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Proposed El Portal charter school encountering resistance from residents concerned about increased traffic

EL PORTAL
Proposed El Portal charter school encountering resistance from residents concerned about increased traffic
Council members table a vote on a charter school on the site of a former church until next month. Neighbors say the school will bring unwanted traffic and other headaches to their community.

BY RODOLFO R. ROMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
El Portal officials have asked for more detailed traffic information before voting on a proposed charter school that has drawn opposition for many residents.

At a recent meeting, council members deferred a vote on the plans to turn the former Rader Memorial United Methodist Church building into a charter school.

Dozens of residents turned out at the July 28 meeting to oppose the proposed school, which they say will have a negative impact on their neighborhood.

“You should tell these people to take their plan elsewhere,” said resident Luis Edmonson.

Village manager Jason Walker recommended that the council defer the plan of MG3 development group’s interests in purchasing the church building at 205 NE 87th St. and expanding it to a for-profit charter school because proper information wasn’t available at the meeting.

“The village thought the traffic study was insufficient, and we requested to expand it,” Walker told council members. “Instead of bringing something incomplete, we would rather have a chance to review a traffic study and bring it to the public.”

Walker said the village and developers’ staff members met July 23 to discuss the proposed school. But he added that the village needed more information before coming to a conclusion. The village council agreed with Walker’s request.

Developers addressed their plans at planning and zoning committee meetings in May and July. The village council told representatives of the MG3 Developer Group to tweak their application to address concerns, such as easing traffic in and out of the school.

The charter school would require the council to approve a special exception to convert the lot into a school, as well as site-plan approval. The developer, with offices in Hollywood, plans to lease the property to Imagine Charter Schools. Imagine, which started in 2003 and has more than 70 schools and 35,000 students nationwide, has five schools in Florida.

The former Rader Memorial United Methodist Church once housed a private preschool and the Revelation Academy. In 2006, the property was sold to the Archdiocese of Miami, which planned to use the building as a residence for cloistered nuns.

But plans fell through and the church put the property on the market.

Plans have since changed since the first meeting. Originally, the developer wanted to expand the building from 28,000 to 54,231 square feet to accommodate a school for 900 students. The school would serve students from kindergarten through eighth grade. The developers decided to reduce the student number to 600 and nixed plans to expand the building.

Gus Carbonell, an architect for MG3 Developer Group, said the school will have no problem reducing the number of students.

“The school can function with the smaller [number],” he wrote in an e-mail. “Of course, we will be able to serve fewer students.”

Residents say the school would bring a traffic headache to the bedroom community. The village is already dealing with traffic issues. For the past year and a half, Northwest 87th Street and Second Avenue has been under construction. That’s why resident Donna Stavel said consulting a traffic study right now wouldn’t be appropriate.

“These people are doing a traffic study when the street is closed,” she said. “It’s going to be a mess even if it’s 600 students; that is 600 people parking and picking their children twice a day.”

Despite opposition from residents, Carbonell said the new learning institution would bring “a quality school that is free to the children of El Portal within walking distance” along with “preservation of the historic building and enhancement.”

The village council is scheduled to vote on the proposed school at its Sept. 15 meeting.

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