Board Of Architects Approves Med Bonus; As City Attorney And City Manager Pull Strings To Benefit Developer Of Phoenetia Project

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
[email protected]

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.

Present day Lisbon Park with City’s oldest Live Oak Tree

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.

Presentation

The presentation was kept to 30 minutes. It revolved around the Mediterranean design of the project. Board members questioned numerous aspects of the project.

Screenshot of the project from the presentation made to the Board of Architects

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.”

Screenshot of the project from the presentation made to the Board of Architects

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.

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36 thoughts on “Board Of Architects Approves Med Bonus; As City Attorney And City Manager Pull Strings To Benefit Developer Of Phoenetia Project

  1. There is no “City Beautiful” —there is no distinction between Doral, Wynwood, Dadeland and Coral Gables… actually those areas have more distinction than we do… there is no substance anymore, boring and genetic projects have flooded our City— There is only one architect and developer that understands George Merrick’s legacy and have created value to our city with distinctive, timeless projects.
    It’s very sad how we have lost the essence of what I used to call the city beautiful and had pride and felt privilege to live here….
    Every important city in the world preserves it’s historic values, why not us? It’s really not that difficult… George Merrick set our path.
    There is a lack of imagination, talent, passion and leadership… who says excellence is an easy job.
    I had hope for this new generation of politicians, can they still do something great? can they still make a difference? can they be bigger than their egos? what is their legacy??? what can they tell their childrens???

  2. Out with the Med bonus. The Spaniard said it,
    these buildings have little resemblance of Mediterranean architecture. Is the board of architects really doing its job? What are rules for if no one in government cares to rule by the rules.
    Sad to say but we’re on our way and we’re leaving our city officials behind. VOTE CHANGE! Our city deserves a lot better.

  3. The corruption in this city is as infuriating as it is heartbreaking. Our mayor and our commissioners are criminals. They have no interest in preserving the beauty and peace of our small city. Immoral developers with no care for the residents whose neighborhood they ruin belong in downtown Miami, which is already a disaster. We ought not let these Vandals into our home.

  4. Unfortunately our elected city officials continue their display of ineptitude and lack of tasteful sustainable vision. BOA has to go along with many of the city officials that are a part of blatantly changing the codes to suit their needs with no regards for the tax payers input . Remember we voted you in and will be more than happy to vote you out. We have choices.

  5. City Hall should have its important meetings on Saturday, so working people can attend and
    participate.

  6. The residents are all talk; no action. Mayor Lago will win the election, with big votes.

  7. “tired of All the Complaining” is right that all this is a waste of time. When things are off track in the business world you take action to re-set the course: 1)Disband the Architectural Committee (too many committees 25 or more in a city of 51k, clogs or distractions by design ); 2)Haul in the City Manager, Planning Head and City Attorney and give them a directive to follow the Planning and Zoning Rules;No Getting Around them or they will be fired. 3)You face the developers and tell them to build within the rules.4)your have a robust urban plan in place This kind of decisive action needs strong leadership and that is absent and so is a strong activism by residents bothered by what is going yet do little to participate in meetings or vote in local elections.

  8. “tired of All the Complaining” is right that all this is a waste of time. When things are off track in the business world you take action to re-set the course: 1)Disband the Architectural Committee (too many committees 25 or more in a city of 51k, clogs or distractions by design ); 2)Haul in the City Manager, Planning Head and City Attorney and give them a directive to follow the Planning and Zoning Rules;No Getting Around them or they will be fired. 3)You face the developers and tell them to build within the rules.4)your have a robust urban plan in place This kind of decisive action needs strong leadership and that is absent and so is a strong activism by residents bothered by what is going yet do little to participate in meetings or vote in local elections.

  9. If no true resident runs against the Mayor in the upcoming election, then no resident has the right to complain about the Mayor’s arrogance, corruption, deceit, and greed.

  10. It’s high time for the owners of CG (the taxpayers) to throw out the incumbents, the City Attorney and City Manager. Maybe we need to elect a new slate and take the risk of the “unknown”. I don’t think that new “blood” will be worse than what we currently have.

  11. Seems like the District Attorney ought to investigate the many instances of laws and regulations being broken by City officials and Staff.
    By the way, I am a native of Valencia, Spain. Last I checked, Spain is on the Mediterranean. The buildings being deemed mediterranean by the BOA have little to no resemblance to buildings in my home town.

