Coral Gables Grapples with the Future of Urban Development in Open Green Space Initiative

Javier Baños

Baños is the Editor of Gables Insider

A recent Sunshine meeting, convened on November 30, 2023, by Commissioner Kirk Menendez and the City Commission, sparked a lively debate over a new proposed zoning program aimed at enhancing open space within the city’s Central Business District. This area, a vital part of Downtown Coral Gables, finds itself at the center of a controversy that balances urban development with communal needs.

Put simply, the program proposes a trade-off: developers can increase building heights by about two stories in the redevelopment of existing midsize structures or new sites, raising the maximum height from about 8 to possibly 10 stories. In return, they must allocate about 15% of the lot area to green space, supplementing the existing 10% requirement. According to the City Planner, this could lead to a significant 25% green space designation for redeveloped sites. The initiative dovetails with the Mediterranean bonus incentive, the natural scaling of architectural features that do not count towards height requirements, and the potential for purchasing Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs), possibly leading to a very tall “midsize” building and aims to address the scarcity of green areas in an increasingly urbanized downtown.

Commissioner Menendez champions a citizen-focused approach, engaging in a listening tour of resident concerns. His expressed goal is to avoid the “Brickelling” of Downtown Coral Gables. The Commission emphasized the need for more green areas, viewing the initiative as a crucial step in aligning urban growth with environmental sustainability.

The program, however, has its critics. Some fear it may become an overused tool that grants disproportionate rights to developers without delivering significant public benefits. These concerns center on the potential imbalance between the added building height and the actual green space provided. Skeptics worry that the increased density could strain city infrastructure and diminish the quality of life, citing the potential for more massive structures and reduced open areas for residents. Doubters argue that this could lead to an imbalance, where the densification of the cityscape might overshadow the intended public benefits of additional open spaces.

The discourse has also highlighted a divide in understanding the complexities of zoning laws. Vice Mayor Anderson, a supporter of the effort, in particular, has been vocal in her critique of residents’ grasp of these complexities, a stance that has been perceived by some as dismissive and argumentative to common worries of the citizenry.

Nonetheless, Commissioner Menendez makes a compelling point in this debate. He argues that, given the escalating costs of land and the extensive development rights previously granted, developers currently lack the incentive to voluntarily expand green spaces. Menendez suggests that without some form of encouragement or benefit— a ‘carrot’ to entice them—developers are unlikely to choose a route that prioritizes open space in their projects, leading to more potentially boxy Soviet urbanization.

The Commission faces a challenging decision: balancing the need for urban development with the preservation of green spaces. While the program’s supporters underscore its potential to transform and rejuvenate the city’s landscape, critics caution against unintended consequences that could alter the city’s character.

This controversy is more than a mere zoning issue; it reflects a broader dialogue about the future of urban living. It’s a test case for how cities like Coral Gables can grow responsibly while remaining true to their community’s values and needs. As the commission and residents weigh the pros and cons, the outcome of this decision will likely have lasting implications for the city’s development trajectory and its commitment to balancing growth with quality of life.


8 thoughts on “Coral Gables Grapples with the Future of Urban Development in Open Green Space Initiative

  1. The Dream team
    When George E. Merrick set about to establish a new and wonder-city in the only American Tropics, he surrounded himself at the very beginning, with men of specialized knowledge and training, of rare judgment and taste in things artistic and architectural.
    “Coral Gables Facts” November 1928
    The “Dream” Team we have today has no training, no rare judgment or good taste!
    The only thing this team has is GREED!

  2. The Dream Team
    When Geroge E. Merrick set about to establish a new and wonder-city in the only American Tropics, he surrounded himself at the very beginning with men of specialized knowledge and training, of rare judgment and taste in things artistic and architectural.
    “Coral Gables Facts” November 1926
    The “Dream” Team we have today, has no training, definitely no rare judgment or good taste!
    The only thing this team has is GREED!

  3. NO BRAINER SOLUTION: Repeal all Mediterranean Bonuses to Developers. City & County officials CONFLICTED. They care a little, or some pretend to care, about sustainable green urban development, yet at the same time want more construction so that they collect more in RE taxes, permits, impact fees, etc. More Development equals more money in government coffers. Pure & Simple Solution: NO MORE MED BONUS! Instead of promoting development, we could make the city MILLIONS with civil violation, no-points, red light cameras, even in residential areas. Half of Miami passes through the Gables everyday. Won’t happen because immoral, connected constituents complain to their buddy politicians and police when they get fined. People in power pander to the scum majority to keep their positions, or the generous super wealthy who shower them with gifts.

  4. Brickell has the 3rd hottest heat island effect in the country. I live in the Gables and work downtown. The heat from the concrete is real! It can be 14 degrees hotter downtown than at my house. We need to rebrand the “City Beautiful.” to the “City Livable” and plan accordingly. I have had commissioners swoon over the beautifully conceived architectural projects without appreciating how those projects add congestion, cars, increased heat island impacts and dimmish quality of life for everyone in the end. According to Blue Zones, everyday mobility and 15-min cities help people live better longer lives. Instead, our City has abandoned safe bike path options and are now poised to criminalize allowing students to walk to school. This will not make our community healthier or happier.

  5. Some squares from double width downtown sidewalks can be replaced with trees. In other areas we may have to reduce a bit of parking to provide “bump outs” for trees. We do have substantial garage parking. These measures can help reduce the heat and make the city more walkable. Giralda and Miracle Mile aren’t technically green space, but they are lovely open areas that many enjoy. Currently the limit is 6 stories with the max 8 stories with the med bonus “sweetener”. Some developers are currently asking for more height. If we allow the 10 stories written into the code, some developers will ask for even more height. More green space sounds great, but at what price? The city should look to what it owns to create open accessible ares first.

  6. Create a partnership with Coral Gables Preparatory Academy for joint use of our public Coral Gables Elementary School on Ponce. This is a large open space that can be used outside of school hours the same way that Ponce Park is used by the adjacent school. Stop giving incentives for private spaces that won’t be used. Look at the Lifetime or Paseo buildings on US-1 as examples of wasted open space with private art and unusable private space not for the public.

    Mediterranean Architecture is our Public Art!!! Promote great Mediterranean architecture and end the private art collection tax.

  7. Once again, we have a zoning plan [that presumably addressed these concerns] and here we go again, institutionalizing ways to violate it. WHY? and I get Menendez’s point, but it smacks me as if he’s saying ”sorry we screwed up allowing all this stuff, but now we can kind of fix it. at least he’s trying. more than I can say for Lago, Anderson and these jokers who ‘ve been there too long.

  8. The same argument can be said for residential construction. Two story houses perching over one story houses, void of privacy. Reminds me of that mice experiment, multiplying & living together in small space. How did that turn out?

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