South Dade Matters

Looking at the World South of Miami: Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Pinecrest, South Miami and Miami-Dade County.

Tag: Miami Herald Soapbox

PB: SDM’s Quick Bites

The Tendrich Syllogism

A simple logical formation is often stated using this example:

All men are mortal.

Socrates was a man.

Socrates was mortal.

In a man bites dog story, Howard Tendrich writes a scathing letter in today’s Herald where he points out a couple instances where Mayor Stanczyk is alleged to have lied to the public. Say it ain’t so Howard!

SDM suggests the syllogism be modified this way:

All politicians are liars.

Mayor Stanczyk is a politician.

Mayor Stanczyk is a liar.

Of course, Howard Tendrich is still a politician, technically…

Rex World: Where a Loss is a Win

Another Soapbox letter writer attempts to claim once again that, because Palmer Trinity was not awarded its legal fees and costs incurred in its SUCCESSFUL suit against the village, somehow this is a victory for Palmetto Bay.

Let SDM reiterate, this blog is glad that village tax dollars will not go to Palmer. But that ruling does not replace the $600,000 the village wasted in having to defend the council’s punitive and harsh decision in the first place. This was no victory for the village.

One more thing on the pending damages suit: SDM has heard a little about the theory that Palmer will be arguing to the court and it appears novel. The contention that no municipality has been forced to pay legal fees and costs before does not mean that it will never happen – just that no lawyer has broken the code on how to do it yet. Novel does not mean impossible.

More interesting, and what continues to fascinate SDM, is how a small group of village insiders have been made privy to the details of the Palmer travesty while the rest of us are left in the dark. Who is leaking all this information?

If you are looking for a place to start your inquiry Mr. Dubois, you might want to ask the village staff why Soapbox letter writers have such uncanny and timely access to the facts of the case.

The Fiore Obsession

One regular commenter to this blog enjoys repeatedly saying that Patrick Fiore should be elected Mayor in 2014. SDM is not going to publish that comment anymore unless you spice it up.

The election in 2014 will be pivotal for this village and, candidly, Mr. Fiore has not shown SDM that he is up to the task. Mr. Fiore votes the right way – at least from SDM’s point of view – but he must evolve from just a minority vote into a leader if he has any chance of being elected Mayor.

SDM has suggested to Mr. Fiore that he needs to pick up his game. Perhaps he will do so in 2013.

SDM’s Hiatus

Note to readers: SDM has been taking it easy over the holidays. Writing this blog is a pleasure, but it is a demanding master. So, if posts are sometimes slow in coming, it is because the author’s well occasionally runs dry.

PB: SOPs Misinformation Campaign

The Miami Herald Soapbox today contained a letter (no link available, the letter appears only in the hard copy of the paper) from a Palmetto Bay resident intending to defend the indefensible actions of the Three Amigos. SDM decided to break down the letter and explain why the letter (italics) is so wrong (SDM comments in bold):

This group of Palmer Trinity parents, developers, business owners and failed candidates would have you believe their complaint against Mayor Stanczyk and council member Joan Lindsay is only about money spent litigating Palmer. However, this mayor and council voted only once to appeal after trying to settle with Palmer.

First, the complaint is against the Three Amigos – don’t leave Mr. Pariser out of this debate – and it’s also about mismanagement and likely malfeasance, not just about legal fees. The Palmer debacle will end up being the worst decision in village history. Second, the fact that Palmetto Bay “voted only once to appeal” is irrelevant. Palmetto Bay’s quasi-judicial decision on Palmer was illegal. When government violates the law, courts are the only venue for redress. Stating that Palmetto Bay filed its own claim only once – as the Three Amigos are wont to say often – is an utterly meaningless distraction.

Palmer initiated the remainder of the litigation against the village under former the Mayor’s leadership. It began with the application in 2006. The former mayor took the lead in denying the zoning for Palmer against staff and attorney recommendation in 2008.

