South Dade Matters

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

Tag: Palmer Trinity

PB Guest Post by David Singer

The end of a disaster

Over the past six years there have been individuals on this council and in our community who have lectured on the importance of citizen’s rights. These same individuals have held themselves out to be honorable, respectable and trustworthy leaders of the Village of Palmetto Bay. These are the same individuals who maintain they know what Palmetto Bay residents yearn for when it comes to “quality of life”. These are also the same individuals who have stated time and time again they know what’s best for the Village of Palmetto Bay. They are the ones who say “follow me, I will lead you”.

What if tomorrow Palmetto Bay residents actually woke up and found out that these individuals are not who they pretend to be? What if as a community we finally realized that these individuals who were placed in power, whether it’s Mayor Stanczyk, certain council members including Joan Lindsay or a spouse of an elected official, believe they are due an entitlement at the expense of the community? That these individuals have held certain Palmetto Bay institutions to a higher standard then they hold for themselves? That these individuals will bend the truth at every available moment and discriminate against anyone who does not agree with their political agenda? That these individuals believe that laws and rules don’t apply to them? That these individuals have passed zoning laws for the benefit of a small minority of residents because they truly believe in the motto “do what I say, not what I do”?

So here we finally are, remedying an injustice that was perpetrated on Palmer Trinity for the last 6 years. Of course this same group I refer to do not believe that Palmer Trinity should be considered a member of our community. They actually feel that anyone or any institution other than taxpaying residents should not have the same rights as they have. They feel that wasting over a million dollars to stop the expansion of Palmer Trinity was justified when the Village is basically approving the same exact expansion plans they should have approved four years ago.

Presently, there is no legal reason to not approve Palmer Trinity’s site plan and if not approved will certainly bring more litigation to the village. I understand that there are certain residents who would like nothing better than delay or stop approval but these are the same individuals who have cost this Village dearly over the past six years.

So it’s time to put our sordid little past behind us. It’s time to approve Palmer Trinity’s site plan and move on. It’s time to move on and focus on actually improving the quality of life in Palmetto Bay. It’s time to move on to insure our Village is not bankrupt within the next five years. It’s time to move on and make sure our parks are run efficiently, time to move and make sure our tax dollars are being spent wisely, time to move on and elect the best representatives we can to embody what this Village actually stands for.

It’s time to stop the nonsense and begin a new and respectable history for the Village of Palmetto Bay.

David Singer

PB: Guest Post by David Singer (With SDM Comments)

The good guys actually achieved a well-deserved win during Monday’s [June 23, 2014] special council meeting when Councilmen Patrick Fiore, Tim Schaffer and John Dubois, voted down what could have been a disaster for Village residents, Churches, Private Schools and Daycares within Palmetto Bay.

It was a grueling experience watching the Monday’s council meeting, but with the exception of Mayor Stanczyk the remaining Council members attempted to reach a compromise on the Charter Amendment. This amendment would have eliminated all outdoor lighting for non-governmental, non-residential or non-commercially zoned properties.

[SDM Comment: We disagree with Mr. Singer's characterization. The proposed charter amendment would have prohibited outdoor lighting of recreational areas (except underwater swimming pool lights) owned by religious institutions, child care facilities, private schools,  and other non-governmental public assemblies located in residentially zoning districts.  We agree that the idea is crazy and will cover lots more lighting than we were told.]

During the meeting the Village Zoning Director confirmed my suspicions that if the amendment had passed it would prohibit all lighting; basketball, tennis, ground, pathway, landscaping, etc. The amendment would supersede any prior Village Ordinance.

[SDM Comment: Mr. Singer is hitting on why this measure and the code provision are so misguided. We've asked before: Does this mean a private school's pool could not have outdoor lights for the pool deck, stairways and pathways leading to it? Is everyone supposed to bring a flashlight? Why allow the underwater lighting in the first place if it cannot be used in any practical sense?]

