Palmetto Bay may be a green enclave of families, parks and desirable public schools, but when Karyn Cunningham looked to the future of Palmetto Bay she also saw a city in transition. “I ran for Mayor because I thought I could help the city through these next years,” says the Mayor, who recently celebrated one year in office. “The city is changing and as beautiful as our community is, there are opportunities for improvement. How do we blend the new with the beautiful residential community that we already have? How do we keep our senior residents, while attracting new families to the community?”
For Cunningham, that has meant maintaining the existing community in addition to looking to the new. Cunningham is also proud of initiatives such as the “street-by-street” program (she and her team are taking inventory of all roadways and dedicating $350k to repaving and improvements) and the opening of a passport office in Village Hall, a project that has already processed more than 850 passports and brought in revenues of almost $30k to the Village. “I’m committed to moving the community forward based on consensus building,” says Cunningham. “That is extremely important to me.”
The DUV and Traffic
At top of mind for Cunningham (and most residents) is the planned Downtown Urban Village or DUV, a hot topic in Village circles and beyond.
For the Mayor, the idea behind the DUV has always been based in community. “We want to keep Palmetto Bay dollars in Palmetto Bay,” she says of the planned mixed-use development. “Our residents want a place where they can come together to eat and shop locally. We love our parks but we also want restaurants, somewhere to convene.” But the process hasn’t been easy… or without controversy. “Our DUV borders directly on residentially zoned property, and the creation of a new code was accomplished through extremely detailed and thoughtful consideration of both our residents and business owners,” she says. “It’s been a slow process but we’re building consensus. We needed to have a dialogue about the tough issues to move forward.”
That dialogue also includes another hot button issue: traffic control. Though Cunningham admits that the problem is bigger than just Palmetto Bay, she is actively looking at options that would alleviate some of the symptoms. “I lose sleep over the folks who are in gridlock every day in residential areas,” she says. “It bothers me. Ideally the county would do a regional traffic study that includes all of the possible options. The only way we can truly address the issues is by working together [alongside other South Dade communities].”
Cunningham has also involved other local governments, meeting with leaders in Pinecrest, and Cutler Bay and Homestead. They discuss issues such as creating job opportunities in South Dade that keep pace with the building of affordable housing and population growth that is already occurring in Cutler Bay and Homestead. “South Dade has known what the issues are. What has changed here is our working together to look for solutions,” she says, noting South Dade Coalition ideas such as incentives for businesses to bring jobs South and work hubs closer to home. “We’re looking at formulating a long-term plan for sustainability, as well as transit and economic development. As leaders, we’re looking at the big picture.”
She praises her counterparts for their own willingness to listen and find solutions. “Even though we have different ideas, the challenges themselves are very much the same,” says Cunningham. “Serving in times of transition can be difficult and they have been very supportive. I really appreciate that.”
CRS and Being Present
Being what Cunningham calls a “full-time” Mayor has been an important part of her first year in office. Though not a stranger to public service, Cunningham sees her role as Mayor as even more critical when it comes to connecting with residents. “Especially when it comes to the DUV and the new code, the residents want and should have access, and to that end I have implemented [multiple ways] to provide the community the ability to meet and discuss ideas and concerns.” she says. “I spend about 50 percent of my time at Village Hall and the other 50 percent in the community. I like to connect with our Charter Officers and be available for the public that visits Village Hall. It helps me to stay updated on what’s going on beyond just a phone call. It helps me to be a better leader.”
Within Village Hall, one focus has been working on the CRS, or Community Rating System, a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities. Though the plan to lower the Village score (it’s about an eight now with the goal of getting to a five) was initiated in 2011, it had fallen to lower priority before being re-ignited last year. “It’s looking at things like maintenance of drains, tree trimming efforts, water infrastructure, street cleaning and sustainability efforts by the city,” says Cunningham. “When completed we will be effectuating hundreds of dollars in savings on flood insurance.”
Even with the challenges of the first year in office (and she admits there have been some), Cunningham remains positive and enthusiastic about the future of the Village and praises her resident base for everything from the age-inclusivity of the “robust” senior community to the “amazing job” at public safety and parks and recreation.
“I am excited for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” she says. “How we deal with future development, environmental concerns, traffic and transit will impact our quality of life. We have great ideas, but I always think about how much work goes into those great ideas. When I walk into Village Hall, I see how much work is going on with such a small staff. I’m thankful for how hard they work to support and implement the decisions of the Village Council.”
Karyn Cunningham is available to answer your questions or lend a helping hand. You can reach out to her if you have questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-904-1805. You can also visit palmettobay-fl.gov for more information.
When this article went to press, the scope of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was beginning to unfold. The State of Florida, Miami-Dade County and Palmetto Bay had declared States of Emergency. “This challenge is a time that defines us as a community,” said Cunningham. “Tough, restrictive measures have been taken to try and halt the progression of this disease, and the hardest times may still be ahead of us. Be assured we are dedicated to stopping the spread, and I ask everyone to stay vigilant and continue to adhere to all mandated closures, restrictions and physical distancing. Palmetto Bay is no stranger to challenges, and every time I have been proud of the resilience and compassion shown by this Village. Each of us must do our part. I am confident we will and emerge on the other side of this stronger for it. Please stay healthy and safe.”