  12. Why do we still have a Med Bonus allowing the destruction of the QUALITY OF LIFE in our downtown?

    We should be promoting quality architecture, not huge buildings on steroids.

    The government promotes more taxable square feet, to fill it’s coffers.

    There’s a terrible conflict of interest there.

  13. Please repeal the Med Bonus! The Med Bonus was devised when we lived in economically DEPRESSED times and there were few people here or willing to invest in building projects. Times and our local economy have changed. We don’t need it anymore. I urge all citizens with spare time, to fight to eliminate the Bonus. Let’s stop whining & fix the problem at the root. We need to shoot the rabid dog (Med Bonus) to stop the spread of rabies.

  14. If Ariel Fernandez and Rip Holmes don’t win their election, Coral Gables is dead. it’s just another, small time, banana republic.

  15. I know there’s frustration in the city. I enjoy reading the responses for pure amusement because the articles are far from unbiased journalism and the responses are typically misinformed. Regardless, it’s typically the same people complaining all the time. Instead of complaining, why aren’t those words put into action. If you think something is broken, get fully informed and work on fixing it. If you want to change something, do something. Complaining on a blog doesn’t get you anywhere. If there are so many unhappy residents asking for change then why is there only one candidate, an unviable one at that, running against Lago?

  16. With all this high rise density filling every available plot of land , whether we like it or not, is the City poised to do its job of safeguarding the Residents in case of a fire or damaging rains hurricanes? One of the reasons for living in CG and paying high property taxes is first and foremost to receive: a first rate, rapid response in emergencies; strong policing; strong waste/water management. It seems to me that local governments totally negate the reality of our environment in building out.

  17. Seeing the word “rogue” in a comment brought me back to 1973, when I was immersed in English Folk And Folk Rock music. I have an album by Steeleye Span titled and featuring the song, Parcel of Rogues In a Nation. Written in 1791 by Robert Burns. After seeing so many upset residents of Coral Gables..I’ve been listening to this song again.
    The history and lyrics:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Such_a_Parcel_of_Rogues_in_a_Nation
    If you care to listen to the song:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLufwtSZiIs

  18. Maria Cruz you are spot on… Following the money will enlighten the citizens of the City beautiful
    Corrupt city officials

  19. The City Manager does not set time certain. That is the Mayor’s only true authority. The City Manager can ask the Mayor to set time certain and only the Mayor can approve.

  20. Don’t be fooled to think that this is the city managers doing. This is L’Ego all the way. Developers fund his campaign so that he will approve their projects, plain and simple.

  21. The current developer owned right wing authoritian leadership of city hall needs to be removed immediately next election. Anyone know about city constitution language related to a rogue mayor, commissioners or city employees and if there exist a way for citizens or citizens group to remove them at any time easily and inexpensive?

  22. “looking weak” is looking right. Rip Holmes will lose by a wide margin to Vince Lago (Sorry, Rip. I support you, but it’s true). Ivette Arango says the right things, but someone like Jim Cason, despite promising otherwise, will jump in and probably win that race. Alex Bucelo against Ariel Fernandez could be a good one, but Sean “407” McGrover could suck votes from one or both candidates. From the look of it, however, Ariel will lose, assuming Alex’s many, many more yard signs actually indicate support. That creates what looks like a solid pro-development majority on the commission for the next two years at least.

  23. Unfortunately this sorry situation will perpetuate itself for lack of enough citizens ready to get involved as candidates.
    What do we have for the upcoming elections?
    No one other than perennial candidate Rip Holmes opposing the Major Puppet, Mr Lago.
    And, thank the Lord, we have Ariel opposing Daddy’s boy Bucelo. By now Baby Bucelo has a campaign chest that is over 7 times Ariel’s chest. Of course all of the moneyed developers are throwing their support behind their new puppet that is trying to replace Puppet Mena.
    And in Group IV we have Ivette Arango O’Doski—-unopposed!!! Who is she? What’s her platform? Where does she stand? Please Ms Arango, stand up and tell us what do you stand for?
    Unfortunately there were high hopes with Mrs Anderson but there isn’t much she can do by herself against the developers’s puppets