Unfortunately, as we heard from Mayor Stanczyk the battle is far from over. After the vote was finalized she could be heard saying “We’ll Walk”. I would assume by her comment that she will lead various sullen individuals in an initiative to collect enough signatures to place the Charter Amendment on November’s ballot. Not exactly the Mayor’s responsibility to undermine the governmental process she’s been sworn to uphold, but then again she’s hasn’t shown herself to be very ethical while in office.

[SDM Comment: If you walk away, walk away, walk away, walk away… [SDM won't] follow.]

Maybe if the Mayor spent the time researching various municipalities within Miami-Dade County she would have found there are 19 cities, 6 towns and 9 villages for a total of 34 separate municipalities. These municipalities, along with Unincorporated Miami-Dade, represent 2.6 million residents.

[SDM Comment: What? Me? Do research? I'll tell you what you can do with your stinking research!]

None of the municipalities, including Unincorporated Miami-Dade County have their lighting code defined or guided by a City Charter. It’s just not standard or appropriate.

Could there be something that all the other Municipalities in Miami Dade County know that our Council doesn’t? Could what the Mayor is trying to pass be unconstitutional? Could it lead to more lawsuits for the Village of Palmetto Bay? Could the residents be footing the bill for more legal fees? Isn’t eight years of litigation enough?

What is really driving this venture into unknown and potentially very expensive territory?

Well for one thing, there is the location of Councilwoman Joan Lindsay’s home. Her house is approximately 100 feet away from the Palmer Trinity property line. Joan Lindsay was an original director, president and vice-president of the Concerned Citizens of Old Cutler, Inc. (CCOCI) for years. She has a serious conflict of interest and ethically shouldn’t even be voting on any issues related to Palmer Trinity.

[SDM Comment: This here would be an appearance of a conflict of interest, though not legally a conflict. Just FYI.]

There is also the fact that The Village of Palmetto Bay has spent over a million dollars in legal fees fighting Joan Lindsay’s and the CCOCI’s war against Palmer Trinity, which they would love to continue. Mayor Stanczyk, Joan Lindsay and the CCOCI all know that the Charter change will bring more litigation to the Village.

Unfortunately, we as residents have all experienced a history of Mayor Stanczyk and Joan Lindsay spending taxpayer’s money for Palmer Trinity litigation.

Simply put, all the Churches, Schools and residents in the Village have become collateral damage in a war that has nothing to do with us. Our hard earned tax dollars have become collateral damage. The Real Estate rights of Churches and Schools have become collateral damage, as seen by what happened to Alexander Montessori School when they wanted to expand. Alexander Montessori School has lost thousands of dollars in revenue due to a war which is raging between Mayor Shelley Stanczyk and Joan Lindsay and Palmer Trinity.

The passing of this Charter Amendment will commence a cycle of new litigation but this time it just won’t be with Palmer Trinity. It will be with the various churches and other educational institutions in the Village.

There are both Federal and State laws which prohibit the type of action the Mayor and Councilwoman are attempting. The Village Attorney has stated on record that this Charter Amendment could bring future litigation.

[SDM Comment: Mr. Singer is being a little misleading here and you know we can't stand such effrontery. The Village Attorney is quite comfortable that the proposed charter amendment was constitutional and permissible under RLUIPA and other statutes. He noted that anyone can sue, but he was clear that he believed such suits would not prevail, though he also stated such suits would not be frivolous. We're not sure Mr. Lehtinen is correct with respect to the level of scrutiny applied to the question: he says strict scrutiny would not apply, where we think it would under RLUIPA's statutory scheme. Anyone attempting to sue has a hard road, regardless.]

If anyone were to question the likelihood of future litigation please look no further than The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. When filed it will takes years to resolve, just as the Palmer litigation has taken years to resolve.

If asked to sign a petition respectfully decline and warn all your friends and neighbors who live in Palmetto Bay not to sign. If the petitioner tells you it’s about stadium lighting don’t believe them as they are not being honest. The Charter Amendment they are attempting to pass is written to prohibit all lighting at institutions which should be respected not discriminated against by the Village of Palmetto Bay.

[SDM Says: Right on!]