It is true that Mayor Flinn voted to limit Palmer to 900 students and to prohibit a new application for thirty years – the bases of the Palmer lawsuit. Certainly Mayor Flinn should explain his thinking on this vote, but he has been out of office for two years. For Palmetto Bay voters and residents, the salient fact is that current Mayor Stanczyk made the disastrous Palmer motion and Vice Mayor Pariser seconded it. Only current council member Tendrich (Lindsay and Fiore weren’t on the council in 2008) had the courage and good sense to vote against the measure.

The key question Palmetto Bay voters should ask is what has this council majority done to dispose of the Palmer matter? The Three Amigos want to pin blame for the Palmer fiasco on anyone within reach, including former elected officials. SDM thinks most voters have limited tolerance for attempts to blame the previous administration, especially considering two of the Three Amigos directly caused the problem in the first place.

The courts supported the village through two appeals by Palmer until the 2010 appellate ruling. Immediately the council granted the rezoning.

This spin is pathetic. The council granted a rezoning that completely violated the court’s order! That’s one of the reasons the village has been on its heels throughout the pendency of the litigation.

As to the second sentence, it’s difficult to explain to a casual observer how warped this view of reality is. The court in 2010 told the village to grant Palmer 1150 students. Instead, the village adopted the posture – again without legal foundation – that it could approve only 650 students – Palmer’s current enrollment – and somehow comply with the court’s order. The appellate court would have none of it, saying the village’s actions in 2010 amounted to “an exercise in superfluousness and futility.” See Palmer Litigation: An Exercise in Superfluousness and Futility.

However the rezoning lawsuits filed by Palmer continue to this day, prolonged by continuous amendments (five times and counting) and include outrageous damage claims to win in the court of public opinion.

SDM finds it humorous that a representative of the hyper-regulatory and hyper-litigious SOPs would have the gall to question Palmer’s attempts to recoup SIX YEARS of costs. The court will have the final say as to what is outrageous and SDM predicts the village – and we taxpayers – will indeed be paying an “outrageous” penalty for voting in Shelley Stanczyk, Brian Pariser and Joan Lindsay.

In 2010, under the former mayor’s leadership, the school received approval for its site plan with what the judge called a political compromise. Not good enough, they said, and they began a new battle. The former mayor didn’t or couldn’t settle the cases. Today, Palmer still wages the war even though they already have what they wanted.

Yes, Palmer received a site plan approval for 35 acres but for no additional students. Who in their right mind would accept such an outcome? No one. So Palmer went to court for relief and they won their new student count of 1150. Now they want to be made whole because the village has cost them legal fees, costs, and damages (think what you would ask for if you couldn’t open your doors for SIX YEARS). Asking to be reimbursed for these expenses is not waging war. It is demanding fairness and accountability…something the jihadist SOPs cannot understand.

If not about litigation costs, then what is it about? Remember, insurance covers the rezoning lawsuit costs.

Obviously, the author of this letter has been made privy to information the rest of the village has been denied. Can someone in authority please show SDM this insurance policy? If the policy covers all the costs, why is the information embargoed from the public? It is far more likely that this famous insurance policy has limits and conditions. Produce the document and let the chips fall where they may.

SDM Says: It’s interesting to imagine Mayor Stanczyk – or, more likely Councilwoman Lindsay – dictating this letter. The obvious intent to blame the previous administration runs through the letter from start to finish. Nevertheless, the letter fairly represents the world view of a group of Palmetto Bay residents who want the rest of us to pay for their folly. It is our job to learn the facts and repel them.

PB: It’s Time to Take a Side

SDM read with interest a letter from village resident Betty Noe in the Miami Herald Soapbox on Sunday. Mrs. Noe sees the disputes roiling Palmetto Bay as a battle of one side against the other:

I take neither side because I don’t completely agree with either side. I don’t agree with a recall petition drive because we don’t like how our elected officials are governing our village. Governing by recall is dangerous, goes against all of the voters who cast ballots for those officials in the first place and it can come back to bite you in the future. It is a bad precedent to set and will put a pall over any future election.

I don’t like the lack of transparency of Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, Councilwoman Joan Lindsay and Vice Mayor Brian Pariser over the Palmer Trinity issue. We have paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars over their misguided decisions. Those decisions, I believe, have led to the sad and painful fault lines that now run through our village.

