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El Portal turns down charter school

Special to The Miami Herald
The El Portal Village Council shut down a proposal to turn the former Rader Memorial United Methodist Church site into a charter school after the plan drew opposition from residents.

“If this is going to cost us a great deal of angst for villagers, I can’t see myself in good conscience voting for the continuance of this,” Mayor Joyce Davis said at a Tuesday meeting.

The council unanimously approved to deny a special exception to convert the lot into a school. The council also denied granting site-plan approval, which MG3 Development Group had sought before purchasing the church building at 205 NE 87th St. and expanding it to a for-profit charter school.

Most people packed into village hall also opposed the school.

“It’s clearly not in the best interest of the village,” resident Craig Smith said. “It’s a matter of traffic, noise. There’s a matter of whether this is appropriate for the size of the village.”

Not all residents were opposed, though.

“I would love to send my child to get an education here in El Portal,” said Edward Blasini, who said he recently moved to the village. “A good school like Imagine, that has a good track record speaks for itself. I think the school would be an attraction for the neighborhood.”

After the meeting, MG3 attorney Ben Fernandez said his client may consider legal action.

Fernandez had asked the council for more time in order to answer traffic questions raised by El Portal’s consultants, The Corradino Group.

Davis said the group had already been given plenty of opportunities to address the village’s concerns.

“This situation has been going on for a long period of time,” she said. “Every time we have a meeting there’s another carrot dangled before us.”

The issue has been before the village since about May.

In July, the village council deferred a vote on converting the lot into a school after requesting detailed traffic information.

The developer had planned 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 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.

The school would have accommodated students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Since its original proposal, the developers had decided to reduce the student number to 600 and nixed plans to expand the building.

The developers had also promised to give $200,000, since the school would not have to pay property taxes, Fernandez said.

That didn’t sit well with Davis.

“I personally think it’s a slap on the face,” she said Tuesday.

“Because it’s a feeling as though we are a small hick little village and that we are so desperate that $200,000 would appease us.”

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