  24. Unfortunately this sorry situation will perpetuate itself for lack of enough citizens ready to get involved as candidates.
    What do we have for the upcoming elections?
    No one other than perennial candidate Rip Holmes opposing Vicentico
    And, thank the Lord, we have Ariel opposing Daddy’s boy Bucelo. By now Baby Bucelo has a campaign chest that is over 7 times Ariel’s chest. Of course all of the moneyed developers are throwing their support behind their new puppet that is trying to replace Puppet Mena.
    And in Group IV we have Ivette Arango O’Doski—-unopposed!!! Who is she? What’s her platform? Where does she stand? Please Ms Arango, stand up and tell us what do you stand for?
    Unfortunately there were high hopes with Mrs Anderson but there isn’t much she can do by herself against the developers’s puppets

  25. Unfortunately this sorry situation will perpetuate itself for lack of enough citizens ready to get involved as candidates. I wish I were 25 years younger to be able to get involved!!!!
    What do we have for the upcoming elections?
    No one other than perennial candidate Rip Holmes opposing Vicentico
    And, thank the Lord, we have Ariel opposing Daddy’s boy Bucelo. By now Baby Bucelo has a campaign chest that is over 7 times Ariel’s chest. Of course all of the moneyed developers are throwing their support behind their new puppet that is trying to replace Puppet Mena.
    And in Group IV we have Ivette Arango O’Doski—-unopposed!!! Who is she? What’s her platform? Where does she stand? Please Ms Arango, stand up and tell us what do you stand for?
    Unfortunately there were high hopes with Mrs Anderson but there isn’t much she can do by herself against the developers’s puppets

  26. This week’s puppet award goes to the entire Board of Architects, City of Coral Gables, Fl.

    They get the entire award because they will not say “no” to a developer. If the architects did, they would be out of business.

    They are the developer’s puppets.

  27. With only a few candidates running for office in the next election (only one brave heart against
    Mayor Lago), the residents look very weak. all talk and no action.

  28. I’m so disappointed in Mayor Lago and the entire current City administration… Can’t wait to vote every single one of them out of office at the next election. This is a blatant affront to the residents who have put their trust on these “public servants,” who actually serve anyone but themselves and their cronies. Stop circumventing the law and start abiding by it, or we The People are going to kick your sorry behinds to the curb next chance we get.

  29. The City Attorney is angling for a job with a large law firm or a developer. Another huge project for a city with too much traffic. All the commissioners are lining their pockets through benefits to spouses or themselves or family members directly or indirectly.
    Bucelo will be the next no development commissioner who I am sure daddy’s law firm will benefit. VOTE FOR ARIEL!!!!!!

  30. The beginning of another misplaced concrete giant. Thank you for wading through the legal (and illegal) labyrinth to inform us of about the dealing the city leadership routinely engages in. It’s monstrous that residents can be so opposed to the illegal over-development of Coral Gables—but we powerless. Another green space will soon be obliterated forever.

  31. complete & utter disregard for the ra paying residents. these people work for themselves, not us. the selective application of building codes and zoning rules make the whole thing a joke. a homeowner couldn’t get away with this. when is the election? time to get them out of there. that’s the only thing they’ll understand.

  32. Here we go again. Our City has rules, but the administration decides when to follow them or if to follow them. I spoke with the City Attorney as to why this project was scheduled for the Board of Architects while there is a pending appeal. And yes, she told me that the developers were proceeding at “their own risk” and that they had paid thousands of dollars to be able to do so and had also signed a hold harmless document in case the appeal went through. If so they would lose that money. The City Attorney also lead me to believe that the B of A would not make decisions during the Preliminary Review. Guess what, they did by approving their Mediterranean Bonus request! What’s wrong with the picture? Why the rush to proceed? Could it be the need for $$$$$ for the City coffers?Mobility Hub? The upcoming elections? The arrogant disregard by the administration of the wishes of the residents? When are the residents going to wake up and put their feet down and say no more? When are we going to take our City back? Let’s start by looking at the candidates financial reports and follow the money! Why would developers invest so much money in support of candidates? Do any of you believe it is just because they love our City? Philanthropy? Or well planned investments to be able to continue on their path to make our City Beautiful another Brickell? So many questions. Can anyone answer them? Does anyone care anymore? Are we ready to throw in the collective towels while the developers, the attorneys, the lobbyists, the City Administration……… laugh at us? Please!!!

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