VILLAGE OF PINECREST, FL-Officials of the affluent Village of Pinecrest, 20 minutes south of downtown Miami, have signed a $12-million option to purchase 22 acres housing Parrot Jungle, a world-renowned bird sanctuary and tropical jungle theme park. Council is expected to cast final ballots on the buy Feb. 15.

Parrot Jungle plans to move to Watson Island in downtown Miami at the end of 2002. The village plans to turn the land, which contains more than 1,000 varieties of tropical plants, into a park named “Pinecrest Commons.”

According to village manager Peter Lombardi, it is likely that a $4-million Safe Neighborhood Parks grant will be awarded for part of the acquisition cost. The $8-million balance will be funded with a new bond issue. Lombardi tells that the bond issue doesn’t require voter approval because funds will not come from property taxes. “We haven’t decided where the funds will come from,” says Lombardi.

Lombardi also says a proposal for management that has many homeowners up in arms has been effectively “torn up and thrown away.” But the homeowners aren’t totally convinced.

The homeowners have hired a public relations firm and an attorney to represent them. The opponents objected to the proposal because it would have turned the park’s operation over to an unidentified tax-exempt, non-governmental organization, with a budget of $470,000, including $250,000 for salaries of the organization’s employees.

Homeowners feared the park would become an admission-only venture with crowds and traffic-inducing commercial enterprises designed to generate funds to benefit the operating entity. They planned to delay the land purchase until voters could pass a charter amendment ensuring the park would be operated as a passive, public park managed directly by village employees.

By the time the village council met last week, the proposal had been replaced with a proposal from Lombardi in which all park workers would be village employees. The proposal still calls for the village to contract with a tax-exempt organization that “shall be exclusively committed to fund raising for Pinecrest Commons.” The park director would serve as an ex-officio member of organization’s board of directors.

Seth Gordon, managing partner of GDB + Partners, the Coral Gables public relations firm representing the homeowners, tells that arrangement seems “overly cozy. Why commit to one organization before you know they can even perform? If the village thinks people out there are ready to raise money, why just choose one? Why not let them all raise money?”

Gordon says there is speculation the village intends to contract with an existing organization called “Preserve the Jungle,” which is headed by a friend of Pinecrest’s mayor. Lombardi says that’s not true.

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