Here’s the rub. I know and like all of the people involved on both sides. We are friends from before incorporation when we all just disliked the county, not each other. We need to look at a map and find the high road.

SDM has great regard for Mrs. Noe. She offered herself for public office a few years ago. She was a thoughtful candidate. But SDM cannot agree that the failures of the current council majority are somehow morally equivalent to the recall movement. In fact, SDM would argue the recall is merely a response to what many residents now see – at best – as chronic mismanagement. At worst, Palmer may represent malfeasance and intentional discrimination on the part of the Three Amigos.

That residents stay neutral when presented with these facts – see Mrs. Noe’s statement that she “takes neither side” – is exactly what is wrong in Palmetto Bay. Managing Palmetto Bay is not a big a job: keep the grass cut and the budget balanced and you can pretty much skate along without the public paying much attention. Instead, the council racked up over $600,000 in legal bills while losing a lawsuit to Palmer Trinity School. The ultimate cost of that suit could be in the multiple millions of dollars and there is plenty of evidence already that the council majority ignored their lawyers on multiple occasions.

Palmer should be enough, but in addition the current council majority have gone off the rails by pandering to a tiny minority of residents who think they live in an over-55-only community. They continue to push the divisive “neighborhood protection” ordinance (NPO) despite clear evidence that it’s both unnecessary and dangerous to the interests of the village’s most important cultural, religious and educational facilities.

SDM Says: Chronic mismanagement, malfeasance, and intentional discrimination constitute sufficient cause to recall elected officials and/or to vote against those seeking re-election. Each of the above has occurred repeatedly under the current council majority.

With due respect Mrs. Noe, it’s time to take a side.

PB: It’s getting windy out there

No, SDM isn’t talking about TS/Hurricane Isaac but local blowhard Beatriz Hermann.

SDM knows Ms. Hermann because she regularly rises at village council meetings to hum whatever tune Councilwoman Lindsay calls. Her comments also regularly include nasty blasts at village staff for various and sundry slights allegedly cast in her direction.

Now, Hermann’s windy vitriol finds new targets in the Miami Herald neighbors. SDM’s not going to excerpt it because it’s more of the same: personal attacks aimed at legitimate comments raised in last weekend’s Herald soapbox.

Instead, SDM will address comments directly to Ms. Hermann and her ilk:

Dear Ms. Hermann:

Your letter to the Herald demonstrates all that is wrong with the Village of Palmetto Bay. Where the writer you cite itemized a long list of serious issues that directly affect the church he serves, your letter merely attacks – incoherently – your perception of his motives.

Likewise in this village – instead of focusing on the NPO’s serious flaws – the Three Amigos disingenuously accuse their opponents of nefarious motives. On cue, you spit that a church is really a developer seeking to destroy Palmetto Bay’s way of life…pathetic.

The truth is that the NPO constitutes a threat to essentially one property owner in the village: Christ Fellowship Church. You intentionally mislead the public when you claim that other institutions will be affected because – as SDM explained in PB: Is the “Neighborhood Protection” Ordinance Necessary? – there is virtually no other land available on which one can build such facilities.

(Unless, however, you are speaking of a black helicopter conspiracy, which SDM rejects. That is the scenario where after a hurricane, institutional uses will not be able to rebuild because the new code will make doing so impossible. Even Dear Leader Lindsay has rejected that intent and promised to prevent such an outcome.)

On the lobbying question: It is SDM’s view that Palmetto Bay’s lobbyist registration ordinance, especially as applied to a church employee, is an unconsitutional burden on free speech. SDM would love to see the church test the law, though as a taxpayer SDM would hate to pay again for the village’s overreaching.

Nevertheless, a final point: Before you go running about questioning the political motivations of others, why not disclose your own special interest? SDM knows one of your clubs gets special treatment on fee waivers at the village library. You’ve made no bones about this issue and have lobbied the council heavily on this point. Let’s see, while you criticize another for not following the law, you are a member of an organization not exempt from the village lobbyist registration ordinance. You lobby the council in public and in private and have never proved that you were not retained or compensated in any way for this work. And, you are not registered as a lobbyist…hmmm…

Sincerely,

SDM

“When I refuse to obey an unjust law, I do not contest the right which the majority has of commanding, but I simply appeal from the sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of mankind.” – Alexis de Tocqueville on the Tyranny of the Majority“Democracy in America.”