David Singer

PB: Stanczyk – And the mob will rule…or maybe not

Palmetto Bay’s village council took up a controversial measure proposed by Mayor Shelley Stanczyk on June 23rd, which would prohibit by charter any form of lighting to be installed on religious facilities, daycare centers, private schools and other nonpublic facilities.

Immediately upon her measure losing – even after a heroic effort by Councilman Patrick Fiore and Councilwoman Joan Lindsay to find a compromise – Mme. Mayor Stanczyk’s true reason for pushing the measure surfaced. After the vote went down 3 to 2, “we’ll walk it,” she said.

There you go. Incumbent Mayor Stanczyk, who has so far failed to report a single contribution for her re-election, has a re-election strategy of walking door-to-door to scare the public in person. We can only imagine what Mme. Mayor and her minions intend to say to the village people as they canvass unsuspecting residents.

We have sufficient reason for trepidation given the Mayor’s long questionable history regarding telling the truth to those who may wish to vote for her.

In a very recent effort, Concerned Citizens Of Cutler Inc. and Mrs. Stanczyk told hundreds if not thousands of residents that Palmer Trinity wanted to install “stadium lighting” on its athletic fields. This lie is most egregious since Mrs. Stanczyk knows that the code does not permit such lighting and would never be approved by a village council.

What also troubles us is the mob mentality that permeates village politics. Mrs. Lindsay and Mrs. Stanczyk claim that the village charter is the people’s document. Implicit in their statement is an acknowledgment that schools like Palmer Trinity are somehow excluded from the charter because of their non-person or non-taxable status (as former candidate Bev Gerald and village gadfly Warren Lovely shamelessly remind us at every meeting).

Mrs. Lindsay and Mrs. Stanczyk endorse the majority’s ability to legislate away the property rights of religious, nonpublic facilities. (If you doubt the master plan, note that both Mrs. Lindsay and Mrs. Stanczyk parroted the line that “hundreds of people sent emails” against the red herring stadium lights. Not much of a big deal given that the village has thousands of residents, but plenty for the purpose of scaring those who fail to pay attention to what’s really going on.)

Fortunately, three courageous members of the council (Mr. Fiore, Mr. Dubois and Mr. Schaffer) decided against placing on the ballot Mrs. Stanczyk’s divisive and politically motivated charter proposal.

SDM Says: Which leaves the decision up to us… If you think we should be zoning by charter and that we ought to create second class property owners based on religious or nonpublic status, then by all means open your door to Mayor Stanczyk. No doubt she will leave her re-election literature with you, too. However, if you think our village is being drawn once again into a state of perpetual strife, then you can tell Mrs. Stanczyk that you disagree with her plan to further divide this village and that you will be looking for different leadership this fall. You can also tell her to leave our dogs alone.

PB: Jigsaw COW Meeting Tonight

Vice Mayor John Dubois gives us a view into the workings of his mind tonight at the village’s Committee of the Whole meeting. The agenda shows a man who thinks in contingencies. If the answer to the question is A, then my next question is X. If the answer to the question is B, then my next question is Y.

For those who own their own businesses, such thinking will be commonplace. Business owners try to make decisions through a framework that allows them to consider all options. Successful businessman Dubois is bringing such thinking to Palmetto Bay and all SDM can say is Thank God!

Check out the agenda for tonight:

2.   Discussion concerning putting restrictions in place to prohibit the position of Mayor
from abusing the privilege granted under the charter to call for special council meetings.
(Vice Mayor DuBois)

3.   Discussion regarding Charter Amendments for the Ballot (Vice Mayor DuBois)
Specifically regarding the following questions:

a.   Number of other Cities in Miami-Dade, if any, that have lighting code requirements
superseded by and defined/guided by City Charter.

b.   If any exist, the level of detail required in the Charter in order to make it enforceable
and proper.

c.   Constitutionality of the proposed Partial Lighting Prohibition charter amendment set
for special council meeting later in June.

d.   Likelihood of being subject to litigation if the proposed charter amendment passes
and probability of plaintiff prevailing.

e.   Number of other Cities that have moved what are traditionally code related zoning
prohibitions for property improvements which are applicable to select members of a
zoning class but not to others within the same zoning class. If there are any, please
present such examples to the council before the vote on placing the partial lighting
prohibition on the ballot.

f.   If there are such examples from #e above and if the likelihood of #d is low, I would
like to direct the Village Attorney to prepare a companion charter amendment to go
on the ballot for an excessive noise prohibition to include ALL non-residential
property owners in residential areas, not just private schools and churches. This
companion Charter Amendment should be put on the Agenda for vote at the same
special council meeting as the Lighting Prohibition Charter Amendment.

