“Mayor Lago’s Controversial Proposal: A Parking Garage in Coral Way Amidst St. Philip’s School Remodeling Dispute”

Javier Baños

Baños is the Editor of Gables Insider

In the heart of Coral Gables, a proposed update to St. Philip’s Episcopal School’s site plan has sparked a contentious debate within the community, displayed during the January 9, 2024 Commission Meeting. The church, a cornerstone of the area for over 70 years, has proposed replacing an existing one-story building with a modern structure of similar design. However, this seemingly straightforward request has unearthed deeper tensions with neighbors over the church’s growing property footprint.

Since its inception, the church, nestled between Coral Way and Salvador Park, has seen considerable expansion of the real property it owns on the block it occupies. Notably, in the early 2000s, the maximum student body count was established, and the church has since assured that this number will not increase. Despite this, the church has acquired adjacent homes, leaving only one privately owned home on the Coral Way side of the block. This expansion has sparked concerns among neighbors regarding the church’s future intentions and its impact on their quality of life.

Waldo Toyos, a local resident, voiced strong opposition, criticizing the church for poorly managing the increased neighborhood traffic, particularly during school drop-off and pickup times. He lamented the damage to city swales and the burden placed on residents to maintain these public spaces. Toyos’s concerns echo a broader sentiment among neighbors who feel the church’s expansion has encroached on their quality of life.

Countering these concerns, a vocal parishioner interviewed for this article and a church representative emphasized that the increased neighborhood use is a result of Salvador Park’s popularity, not the church’s activities. They firmly denied any plans to expand the school’s enrollment and maintained that the church’s use of residential properties has been consistent with historical practices. The church’s stance is that it has not deviated from its historical role in the community, a factor many residents were aware of when purchasing their homes. The Church further defended its efforts to address parking concerns, which included the use of valet service during Church events and other mitigation efforts conscious of its limited parking and the effect on neighbors.

At its November 8th, 2023 meeting, the Planning and Zoning Board discussed the school’s drop-off and pick-up operations, enrollment, and parking. During public comment, residents who live nearby on Coral Way also voiced their concerns about vehicles parked on Cordova. The Board recommended approval of the proposed building structure with additional conditions that the Church be responsible to coordinate with Public Works to install and maintain landscaping and “No Parking Signs,” for swales on both sides of Cordova St, from Coral Way to Andalusia Ave. The landscaping must limit the availability of parking.

Amid these escalating tensions, Mayor Lago proposed a bold solution: constructing a parking garage on church-owned property along Coral Way. While the seriousness of this proposal remains unclear, it fueled the Commission’s debate over potential resolutions, reflecting the complexity of balancing community needs.

Commissioner Menendez and Vice Mayor Anderson offered various solutions, including enhancing underutilized spaces near the south side of the park to alleviate parking woes. Their approach aimed at a holistic resolution, mediating between the differing perspectives to find a mutually beneficial solution.

This ongoing debate raises critical questions about the integration of community institutions like St. Philip’s into predominantly residential areas. The church, a treasured part of Coral Gables’ educational and spiritual landscape, must navigate the challenges of urban expansion while maintaining harmony with its neighbors. The improvements to Salvador Park, including the addition of new equipment and Pickleball Courts have made the park more popular, accentuating the parking issues that are a natural consequence of the various uses of the area. The question arises whether the issue is specifically with St Philips, or if it reflects a broader need for additional park and recreational spaces in the City Beautiful.

The Commission’s decision to hold a public meeting invites all stakeholders to collaboratively seek solutions. This inclusive approach aims to lessen neighborhood burdens, preserve park usage, and support the continued use and contribution of St. Philip’s to the Coral Gables community. As this situation unfolds, it not only impacts the immediate community but also sets a precedent for how similar conflicts might be addressed in residential areas facing institutional expansion.


22 thoughts on ““Mayor Lago’s Controversial Proposal: A Parking Garage in Coral Way Amidst St. Philip’s School Remodeling Dispute”

  1. I can not participate now in discussion – it is very occupied. I will return – I will necessarily express the opinion on this question.

  2. My children graduated from St Philip’s School and during their childhood Salvadore Park was part of their lives . After five decades we are still part of this wonderful neighborhood .
    Yes I agree that the park should be restricted to the residents .t

  3. My children graduated from St Philip’s School and during their childhood Salvadore Park was part of their lives . After five decades we are still part of this wonderful neighborhood .
    Yes I agree that the park should be restricted to the residents .

  4. I couldn’t agree more with “More Parks”. Let’s FILL our city with high quality parks like Salvador. We could not spend $$ on 5000-10000 sq foot micro sites, and invest in our larger areas of land already available.
    Some location ideas include:
    1. William H. Kerdyk, Jr., and Family Park
    2. Enhance Fairchild and/or Matheson Hammock Park – both significantly under utilized.
    3. Coral Gables SHS – already a high trafficked area, let’s partner with them to make a large recreational area with pickle ball courts, gliders, and other to be shared use with the community.
    4. UM – partner with UM to build a world class park on their property
    5. Golf Courses – partner with an existing course in a SAFE area that could be utilized for recreation
    Many more – let’s discuss!

  5. I am currently visiting a spectacularly beautiful city of San Sebastian in Northern Spain to witness a yearly cultural Basque festival called Tamborada, It is well attended by locals and outsiders en masse. The historical city is located on the Atlantic with most of the population, hotels, restaurants, surrounded within yards from the ocean.
    All the parking garages are built several stories underground with 300 to 500 spaces.in each.
    I have not seen a single above ground unsightly parking garage.