PB: Some folks just don’t support property rights.

Yesterday, SDM discussed a wrong-headed Miami Herald soapbox letter written by the Chair of the Charter Revision Commission, Bev Gerald. See PB: Who’s zoomin’ who?

Today, SDM looks at two other letters to Sunday’s soapbox. Following its custom, SDM will not name the authors of these letters because, unlike Ms. Gerald, these folks do not hold any elected or appointed Palmetto Bay office as far as SDM is aware.

The two comments below demonstrate a misunderstanding of property rights under the U.S. and Florida constitutions:

For example, many Palmetto Bay residents petitioned the village to protect them from Palmer-Trinity’s huge expansion of facilities and explosion in student enrollment. The council responded to preserve the quality of life its residents. Palmer-Trinity sued, causing the village to spend money to defend its decision. To base a recall effort on “costly litigation” is to discourage and intimidate free democratic expression.

The recent ruling by the courts in favor of Palmer Trinity expansion is a prime example of government interfering in citizens’ private lives. When a petition is voted down by our elected officials and the court overturns to support what benefits a business instead of the resident’s quality of life, something is wrong. (Emphasis added by SDM.)

A tension exists between and among the rights of property owners. On the one hand, our country and state have enshrined in their constitutions, laws, and in court opinions strong protections against the very thing these authors endorse.

Namely, a property owner’s rights must be governed not by petitions delivered when a development plan is submitted to the governing authority but at the time that the general laws regulating the property are adopted. The idea is that property owners must be able to use their property for the permissible uses the government grants to like-situated owners.

There is a mechanism for the government to interfere with these property rights. The government may acquire the property through condemnation and payment to the owner. Alternatively, the government can regulate property using its police powers.

However, the regulations adopted by the local government must comply with federal and state constitutional and statutory laws as interpreted by the courts – the common law. Furthermore, government regulation must be in place before an application is received so that the owner has sufficient notice before placing her money at risk.

On the other hand, property owners in a neighborhood or commercial area have a right to maintain their property values and uses in the face of owners whose uses threaten them. But, as SDM has shown, the village council’s authority is circumscribed and limited and these limits preserve the individual’s rights in the face of mob rule.

SDM has never said the SOPs have no right to petition the government for the Neighborhood Preservation and Compatibilty Ordinance or for the Neighborhood Protection Charter Amendment.  What SDM has said is that both of these pieces of legislation are wrong-headed and overbroad and, therefore, are likely to subject the village to lawsuits contesting them. Such contra-petitioning is SDM’s constitutional right, too.

Before we close up shop for today, SDM wants to share one more paragraph from the second soapbox author. This quote demonstrates the absurdity of the anti-school and anti-church arguments advocated by Palmetto Bay’s special interest groups:

The recent ruling by the courts in favor of Palmer Trinity expansion is a prime example of government interfering in citizens’ private lives. When a petition is voted down by our elected officials and the court overturns to support what benefits a business instead of the resident’s quality of life, something is wrong.

The reason this country has courts of law is to do precisely what this writer seems to despise: to limit the authority of the state with respect to individual property owners. What’s troubling to SDM, however, is the attempt by the author to use the term “business” as a kind of slur. It is almost as if this writer is channeling President Obama.

Palmer is a religious school and a non-profit that is operated, ostensibly, like a business, but its purpose is philanthropic and eleemosynary. In its dealings with Palmetto Bay, this non-profit business was right on the law, which is why the court found for them.

SDM Says: If you believe in limiting the government’s ability to interfere in citizens’ private lives, then you should support the court’s ruling in Palmer.