 The item related to Mayor Stanczyk “abusing the privilege” to set special meetings is great. The code currently says that “[s]pecial meetings may be held on the call of the Mayor or upon the call of three Council members upon no less than 48 hours notice to the public or such shorter time as a majority of the Council deems necessary in case of an emergency affecting life, health, property or the public peace.” Sec. 4.1(A), Village of Palmetto Bay Charter.

The answer to Mr. Dubois’s question is that without a charter change the council is stuck with the Mayor calling special meetings willy nilly, as she has done for the special meeting scheduled for next Wednesday, June 23rd. (SDM will get into the items on the special agenda in later post, but suffice to say the Mayor’s argument for hearing the items listed currently is dubious.

The fix for the charter is to require a mayor to secure two additional signatures for a special meeting based upon full disclosure of the “emergency” item that she intends to introduce. Council Member should not be made to attend a bunch of extra meetings just because Mme. Mayor didn’t have the votes for her item. We elected a part-time council and our current mayor shows very little respect for her colleagues’ time.

Now, take a look at Item 3. You can almost see Mr. Dubois’s mind at work.  Do other cities limit lighting by charter? If so, how do they do it? Is the limitation proposed by Mayor Stanczyk constitutional? Will such a limitation lead to litigation? Do other cities have charter limitations on “religious” facilities based on their status? If so, name them. If we can create such limitations, Mr. Dubois wants to limit noise in the same way for all similarly situated facilities.

Here’s the fly in Mr. Dubois’s ointment: Getting the village attorney to opine that Mrs. Stanczyk’s charter proposal is unconstitutional or that it will not lead to litigation are two very difficult questions for any attorney to answer.

SDM agrees that we need the answers, but Mr. Dubois and his colleagues may feel like Harry Truman talking about economists: “Give me a one-handed attorney! All my attorneys say, on the one hand such and such, but on the other hand so and so.”

SDM Says: We wish all village decisions were given such scrutiny and analysis. Such contingency thinking if applied to the Palmer decision to limit the school to 900 students probably would have saved the village money and years of divisive politics.

PB Guest Post by David Singer: Stanczyk as Nero

Mayor Shelley Stanczyk and Councilwoman Joan Lindsay fiddle while Village residents lose Property Value.

Property values have been increasing everywhere in Miami Dade County with the exception of the Village of Palmetto Bay. Real Estate increased an average value of 5.6% across Miami Dade County between 2013 and 2014 with Palmetto Bay at a stagnant 2.5%. Increases in other cities include Cutler Bay 4.8%, Aventura 5.8%, Doral 3.3%, Key Biscayne 8.5%, Pinecrest 3.7%, Miami Beach 8.9%, Coral Gables 3.5%, and Unincorporated Dade County 4.1%. In fact, Village of Palmetto Bay had the lowest rate of increase in real estate values as compared to 95% of Miami Dade County.

While our current Council Members, including Mayor Shelley Stanczyk and Councilwoman Joan Lindsay, continue to be obsessed with Palmer Trinity, NPO and lighting at Churches and Schools, the rest of the county is kicking our butts in economic recovery.

The majority of Village residents will use the equity in their homes as their nest egg in retirement. As most of us know, our homes contain the major source of equity that will eventually either be handed down to the next generation or used during our golden years.

Last year Palmetto Bay residents would have been better investing their home equity in a money market account than the return they received from Palmetto Bay’s housing recovery.

2013-2014 was not the first year that taxable values increased faster in cities like Pinecrest, Coral Gables, Doral, Aventura and Cutler Bay. Practically the same results were seen last year.

