Commission Consideration Of Selling City-Owned TDRs To Developers; Opens Can Of Worms On Neglected Maintenance Issues

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
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For residents in the North Gables, Phillips Park has become a neglected eyesore in much need of repairs and serious TLC (tender love and care). For years, staff efforts to maintain the park have been non-existent, leading to the dire condition the park is in today. Renovating the park was a key element in the failed efforts to hold a referendum for the Parks Master Plan.

This week, the City will be holding a meeting to discuss a potential application for a state grant to secure funding for its renovations, but this is not the only effort to find funding.

July 25th Commission Meeting Deferrals

At the July 25th City Commission meeting, the Commission deferred items F-14 and G-7, two items related to finding such funds. It seemed like just another deferral to clear the packed agenda.

However, behind the scenes, a major storm was brewing. At issue, the funding source.

The items being considered proposed selling the Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) of the Coral Gables Museum, to developers, in order to secure funds for the renovations of Phillips Park. It also opened the door to selling other City owned property TDRs to developers in order to aid in financing projects. F-14 stated it was “revising the purpose and process for the City to transfer unused development rights.”

Museum Not Informed

In a pre-Gables Insider era, these items may have made their way through the Commission without many knowing. Gables Insider has given residents and stakeholders a new way to follow what goes on at City Hall. That is precisely what happened in this case.

The storm began when the Executive Director and Board of the Coral Gables Museum found out about the proposal from reading it on Gables Insider.

In a letter to the Commission the morning of the meeting, the Museum Chairman, Jose Valdes-Fauli, and Executive Director, Elvis Fuentes, stated: “We are writing to respectfully plead that the proceeds obtained from the sale of the museum’s unused development rights stay with the museum, to be used on the continued maintenance and repairs that are needed in the museum’s historic buildings. The building is city property, and the funds would be used for the upkeep of city property.” The letter continues, “the Zoning Code was established to preserve historic buildings in perpetuity by guaranteeing that any future incomes from the sale of development rights stay with the monument. We refer to the Current Zoning Code, Section 8-114, and Section 14-204, regarding the Transfer of Development Rights, which requires the approval of maintenance/preservation plan of the property by the Historic Preservation Board before any transfer takes place.”

At the June 10th Planning and Zoning Board meeting, the City’s Development Services Director, Suramy Cabrera, rushed the item in at the last minute to ensure the board voted on it that day, as no July meeting was planned at the time.

Lack Of Maintenance

As Gables Insider has reported many times, the issue of maintenance of City buildings and infrastructure is one of the largest issues facing Coral Gables. As you will recall, the Gondola Building at The Biltmore Hotel fell last year due to neglect and lack of maintenance by staff. The cost of rebuilding or repairing the collapsed building is now a much larger amount than the cost of fixing the structure prior to its collapse. It will cost Coral Gables taxpayers $750,000 thanks in part to matching $750,000 from the State.

Currently, the City’s historic Water Tower on Alhambra is in need of an estimated $1.75 million renovation. The project is currently not budgeted for, leaving the tower in disrepair for the time being.

Asset Manager

A search of the City’s Asset Manager, Zeida Sardina’s calendar shows she only visited five properties during the span of 12-months. One of them, for an event. It is hard to monitor and maintain, when staff is not even making routine visits.

But the buck stops with the City Manager, Peter Iglesias. Iglesias, who on September 30th will complete his management of a fourth City budget, presented a plan at Mayor Vince Lago’s request at the June 28th Commission meeting. The recommendation to request the plan had been made to Lago by Gables Insider‘s Ariel Fernandez, who suggested the Commission require quarterly visits/inspections by Sardinas to each City owned property.

Iglesias’ plan: “Customer Experience Inspection by Asset Manager” every six months. It then lists 17 properties with comments such as the Biltmore Hotel’s, “Property Condition Report using Architect/Engineer Consultants to establish Baseline is Recommended.” This begs the question, if the suggestion for this plan had not been made by Fernandez to Lago, would this recommendation even be in consideration?

Iglesias’ Growing Neglect

Under Iglesias’ watch, the Gondola building has collapsed, the Water Tower has remained closed to visitors without attention, City Hall has become mold infested, the annex building at the City Hall complex has developed cracks, the Coral Gables Country Club has required over $1 million in repairs, now we learn of the Museum issues. Although not entirely his responsibility, the Parks Master Plan’s $160 million cost is partly due to his neglect. The issue of mismanagement and lack of oversight have continued to compound, with taxpayers having to foot the bill.

Museum Letter Requests Regular Maintenance Plan

The Museum letter follows this same thought process, “The Coral Gables Museum’s core structure at 285 Aragon Avenue was originally built in 1939, then renovated in 2011, when the museum opened with a new gallery added. After eleven years of continued use, we need a lot of work to be done, upgrades to the HVAC system in compliance with museum’s standards, new energy-efficient features and LED lighting, and general maintenance and repairs for which we do not have the funds.”

