your majoritarian prejudices.

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