Pariser: Palmetto Bay = Compassion-Free Zone

For those who missed it, Vice Mayor Pariser replied to a Soapbox Letter by Susan Ludovici. SDM posted Ludovici’s letter along with some commentary here. Ludovici’s key point was that “the village is losing its sense of community, its heart, its compassion.” Following is Pariser’s compassion-free response, which entirely supports and justifies Ludovici’s concerns:

VARIANCE REQUEST WAS HANDLED FAIRLY

In response to the letter concerning the Palmetto Bay Village Council’s denial of a lot-coverage variance for the proposed new construction of a single-family residence on a vacant lot, the writer failed to state that the village’s variance ordinance requires the Council to apply a pure hardship standard. The pure hardship standard allows a variance on lot coverage only if the physical attributes of the land would make it a hardship for the owner to use the lot for any proposed structure. The pure hardship standard was approved by the Village Council after public hearing years ago, and the standard does not allow a personal or financial hardship to be a factor in the grant of a variance.

The reason the pure hardship standard was adopted by the village, was to treat all residents equally under the same standard, in order to avoid inconsistent variance decisions by council members to subjectively choose which residents’ personal or financial hardship should have greater weight than others. The pure hardship standard evens the variance application process for all residents using an objective standard to be used by an individual in performing due diligence in determining whether to purchase or how to build on a particular lot in the village.

In the public hearing before the council discussed in the Soapbox letter, the applicant/owner was asked if the professionals he employed in the purchase and proposed design of the residential compound ever advised him before he purchased the lot and plans that a variance for such a large design would be required. Unfortunately, the applicant responded that he was never advised of the variance requirement. The council asked the applicant if he would modify his application by downsizing the lot coverage for the extensive pool, patio, garage, guest house and main house to accommodate his proposed use; however, the applicant replied that he would not vary the original design. The public hearing was then opened for public comment, and other residents spoke to the council’s legal obligation to apply the hardship variance standard to this application, whereupon the variance request was denied by the council.

Brian W. Pariser, Vice Mayor, Palmetto Bay

(First published in the Miami Herald Neighbors, April 1, 2012, p. 30SE.)

SDM now will deconstruct this letter for those who don’t follow these issues so closely.

Nothing the Vice Mayor says is untrue, but what he fails to say speaks volumes. It is true that Palmetto Bay has what the Vice Mayor calls a “pure hardship” standard for approving variance. What he doesn’t say is that this standard is stricter than what is applied in the county and in many cities. He also doesn’t mention that Concilman Fiore proposed a friendlier standard so that the village council would have some leeway when facing these tough decisions. (Clearly the applicant at issue would have had to re-apply under the Fiore standard had it passed, but the issue was moot after the Vice Mayor helped kill Fiore’s measure.)

So what you have in Palmetto Bay is a village council that adopted a needlessly rigid policy in the guise of fairness, which allows them to claim that all residents are treated equally – but which in practice really means callously and indifferently.

Take the example, which SDM covered in SDM is so proud! The applicant’s child has a serious disease and uses a wheelchair. The applicant wanted more room for his large family, who collectively care for this special-needs child. (Under the compassion-free Pariser formulation, this family’s health tragedy becomes merely “the proposed use.” Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?)

Bottom line: The council left itself no mechanism to give this family relief from what are essentially subjective constraints.

Most Palmetto Bay residents probably have no idea whether the village’s variance standard, which is a legal abstraction, could affect them so let SDM offer another example which might.

On tonight’s agenda (April 2, 2012), the council will probably adopt a new regulatory scheme it calls the “Landscape Mitigation Program.” If your property was required to install a number of trees or shrubs but you had insufficient space to comply, you could ask for a variance. Unfortunately, because the village variance standard is “pure,” meaning the property’s characteristics alone must occasion the variance, you will be denied. Fortunately – at least for village coffers –  in this example the variance is for landscaping, so the helpful village tax masters will offer you an “out” by taking more of your hard-earned money to pay into a landscape mitigation bank.

See how all this works together? First, your council creates a hyper-restrictive development standard (i.e., landscape coverage requirements, maximum lot coverage, etc.). Next, they impose a harsh variance standard. And finally, they either deny your request for compassion outright or tax you more for the privilege of being a village property owner. And from what SDM is hearing, more restrictive regulations are on the way. Hooray!

In SDM’s cynical view, Vice Mayor Pariser, who is up for re-election this fall is doing village residents a big favor. Village voters need to know just how cold, calculating and inhospitable the council has become and Vice Mayor Pariser is helping them see the light.

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