It also adds a request for a “regular maintenance plan.” It reads, “therefore, we request that a regular maintenance plan is developed and the proceeds from the sale of the unused development rights of the museum be earmarked for the implementation of said maintenance plan.”

The Museum letter also included the following images of all the necessary repairs.

Selling Of TDRs

Not to be lost in the important maintenance issue, is the fact that the City would sell the TDRs to increase revenue. In a year where the budget increases by $7 million, the City would need to sell TDRs to perform the necessary repairs at the park.

Deferred Items

The items are expected to be considered at the August 24th City Commission meeting.


27 thoughts on “Commission Consideration Of Selling City-Owned TDRs To Developers; Opens Can Of Worms On Neglected Maintenance Issues

  1. To Eric Trumpvirus, what an awful aggressive post. As lay people we would not know the statutes and do appreciate the corrective information. If we see recalls elsewhere in the US, we assume it can be done. But your nasty aggressive response was not needed. Tone it down and explain it to us, but don’t come off like you want to crucify us. Just your call name of Trumpvirus has an abrasive tone. Thank you for pointing out what we did not know though.

  2. Thank you Gables Insider for your relentless work in regularly pointing out the malfeasance and corruption in our local government and letting the residents know the truth. Time and time again, we see Iglesias, the city attorney and most of the commissioners completely disregard Coral Gable’s best interest for their own game. Shame shame shame on Mayor Lago for not having a stronger voice after he ran under a “transparent, anti-development and anti-corruption” banner and has done nothing to stop it. I disagree with people saying protesting and speaking up does nothing, but I also agree that action needs to happen to get these people out and get new candidates in asap. I for one would be happy to volunteer the little free time, energy and money I have to support a group or movement. We CANNOT let this bs and corruption ruin our beautiful city. YA BASTA!!!

  3. Our key “public servants” are the dictator City Manager, Peter Iglesias; the corrupt City Attorney, Miriam Ramos; the weak Mayor, Vice Lago; and the 4 stooges, as commissioners.

    They have sold the City’s property for peanuts to the over-developers.

    What did they get in return? Lost of $$$ and other “gifts”???


    The City’s close to $300 million dollar budget can surely set aside a reasonable percentage each year to go to historic preservation and maintenance. It is a sad day anywhere when a place’s cultural heritage is being neglected or ignored, but especially in a city that has ‘historic’ in its DNA.

    Coral Gables states that its’ zoning code is the main document that “preserves the distinctive historic and architectural character of the municipality.”

    Therefore, residents should not need to beg for a budget that includes preservation maintenance. Nor beg for the city to abide by its own Current Zoning Code, Section 8-114 and Section 14-204, regarding the Transfer of Development Rights, which was established to preserve historic buildings in perpetuity by guaranteeing that any future incomes from the sale of development rights stay with the resource.

    Hopefully, these conversations about TDRs will rearrange the spending priorities of the city. Forty, 60 or even 100 million dollars to spend on a “mobility hub” sounds utterly frivolous when a fraction of that money can be earmarked annually to restore/maintain the many historic landmarks that are in a state of decades-old deterioration and neglect such as the now collapsed Gondola building, the Alhambra Water Tower, the Coral Gables Museum, City Hall, the Venetian Pool, Coral Gables Prep, and on and on.

  5. If the city manager, Peter Iglesias; the city attorney, Miriam Ramos; the weak mayor; and the 2 remaining small-time lawyers/commissioners had an DECENCY, they would all RESIGN.
    It would make the City healthy again.

  6. Dear Again and Again:

    And do you think these officials care about your protests? Look at the Allen Morris fiasco. His mother in law Dorothy Thompson tells the Commission what a wonderful rich person he is and that persuades these goofs.

    What you need is to find somebody solid to run for these offices and win. All this complaining and protesting is useless.

  7. If we can’t recall them, we can protest against them. We did it at the last meeting on over-development, and we will do it again and again and again. We are not discouraged. We will prevail. The election is around the corner.

  8. Response to Time to Push Back and every other person in Creation who wants to recall the Mayor and Commissioners:

    PAY ATTENTION! The state recall statute is designed so that recall is next to impossible.

    Read the statute!!

    What, did you think the legislature would make it easy to remove incumbents.

    What is needed, which is much easier, is finding good candidates to run against these knuckleheads in the next election. Talk of recall makes the real remedy remote.

    So stop it, and once again, read the damned statute!

  9. All I see are complaints and negative comments. Why are the residents not forming groups to oust the elected in a recall? Why are there not lawyer residents helping by starting lawsuits to stop the individual zoning changes for developers. Why do we not have a cease and desist on further construction starts on buildings that change code and a stop regarding letting the City give away OUR property like the Morris charade? All talk and no action. You want changes, then start these groups and give the useless and horrible leaders of this City real push back. Start with a campagna to remove the Manager & Attorney. We promise Lago, if they are not removed, you will be with them. You have turned out to be one of the worst Mayors with your lack of backbone.

