Pinecrest voters reject public vote, supermajority requirement for zoning, land use changes
Image via Pinecrest.

Welcome to Pinecrest -- Image via Pinecrest
Both sides of the issue wanted the same thing: to preserve Pinecrest. They just disagreed on how.

Pinecrest residents reaffirmed their faith in their elected leaders Tuesday, when voters there sided against calling elections for most future zoning and land use changes in the Village Charter.

With votes tallied at 7:16 p.m., 63% of 6,964 Pinecrest voters said “no” to a ballot question asking whether they wanted to require supermajority approval of future zoning and land use amendments.

The change would have required a public vote and 60% approval for all written amendments to the zoning code and any land development regulation change creating a new zoning district.

Of note, the Tuesday referendum itself, which relied entirely on mail-in ballots, demanded a simple majority — 50% plus one vote — to pass.

Had the referendum passed, three-fifths of voters would also have had to approve changes of development-related definitions and other alterations allowing uses not previously permitted, hotel and density increases, among other things.

That includes previously prohibited projects like sober homes, vacation rentals, certain signage, large livestock allowances, as well as code provisions the Village Council previously oversaw to protect against flooding and incentivize the development of one-story, single-family homes.

Talk of the referendum began last year as the village worked on a vision for future development along U.S. 1. Those discussions came in response to ongoing construction of a rapid-bus route from Kendall to Homestead and efforts at Miami-Dade County Hall to densify the corridor.

Concerns of potential overdevelopment drove the Pinecrest Council to update zoning for much of the area within the village’s limits. That included caps on density and residential units and language more explicitly upholding the village’s maximum height limit along the highway at four stories in some areas and lowering it to two stories elsewhere.

But a rift emerged from talks over the issue among residents.

Two political committees, each of which raised and spent money to sway local opinion, stood on either side of the argument. Concerned Citizens of Pinecrest, which advocated requiring 60% approval for zoning-based charter changes, gathered more than 1,700 signatures to call a Special Election to decide the issue.

Pinecrest Friends, which had support from at least one sitting Council member and a former Mayor, tried to get residents to vote “no.”

Both sides said their goal is to preserve Pinecrest largely as it is: an affluent hamlet of roughly 18,000 residents living across 7.5 square miles on the east side of U.S. 1 between Southwest 67th Avenue, Southwest 136th Street and Old Cutler Road.

Those backing a “yes” vote on the referendum said the Village Council has not done enough to keep development at bay and argued it is in the village’s best interest to place development decisions in the hands of residents.

Opponents said the change would give special interests unprecedented sway over Pinecrest’s future and needlessly wrest decision-making powers from a body already representing resident interests.

Some also pointed to the cost. Village Manager Yocie Galiano told Political Cortadito the proposed change was too wide-reaching and would result in Special Elections costing $20,000 to $65,000 apiece, not counting the cost to educate the public on each issue.

Village personnel held five town hall meetings from Feb. 6-11 to explain the referendum and its effect.

Last month, the five-member Village Council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the charter amendment. Mayor Joseph Corradino accused members of Concerned Citizens of Pinecrest of telling “one lie after another” about the issue.

He later asked police to remove the group’s founder and leader, Laura McNaughton, who in ran unsuccessfully for Village Council, from the meeting after she voiced support from the audience for another “yes” vote proponent.

“People move to Pinecrest because it’s a bedroom community,” McNaughton told the Miami Herald in January. “These are expensive homes, and we want to protect the quality of our life. We don’t want high density. We don’t want overdevelopment, and our initiative, if passed, will be able to return that power to the people.”

In guest editorials for the Pinecrest Tribune, Vice Mayor Anna Hochkammer and Councilwoman Shannon Del Prado said there was no need for the change. Hochkammer alleged the petition came from outside Pinecrest. Del Prado warned of legislative “gridlock” and said Special Elections over zoning proposals would amount to a carnival of jockeying special interest groups.”

Division among residents over the referendum mounted in the leadup to Tuesday’s vote. Resident Kristine Boyett, who remained undecided last week, told the Herald it was like watching “a huge, horrible divorce.”

There were even reports — and video surveillance — of at least one person stealing “vote no” signs from several front yards.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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