Founder & Editor
Although the Coral Gables Zoning Code specifically prohibits it, the controversial development proposed for the location of the historic Garden of Our Lord, 110 Phoenetia, was discussed by the City’s Board of Architects at its Thursday, February 9th meeting.
As previously reported on Gables Insider, Bonnie Bolton’s historic designation application of the Garden of Our Lord is still pending, and the Coral Gables Zoning Code states that “an appeal shall stay all proceedings in the matter appealed from until the final disposition of the appeal.”
The appeal relates to the historic nature of the property on which this project would be built.
What Is A Proceeding?
City Attorney Cristina Suarez, who took office less than two weeks ago, stated in an email to a resident that “preliminary review by the Board of Architects is not a proceeding.”
Suarez references a City Attorney decision July 9, 2014, where then City Attorney Craig Leen opined that “the City has the discretion, but not the duty, to continue with the building plan review if the applicant requests to do so (at the applicant’s risk).”
In that case, the proceedings proved to be a waste of City staff’s time and resources.
Gables Insider Founder & Editor Ariel Fernandez worked with the residents on Lisbon Street, who were appealing the development at the time, to fight the developer on the construction of three large homes of that triple lot on Lisbon Street. The lot had the oldest Live Oak tree in the City, as described by Fairchild Tropical Garden’s Arborist. After two-and-a-half years of fighting the developer, residents were able to secure the City’s purchase of two of the three lots, a reduction of the size of the home on the third lot, the waiver of appeal fees with 50 neighbor signatures and the creation of what today is Lisbon Park.
The “proceedings” “at the applicant’s risk” were pointless, but also created a great amount of work for staff, expense for the residents who were appealing the project and wasted time from the City’s volunteer boards. All of which could have been avoided if the City Attorney would have followed the letter of the Code, not an arbitrary attempt to create a loop hole by holding a hold harmless agreement.
Pay To Play
Gables Insider has also learned that developer paid the City for this preliminary hearing before the Board of Architects. They provide them with feedback on their project, so that they can make changes prior to the formal process taking place. We have been unable to secure information on the amount they paid the City.
City Manager Sets Time Certain
Prior to the start of the meeting, the Board of Architects was informed that the City Manager had decided to make the 110 Phoenetia project a time certain item at 11:00AM, in order to accommodate the developer. The agenda did not reflect that time, nor did the notice placed on the property for residents to be aware of the proceeding, which stated that it would take place at 9:00AM.
A visibly upset resident, Maria C. Cruz, spoke at the meeting questioning why the City had issued a time certain when residents were taking time to be present.
Gables Insider did a public record request for staff communications with the developer regarding the time certain. It has not been released as of time of publishing.
Opposition To Resident Input
Residents in the room inform Gables Insider that lobbyist/attorney for the project, Jorge Navarro, stormed out of the room when Carty began reading the letters and emails sent by residents in opposition to the project and to the hearing taking place.
The presentation was kept to 30 minutes. It revolved around the Mediterranean design of the project. Board members questioned numerous aspects of the project.
Two notable questions were whether the project’s proposed open space would be open to the public as required by the City, to which the answer was no.
The other was brought up by Carty who asked about the zoning and designation of the area for use as a Garden apartment. The City dismissed her concern by stating that the area had been upzoned by the Commission and that the designation was no longer relevant.
At present, the Zoning Code designates these parcels as Special Use. Under this designation, the building can be no taller than 45 feet and 3-stories, with a maximum lot coverage of 65%. The proposed project seeks nearly double the height, triple the stories and 82.8% coverage.
The developer is also planning to use more FAR (Floor Area Ratio) than allowed. The current allowance is 64,337. The project calls for an FAR of 234,724. An increase of 360%.
The parcels are also part of the North Ponce Neighborhood Conservation District Overlay (NPCO). According to the City’s website, “the purpose of the North Ponce Neighborhood Conservation District is to preserve and enhance the garden apartment character of the North Ponce residential neighborhood properties.”
Garden apartments are defined by Redfin as “Generally, most garden apartments refer to an apartment complex surrounded by green spaces like gardens, flowers, woods, or large lawns. The apartment building is no more than three stories tall and the green space is shared by all of the tenants.”
The proposed project does not qualify by this definition.
Vote To Approve In Non-Proceeding
Although the City Attorney defined this proceeding as not being one, the Board voted to approve the Mediterranean Bonus on the property.
The question now is whether the City will find a way to allow the project to proceed with the Bolton appeal still pending.