  10. If you drive by Madeira street you are going to see almost a hole block with a green construction fence. This goverment of Coral Gables approved in a residential area a building with more than 10 floors, 200 parkings and stores . They are destroying our neighborhoods. This area is a two to four floors buildings and is residential. The traffic already is bad, after so many new apartments is going to be a nightmare.

  11. How is it that they still feel they can get away with such ploys? How? After so many scandals already. The City is so privileged in so many ways, yet it has to recur to scams to keep things going. Tired. Tired!

  12. This is what happens when our elected leaders bring in former County and City of Miami employees. Sadly, we’re learning the hard way why Coral Gables has always set itself apart from those entities.

  13. Yes… if the City sees my two-story apartment building in North Ponce in the condition of the CG Museum 1939 firehouse as pictured above, I would immediately received a Notice with a large fine and 30 days or less to clean it up. Hypocrites. I fully agree the corrupt City Manager, and City Attorney, have to removed from office and replaced with someone who cares about the City of CG.

  14. All the City of Coral Gables buildings including City Hall need either pressure washing and/or painting like is required from private owners of both commercial and residential properties.

  15. A grand jury, federal and state, should indict Peter Iglesias, Miriam Ramos, Vince Lago, and the 4 commissioners.

    Enough talk. Enough complaints.

    Let’s throw them out now!

  16. Coral Gables couldn’t/didn’t lower taxes this year after a record breaking year of sky high property values and overwhelming development projects both commercial and residential. Until this community actually looks at the budget, asks questions and demands answers we will trend in the wrong direction.

  17. Mayor Lago and City Manager Iglesias need to respond to Bill Anthony’s comments above. Or maybe the matter should ask City Attorney Ramos for a legal opinion.

    They all an embrressment and need to go.

  18. Elections matter. Who you vote for matters. Seems that with the years of complaints (and evidence supporting the compliants) the electeds would demand accountability of City employees and provide the residence with a comprehensive explanation of why or why not city staff leaders should or shouldn’t remain in their roles and subordinates should or should not be put on probation or fired. Back to elections. If the MDC seat is between Fors and Cabrera, it’s Fors all the way. Cabrera is a political operative with no experience other than that of a political operative that stood side-by-side with Proud Boys attacking the office of an elected official.

  19. When was the last time a Zero Based Budget was run?
    Coral Gables runs “automaticaly adjusted budgets”, that will cover current expenses, -emphasis in salaries and pensions, and neglecting stuff like maintaining the Museum, the Water Tower, the Country Club, etc.
    One is alarmed by the symptoms and blame foks involved with them but, until such time when the budget is done via a Zero Based Budget, and the necessary adjustments performed, nothing will change.

  20. Several thoughts come to mind after reading this. The City does have an ASSET Manager. That person is paid to do a job. She visits the city assets five times in a year. City assets are falling apart. What is she doing? Obviously not looking after OUR assets. Remember WE are the City. OOPS. Could it be that she has been busy looking for City assets that can be sold, leased, etc. Or perhaps trying to find TDRs and/or alleys to give away to the highest, or best connected bidders? Or perhaps she has been too busy attending ribbon cuttings? Or what about tending to her family’s Coral Gables based real estate business?
    Maybe it is time to check her calendar to see how many times she has met with prospective developers, and past and/or present city employees trying to find funds for the City Manager’s legacy projects.

  21. Enough is enough.We need:
    People with experience,hard working and that really cares for the city as its residents
    There’s a clan :a friend of a friend,and a friend of the other and they don’t do what residents really need and want.

  22. What pathetic leadership Coral Gables has. You all sit like blind mice and allow an autocratic, ego inflated ruler of a City Manager run our City to the ground. What is wrong with all of you? Maybe you do not want to stress yourself to search for a new City Manager, but that is your job. PETER INGLESIS HAS TO GO !!! Who would ever allow deterioration of the park and water tower to this point. You have allowed developers to overtake our City and with all these new overpriced condos with their new taxes still can not pay your bills. Where is all the money from all the new developments? The money wasted on the Hub? You have allowed buildings without parking, buildings overtaking residential areas, property of the people given away and you can not pay to repair our City? Can not wait for the next election and the first request to to remove the Manager and Attorney of Coral Gables.

  23. Enough is enough!!!
    How much longer do we have to keep on reading about Peter Iglesias incompetence (giving him benefit of the doubt) before our ELECTED commissioners give him the BOOT !!!!
    The spineless commissioners are already jumping ship !!! (Pity MDC if they don’t wake up to Fors before the elections)

  24. The City presently has a 5 year rolling structural development/maintenance plan, with an estimated 80 million dollar price tag, that is largely not funded. Although the existence of the plan itself is an improvement from prior administrations, the fact that we prioritize projects like the mobility hub at the expense of these known and needed improvements is frankly puzzling. That coupled with this pilfering of TDR for the benefit of unrelated projects puts into question the leadership skills of our present management.

    Our mayor and commission are elected to only find out that their priorities come only second to the manager’s own desires, which is not what their constituents expected when they marked their ballot. No wonder Commissioner Fors and Mena are jumping ship.

    New management is in order

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