I find this unacceptable. We live in one of the nicest areas in Miami Dade County. I was assured during Village of Palmetto Bay incorporation that home values would increase at a faster rate than in Unincorporated Dade.

With the present leadership in Palmetto Bay this just isn’t happening.

The issue is that a couple of our elected officials continue to take their eyes off the ball. Mayor Shelley Stanczyk and Joan Lindsay have been so wrapped up with their hate for, and litigation with, Palmer Trinity that they can’t govern this Village properly.

John Dubois, Tim Shaffer and Patrick Fiore have had to play defense against frivolous ordinances and resolutions by Shelley Stanczyk and Joan Lindsay against dog owners, churches and schools distracting these Councilmen from accomplishing positive things in our Village. Mayor Stanczyk and Joan Lindsay’s actions could be costing you tens of thousands of dollars you need for retirement.

Which brings me to the resolution that Mayor Shelley Stanczyk is placing on the agenda tonight, Monday, June 2nd. It reads:

“Lighting shall not be installed or used for outdoor recreational areas, except for underwater swimming pool lighting, by religious facilities, private schools, child care facilities or other non-governmental public assembly uses in any single-family residential zoning district. This provision shall be self-executing and become effective upon the date of adoption by the electorate.”

Once again, as her ill-advised dog barking ordinance was (5 barks will cost you $300) a couple of months ago, her resolution is a pandering to the CCOCI and a few local residents who are bothered by lights. This resolution would not only make it illegal for tennis court lighting, basketball lighting but also for ground lighting in landscaping and along walking paths. We’re not talking about restricting 70, 80 and 90 foot light poles, we’re talking about every types of lighting. I remind you that all residential houses are permitted the same lighting that she is trying to eliminate at churches, schools and child care facilities.

This type of legislation is discrimination and idiocy at best. This type of ordinance will bring more litigation to the Village as it is unconstitutional. It is also extremely dangerous as lighting deters crime and helps to reduce “slip and falls.”

So there you have it, a Mayor and Councilwoman who are so worried about dogs barking, shining lights and their disdain for Palmer Trinity that they’ve lost focus on the big picture. Home values  – citizens’ nest eggs – are rising slower in our Village than almost anywhere else in Miami Dade County. Anyway you spin it, it’s a losing situation for Palmetto Bay constituents.

David Singer

PB Showdown: You Can’t Have It Both Ways

Three votes.

That’s all that separates Palmetto Bay from continuing down a path of anti-church, anti-private school and anti-day care alienation or down a path of reasonable accommodation.

Three votes.

The June 2 village agenda contains an item by Mayor Shelley Stanczyk that will place before the voters a measure designed to permanently bar by charter any use of outdoor lighting in recreational areas for non-public gathering places.

The very same agenda contains an item by Councilman Tim Schaffer that changes the village code to permit limited lighting on those recreation areas.

The two items cannot work together; they are mutually exclusive.

The village council breaks down as follows on these items as SDM reads the tea leaves:

  • Stanczyk item: For: Stanczyk, Lindsay; Against: Schaffer; Undecided: Fiore, Dubois.
  • Schaffer item: For: Schaffer; Against: Stanczyk, Lindsay, Dubois; Undecided: Fiore.

Based on our reading, village voters will get the chance to bar lights forever, unless the facility wants to install underwater lighting in a pool.

The curious votes here are those of Dubois and Fiore.

Vice Mayor John Dubois looks to SDM to be a populist. He notes his own suffering from loud music at Thalatta Estate, but he also was voted in by the opponents of the last cabal that ran this village. He insisted that Mr. Schaffer postpone the vote on his item, while at the same time proposing some (perhaps) reasonable amendments to it. We put him in the “no” category for the Schaffer item based on his very negative comments and seeming willingness to “love the bill to death.”

Councilman Patrick Fiore, also a candidate for Mayor, looks to SDM to be fence-straddling. His antipathy to anything Mrs. Stanczyk proposes is palpable to anyone paying attention. Yet, he joined the chorus in demanding that the Schaffer item be postponed. Mr. Fiore’s campaign is on life support already and his votes on these items will either seal his fate as a Stanczyk clone or set him apart as supporting non-public institutions. As SDM notes regularly in this blog, sitting on the fence just gives both sides someone to shoot at.