    I know it costs more to build an underground garage, but I wish we would consider this alternative. I don’t think there are buildings around the property in question that will collapse while constructing a garage.

  6. I agree with the other Jessica that the park has the greatest parking demand. I know we cannot restrict access due to funding mechanisms, nor should we; as much as some would like, we do not live in a gated community. What if, we had a beautiful network of protected garden-like bike lanes we could ride our bikes with our families to the park and didn’t need to drive? What a lovely family activity!

  7. Salvadore Park is the main cause. Influencers have popularized the “free” park and people come from all over the county. It makes it difficult for those of us who live in the area to enjoy because it’s always so crowded. If we the Restrict access of the park to Gables residents, at least during peak times, these issues would be fixed.

  8. Again complaints but no solutions offered. All the Eco friendlies want parks and a church with its school is essential to the community.

    What wrong with a parking garage that on off hours can be used by the park goers.

    And who cares who the developer is as long as it goes to a bid

  9. If you think you’ve got it bad at St. Phillip, try coming around the streets west of Riviera when Gables High lets out! Signs are ignored. Also, something should be done about the pick up swales. The cranes used to take the lawn debris and other waste leave huge holes. This is either a byproduct of the equipment and/or poorly trained and/or careless employees. I’ve filled mine in and re-sodded several times on my own dime, only to see the swale ruined again in a few months. Finally, the delivery trucks (Amazon, USPS, FedEx, and UPS) regularly destroy finely maintained yards by running up on lawns. They also speed through the neighborhood, cutting corners (causing more lawn damage), driving the wrong way through traffic calming circles, and generally creating a hazard for pedestrians. These delivery services should be better regulated and held accountable for the damages they cause.

  10. Always the easiest way out, to criticize a propose solution but never coming back with a proposal with another solution!!!! Will the building of this parking garage be beneficial to both the Church & Salvatore Park parking situation? It could be a Mediterranean structure that will blend in with the neighborhood similar to the Museum parking garage. We need more solutions, exchange of ideas and less criticism without proposing solutions. NOT an Eminent Domain action the Church would have to approve the use, sale or lease of the property.

  11. Maybe the church should sell its properties for a large profit and move somewhere it can build to its heart’s content. Otherwise, it should try being a good neighbor that keeps its promises. I cannot imagine the mayor was serious about the parking garage. No one wants Coral Way looking like Kendall Drive near Temple Beth Am.

    As for the park, users should simply bike or walk to the park rather than drive because there is limited automobile parking. The city is somewhat bicycle friendly; perhaps users should, to paraphrase Freddie Mercury, get on their bikes and ride. Stop using a car for everything. It is silly to drive somewhere to enjoy the outdoors. You can get even more outdoor time biking to and from wherever you are going.

    As for the swales, the city has to do something. Someone mentioned the problems with drop off at the high school. The problem is that adjoining property owners don’t know the rules and are under the misimpression swales are “their property.” They are not; they are city property. Get a sign if you don’t want people parking on the swale. Remember, however, the sign only prohibits parking/stopping/standing between the two driveways on either side of it (unless it says it applies to the whole block). For years I’ve had owners bitch at me when I parked on the swale to take my kids into Sunset Elementary, Carver Middle and Coral Gables High School. If they have a sign, I don’t park there. If they don’t, I park there (unless I think they’re crazy enough to damage the car while I’m gone). Learn the rules folks and be nice when interacting with each other.

  12. This just reaffirms how myopic Lago is in attempting to run this city. The obvious problem is Salvadore Park and not the church. Any blind man could see that. SMH.

  13. Since the renovations to Salvador Park, the area understandably gets a lot more traffic due to the increased number of park visitors. Salvador is the only park in the City with a large variety of new playground equipment, shelters for parties, and easy access to other amenities like pickleball, tennis, and restrooms. I take my kids there at least once a week, because there is nothing like it anywhere else in the City, and we do not live nearby. We would go elsewhere, if there were other parks like it somewhere else.

  14. The swale issue is an ongoing problem everywhere in the Gables. I live a few houses away from Gables Sr High, they have made great efforts to keep parents off the swales it still happens everyday. We have a patrol on these streets daily. They do help with crime watch and as long as they’re seen on your street the cars will move. We have to put up little flags and run our sprinklers at dismissal time. The delivery and pool service trucks are also to blame.The swales that look nice are those with 2 feet of rock at the edge of the swale. The lawns look manicured and express our city beautiful motto. I propose the city look into this near schools and public parks. Let’s put our tax money to work for those of us that pay it.

  15. It is easy to criticize a proposed solution. No solution is perfect. It is a compromise looking for the least worst alternative.

    It is interesting that neither Baños nor the people commenting on the article have proposed a better solution than Lago’s.

    I would recommend Baños to start focusing in adding value by proposing better alternatives than bashing anything that Lago does or says.

  16. Coral Way is a historic road. As it is, between Amazon, Fed Ex, UPS and the postal service, the swales are nothing more than rock pits or mud slides in front of many homes. The continued garbage pick ups only make larger holes. The City needs to have some mechanism in place to refill the wholes left by the garbage removal cranes. In addition, allow for the planting of shrubbery to assist with preventing soil erosion and mud sluffing onto the sidewalks.

    A parking garage on Coral Way in the heart of this residential community is simply unacceptable.

  17. That fact that the proposal states “build a parking lot WITHIN church grounds” should show that is in unjust. Does Mayor Lago not believe in property rights?

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