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The lengthy saga over the construction of a Wawa gas station across the street from George Washington Carver Elementary School seems to be over, as Wawa reached a settlement agreement on a legal challenge to terminate its agreement with Bahamian Village, LLC.
In an order entered by Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman, the Court approved the Stipulation to resolve the claims by Wawa. The agreement determines that the contract between Bahamian Village, LLC and Wawa ended on March 30, 2022.
As Gables Insider previously reported, the issue stems from an agreement reached by the City with developer REDEVCO, in which the City would move the project forward without opportunity for public comment. Following this agreement, the City approved all plans without informing representatives from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the School Board Member, the Principal or parents at the school. Instead the developer presented a list of approximately 60 signatures of neighbors allegedly supporting the project, of which most signatures could not be linked back to residents of neighboring homes.
In January of 2021, the Gables Accountability Project (GAP) filed a lawsuit against the City of Coral Gables, Wawa and developer, Redevco, challenging the proposed construction of a Wawa gas station across the street from George Washington Carver Elementary School. GAP is “a Florida non-profit organization supported by Carver parents and other members of the community.”
During the last hearing on this case in January of this year, Judge Hanzman rendered his ruling by stating that, “to the extent that agreement confers upon the City Attorney authority to modify or approve the modification of the site plan or PAD, it is self-anointed authority that has absolutely no legal effect because one cannot delegate to himself the authority that he does not have.” He then stated that the actions by the City Attorney were “blatantly illegal.”
In its complaint filed in April, Wawa wrote that “the 2021 Lawsuit prompted Wawa and Bahamian Village to enter into a Third Amendment to Land Lease Agreement. That Amendment recognizes that the 2021 Lawsuit, if successful, ‘would adversely affect Wawa’s development of the Property’ and, therefore, provides that if the 2021 Lawsuit is not fully and finally resolved by February 28, 2022, Wawa may terminate the parties’ lease upon thirty (30) days prior written notice.”
In a statement, GAP reacted to the decision: “Sometimes, the little guys and gals win. This week, we received notice that WAWA quietly walked away from its plans to build a gas station on the empty lot in front of Carver Elementary. The surprise reversal came in response to a lawsuit filed last year by the Gables Accountability Project (GAP), a group of Carver parents and community residents who sued the City of Coral Gables, WAWA and the site’s developer for approving a gas station without any public input. In a parallel lawsuit, WAWA in February sued the developer, the Bahamian Village, to recover a $525,000 bond after giving notice it didn’t want to go forward with the project. The Bahamian Village initially refused and litigation ensued. Finally, on June 29, Miami Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman signed off on a settlement by which the two parties agreed that the lease was formally terminated, as of March 30. This is a major victory for the grassroots community organizing against some deep-pocketed, politically connected business interests. It means there won’t be a six-pump gas station and convenience store less than 300 feet from Carver classrooms. However, the hard work isn’t done. GAP’s lawsuit is still pending and more important than ever: Its aim was never just to put the brakes on a gas station but uphold the public’s right to have a say on important land use decisions. The decision to develop a WAWA was the result of an earlier 2017 legal settlement that gave the City of Coral Gables authority to sign off administratively on modifications to the site plan, thus skirting public input—something Judge Hanzman said was ‘blatantly illegal.’ Originally designated to be affordable housing, plans for the 1.7-acre property have been repeatedly altered over two decades of failed proposals. As we move forward, GAP will redouble its support for other members of the community in finding the best use of land, one that honors the West Grove’s rich, threatened history as one of Miami’s oldest Black neighborhoods.”
GAP’s attorney, David Winker, said to Gables Insider that “this is a great win for the rule of law and for the community. It’s a shame Gables residents have to work so hard to get the City to follow its own laws, but we look forward to helping turn this into a win for everyone, including the Lola B. Walker Homeowners Association and MacFarlane Historic District residents.”
Trees Cut By Redevco
In a move to defy the City, Redevco had cut down all trees located on the property. The County served Redevco with a notice of violation for violating the County’s tree protection zone ordinance.
Winker told Gables Insider “we are going to fight to replace those trees that were cut down.”
What Comes Next
The future of the property and the project will now need to be reconsidered by Redevco. Redevco currently holds a mortgage over Bahamian Village, which has been amended nine times for a total of $2.3 million. A sum the neighborhood would have trouble paying back without a project on the lot.
The property is also Miami-Dade County land, which could still be retaken by the County. However, there is one potential option on the table.
Bahamian Museum of Arts and Culture
Over the last few months, members of the community, including Gables Insider‘s Ariel Fernandez, have been in contact with the office of U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson regarding the possibility of using the property as the location for Wilson’s Bahamian Museum of Arts and Culture project.
In a letter to Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago in January, Wilson stated that “last year, my office requested from Congress $2.2 million in Community Project Funding for the Bahamian Museum of Arts and Culture – a longstanding dream of the Coconut Grove neighborhood straddling Coral Gables and the City of Miami. With the support of City of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell and the Thelma Gibson Health Initiative, I recently walked the West Grove scouting for a future home for the museum. The creation of this center, in West Grove along with much needed nearby retail or affordable housing, would deliver both an arts infusion and economic development engine to the community.”
In a statement to Gables Insider, Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago stated, “finding a resolution to this situation has been a priority for me. I appreciate Congresswoman Wilson’s proposal. I look forward to working with all parties to deliver a project/open space that compliments this important historic community.”
Until now, the possibility of considering this idea was difficult as there was a project and tenant contract in place. With the Wawa contract falling though, it opens a path for the City to work with Redevco and Bahamian Village to continue to expand on its high cultural offerings, by becoming the home for this important museum.