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W. Allen Morris’ Ponce Park Residences had its first reading at the Coral Gables City Commission on July 25th, and three of the five members of the Commission decided to give Morris another opportunity to bring the project back.
As you may remember, Ponce Park Residences was originally proposed as a 179-foot 17-story tower with 161 residential units and over 18,000 square feet of commercial, at the corner of University Drive and Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The developer was requesting the vacation and relocation of University Drive and the City’s vacation of an alley.
Although there have been changes to the project, the project remains well outside what is currently allowed by the Zoning code and still counts on taxpayer owned TDRs in order to build the tower.
Presentations & Public Comment
As with the numerous Planning and Zoning Board meetings the project had before, the discussion featured a presentation by Morris’ attorney Anthony De Yurre, followed by the City Planner and a lengthy public comment section.
Residents reiterated their concerns about the projects height, impact to their neighborhood, traffic, parking and safety on their streets. As with the Planning and Zoning Board meeting, no residents in the surrounding neighborhood spoke out in favor of the project.
Then came time for the Commission to discuss the item.
Commissioner Jorge L. Fors, Jr., opened the discussion stating that, “as proposed I can’t vote for this building at 12-stories.” “I am not opposed to allowing some negotiation with regards to the height,” he added. Also expressing that, “I also like the design.”
Mayor Vince Lago was clear about his opposition, stating that “I will not support this project at 149 feet.” He explained that the developer is asking for double what he is allowed.
Lago had been told by staff that the project could be built as-of-right to 77 feet. This is not factual. The project has a 50 foot as-of-right height, making the project three times what it is allowed in the Zoning Code. In order to increase the height, the project must secure the FAR from the City’s alley they seek vacation of and Mediterranean Bonus.
Commissioner Rhonda Anderson explained that, “we spent a lot of time putting together a Blue Ribbon Committee to decide what we wanted out of the Mediterranean Bonus. We didn’t want an interpretation. We didn’t want a reinterpretation or a more contemporary view. This is the same slippery slope that occurred in years past that resulted in the Zubi building getting a Mediterranean Bonus.” She added that, “Just having expensive rock on the exterior of the building doesn’t make it Mediterranean, its the architecture that goes into it. “
Commissioner Kirk R. Menendez stated that “this project started off on the wrong foot.” He expressed his request to both sides, “let us find a balance.” He also mentioned that he believes “it’s a quality design.”
Vice Mayor Michael Mena explained that “I like the architecture. The density, 80 units is appropriate.” He added, “I am willing to go above 77 feet….I know people regret the height of the Plaza, but it is there and we can’t ignore the fact that its there. I think this in comparison to that, and if it were to come down in height, I think is reasonable across from that project.”
“We are looking for a project that makes sense.” said Lago. “The residents are flexible, but there has to be a public benefit,” he added.
Substantial Change Ban
Menendez asked City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos for guidance on what steps they could take.
“If they modify the project, they have to go through the process again.” interjected Lago.
De Yurre requested that it only go back to the Board of Architects if the project is reduced. He asked that the project be deferred.
Residents who are frustrated with the continued concessions by the City to the developer after numerous bites of the apple at the Planning and Zoning Board, voiced their disapproval. Mena called them out.
Motion To Deny
Soler Ramos explained that substantial changes to the project would result in a ban of the project from returning to the Commission for six months. Lago stated that for him, this would be a significant change, as he expects the project would need to be under 120 feet. He pressed the Commission for an up or down vote.
He then passed the gavel to the Vice Mayor and motioned to deny the project. Anderson seconded.
Fors Needs To Go Campaign
Fors stated he had a place to be and would need to leave ASAP, as he had a campaign event for his campaign for the Miami-Dade County Commission. Fors had left the June 28th Commission meeting two hours early due to a campaign meet and greet, missing several votes. To his credit, this meeting had been scheduled for July 11th and rescheduled at the Mayor’s request. On this project, he added that they should be given the deferral.
Motion To Defer
Mena motioned and Menendez seconded for a deferral.
Mena advocated on behalf of the developer needing enough time to return to the Commission, as this was the first time before the developer received direction on what changes needed to be made.
In the end, Fors, Mena and Menendez voted in favor of the deferral. Anderson and Lago voted against it.
Numerous residents reached out to Gables Insider following the meeting in disgust with the process. They explained that the changes discussed at the meeting had been suggested at each of the Planning and Zoning Board meetings and at other meetings Morris’ team had with residents. Neighbors explained they feel they are being dragged along in this process and they disagree with Mena’s assertion that this is the first time that Morris’ team gets direction on this project to scale it back.
The project is now back in the hands of Morris and his team who will bring back a modified version.
For background on the trajectory followed by this project, here are previous articles Gables Insider has written about this project:
- Controversial Ponce Park Residences Heads To Commission For First Reading
- Planning And Zoning Board Special Meeting, Requested By City Attorney, Yields Another Vote Against Ponce Park Residences
- Ponce Park Residences To Get Fourth Bite Of The Apple At Planning & Zoning Board, At Request Of City Attorney
- Morris’ Controversial Ponce Park Residences Once Again Fails To Secure Support Of Planning And Zoning Board
- Meeting Today To Discuss New 17-Story Development On Ponce + Gift Of City Land
- Second Time’s The Charm? Staff Asks Planning And Zoning Board To Approve All Developer Requests For Massive Project On Wednesday
- Planning & Zoning Board Unanimously Votes To Deny 17-story Tower
- Staff Ignores Moratorium, Pushes For Gifted Land To Developer At Wednesday’s Planning & Zoning Meeting.