Coral Gables is getting a much-needed fire house to improve response times in the mid-southeastern part of the city, including Cocoplum, Gables Estates and Hammock Lakes. At the January 28th regular City Commission Meeting, City Manager Peter Iglesias presented the option to the consider purchasing property located at 1325 Sunset Drive (in between the Cocoplum Women’s Club and the Riviera Presbyterian Church). The item passed unanimously on first reading.
In 2018, former City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark brought the commission a proposed purchase agreement to buy a house on Cartagena Circle paying twice the appraised value for the property costing taxpayers roughly $2 million after grants were applied. In addition to the financial impact the proposal to place a fire station in a residential neighborhood caused uproar with surrounding neighbors.
The 2018 proposal was not approved by the City Commission at the time as it failed to acquire the necessary 4/5th vote required due to the large amount of expenditure. Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli, Vice Mayor Frank Quesada and Commissioner Keon voted in strong support of the then manager’s recommendation to move forward with the Cartagena property despite resident concerns.
“A little patience goes a long way” said Vice Mayor Vince Lago after voting in favor of the Sunset Drive Fire House. He added, “Mena and I voted against the Cartagena Fire House for a variety of reasons including a hefty price tag of $4 million and more importantly located in a residential area where residents have long complained about traffic volume and noise. Adding emergency vehicles there was not the right place.”
“As leaders it is incumbent on us to be vigilant stewards of our City’s finances, to show restraint when necessary, and to insist on finding a better solution.” said Commissioner Mena.
Fast forward to July 2019, current City Manager Peter Iglesias obtained an initial appraisal and provided a letter of intent to Riviera Presbyterian Church, the ‘seller’, for $2,010,000. The purchase is contingent upon receiving a state grant of $1,500,000 to offset 75% of the purchase price. The remaining $510,000 will come from the land purchase and acquisition fund which is funded by city impact fees.
The fire house will be built in already special use zoned parcel of land, in between a Church and a the Cocoplum Women’s Club that hosts weddings and special events on a weekly basis. Just the down block is the community favorite Whip-N-Dip Ice Cream Parlor and a block north is Riviera Day School. Towards the east down Sunset Drive is Sunset Elementary School.
Part of the state grant includes a park component. The city plans to build a fire house themed park behind the fire station which will provide a fun environment for families and will serve as a buffer to the homes on San Ignacio Ave. The City will inform and solicit input from the neighbors regarding the design of both the firehouse and park. They will hold neighborhood meetings that will be held as part of the subsequent site approval process.
“Our City Manager Peter Iglesias and our Fire Chief Marcos De La Rosa deserve a lot of credit for continuing to find a solution and an option that addressed our strategic objective as well as our concerns with the prior property” added Mena.
The City Manager envisions the fire house to look as residential as possible to blend into the community with minimal impact. The ingress and egress of the fire units will take place on Sunset Drive.
Sue Kawalerski, president of the Coral Gables Neighbors Association who was outspoken about her opposition to the Cartagena Circle fire house proposition now supports the new option.
“The commission and city staff did very well in finding this perfect location for having a fire rescue house in this area. It’s compatible with the surrounding properties.” said Kawalerski.
For more detail on the fire house and purchase click here.