SDM Says: Make no mistake: these votes on Monday will be pivotal in deciding the character of Palmetto Bay going forward. We as residents cannot expect private property owners – especially those with religious foundations – to go gently into that good night when their rights are being trampled. Sure, Palmer may decide to take half-a-loaf today just so they can proceed, but that does not mean that other facilities will be so willing to meekly stand down. The larger question is whether those of us with kids who also work late should be able to use non-public facilities after sunset. Or, does a small group of neighbors get to decide that nothing happens after dark in Palmetto Bay? Mr. Fiore and Mr. Dubois will decide on Monday night.

PB: Good News on Palmer Trinity?

Palmetto Bay’s new Village Attorney, Dexter Lehtinen, produced a power point presentation (a copy of which is available on his web page) on the current status of the Palmer Trinity litigation.

SDM finds the format very useful – in fact, it may be the clearest analysis of the litigation since the whole mess started. Mr. Lehtinen is to be commended – too bad the village didn’t hire him years ago.

We believe this statement is the most important one in the slide show:

Village is not insured against state
claims, due to sovereign immunity
protection; state claims will be defended by
insurance coverage as long as any federal
claim exists

Mr. Lehtinen explains that the remaining claims against the village are non-monetary, state claims or federal claims. Obviously, no cost can arise from a non-monetary claim other than legal expenses and associated costs.

So, we are left with several claims that can be classified as state or federal claims, or a combination of the two. Mr. Lehtinen appears to argue that any state claim would be capped by sovereign immunity ($100,000 per occurrence) or insured at $5 million per occurrence plus “defense fees,” which we take to mean legal fees that may or may not include costs.

Therefore, if the village were to lose on all the remaining counts, its exposure would be limited to the sovereign immunity cap (per occurrence) and/or whatever the insurance policy costs (e.g., a deductible if applicable).

SDM Wonders: Is Mr. Lehtinen telling us that the village’s exposure is nothing at this point? We don’t see those words anywhere in the presentation. Is there a possibility that one of the federal claims could result in a damage award greater than $5 million?

The sovereign immunity cap only constrains out-of-pocket costs to a municipality or governmental entity. Palmer Trinity could be awarded an amount greater than $100,000 on the state claims, but it would have to go to the legislature to receive payment. (This happens all the time when persons are injured by government and it is a time-consuming, expensive and many times fruitless process.)

Mr. Lehtinen is a little vague on the damages issue. He notes that Palmer received its zoning approval in 2010 and its development approval in August 2012. The pending lawsuit was filed in 2008. It looks to SDM like the delay causing monetary damages could be calculated beginning in 2008 and running through 2012.

Therefore, SDM Also Wonders:  Is Mr. Lehtinen saying that no monetary damages can be claimed by Palmer for the time period beginning in 2008 (or earlier) through 2012?

SDM imagines that Palmer is arguing that it lost out on at least two and maybe three classes of students at the 1150 number. If one says that Palmer missed the opportunity to enroll an additional 500 kids per year for two years at $20,000 per kid, one finds that Palmer forwent $20 million in gross revenue. Tack on a couple million in legal fees and that $5 million cap is starting to look a little thin.

SDM Says: The good news on Palmer Trinity – from Palmetto Bay taxpayers’ perspective – is that we have a real bulldog representing the city who may be able to force a settlement. The best solution for all concerned has always been to find a reasonable settlement and we hope village leaders can discover a path forward.

Of course, the regulars at CCOCI are already crowing as if Mr. Lehtinen has never lost a case and without hearing any of the arguments on the other side. They never seem to learn from their past mistakes.

SDM P.P.S.: One fact remains unchanged, however: Palmer Trinity has been subjected to a deliberate, calculated and cynical attack by a tiny minority of the village’s residents. They have turned a village gem into an enemy camp, merely because they disagreed with Palmer’s right to buy property and expand its school. Village taxpayers finance and sanction (by electing certain people) this attack on a private institution, which shames us all.

 

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