Charter change would allow ‘Gardens’ restaurant

BOB HINGSTON
Former Councilmember, Village of Pinecrest

The Village of Pinecrest became one of the incorporated cities in Miami-Dade County on March 12, 1996. Immediately thereafter, an election was scheduled and
more than 25 people ran for the new council positions and Mayor’s office.

One of the key issues at that time was the future of the Parrot Jungle property, which had been the subject of protracted litigation concerning proposed modifica- tions in its use. As the then owner had been unsuccessful in the effort to expand the facilities, and started to plan for changing the venue to a new location, the overwhelming consensus of the community favored “saving” the Parrot Jungle by the purchase/acquisition of the property by the new Village.

These efforts finally resulted in the purchase of the Parrot Jungle property six long years later in November 2002. The property was divided into two parcels to allow for the development of additional facilities on the west side of the property, while retaining the historic nature of the eastern portion constituting the original Parrot Jungle attraction.

In the last 10 years, the facilities at the entire site, now known as Pinecrest Gardens, have been greatly improved and expanded, including the addition of the Community Center, library and playing field/walking path area on the western portion of the property. The historic portion has also been greatly improved and rehabilitated with plans to continue to restore many of the facilities over time.

However, one of the features which could greatly enhance the historic portion of the property is the restoration of the Cypress Room as a restaurant facility. The original restaurant was an important and popular feature of the Parrot Jungle. For many years since the purchase of the property, the Village has attempted to work out a relation- ship with different entities to again operate a restaurant at the site. These efforts have not been successful as yet. There is an issue which continues to critically affect the ability to obtain a qualified operator at the site.

The original charter of the Village provides that any lease for Village property in excess of five years must be approved by a majority of the voters of the Village through an election. While well intended, this provision in practice makes it extremely difficult to obtain any viable agreement both due to time and cost involved in such an election in addition to the uncertainty of success in approval by this process.

The charter does however provide a solution to this issue. Periodically, a Charter Revision Commission is convened to suggest changes to the charter to be submitted to the voters for determination. This year a commission was appointed consisting of chairperson and former councilmember Gail Serota, vice chairperson and former councilmember Leslie Bowe, Paul Sasso, William Tuttle and Kenneth Young.

The most important of several changes proposed for the ballot in November is a change to the lease restriction language in the charter, solely limited to the Cypress Room. It has been proposed that the council be permitted to enter into a lease in excess of five years for food service in the Cypress Room by a four/five majority of the council. This provision would allow the best chance to move this issue ahead after all these years and obtain a quality food service facility at site. An extensive and thorough study by the current Council has confirmed the necessity of this change as a requirement for moving ahead with any realistic proposal.

As with any change of this nature, it is important that all voters be aware of both the reasons why a change is appropriate, but also why it is necessary for the improvement of the community. Both of these factors are present with regard to this issue. The Village has made great strides over the past 10 years at Pinecrest Gardens, but it continues as a work in progress. This change will greatly assist in enhancing this important asset to the Village. So, it is important that all voters approve this change in the charter.

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