Morris’ Ponce Park Residences Lives To See Another Day, Thanks To 3-2 Commission Vote

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
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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.

The Project

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.

Commission Discussion

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.

Resident Reaction

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.

Background

For background on the trajectory followed by this project, here are previous articles Gables Insider has written about this project:

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18 thoughts on “Morris’ Ponce Park Residences Lives To See Another Day, Thanks To 3-2 Commission Vote

  1. It happens that the Commission have deferred this application but the Boards voted on it and there was a problem when it came to the ordinance protecting the alley through the Coral Gables historic city plan.

    What should capture everyone’s attention at the moment is the Planning & Zoning Board meeting on June 8, 2022 described here in clear detail.

    https://gablesinsider.com/morris-controversial-ponce-park-residences-once-again-fails-to-secure-support-of-planning-and-zoning-board

    Everyone take note of all board member statements and the voting record of each on that date with regard to the alley (item E-1).

    Members of the Planning & Zoning Board must have known about the historic city plan and its adoption in 2018 by the City Commission. They must have understood it is a legal ordinance.

    Nevertheless FOUR of the board members voted YES to forward a recommendation to the Commission to vacate the alley (allowing the developer to build bigger and higher) in contradiction of the legal ordinance. How is this possible?

    The alley passed 4-1 (YES: Revuelta, Withers, Behar and Aizenstat. NO: Miro). Bucelo was absent. Torre left early.

    The board members that voted to vacate the alley did so under either of the following circumstances.

    Those FOUR are either ignorant of the historic city plan (an unacceptable failure in their responsibility as members of the board) OR knowingly ignored the legal ordinance.

    Either is reason to call for the IMMEDIATE dismissal and replacement of Revuelta, Withers, Behar, and Aizenstat.

    Their conflicts of interest are the unacceptable cause

  2. Double Crossing Turncoats,
    There is an ethics issue here which needs to be reported to Dade County Ethics Commission. If he voted for the sale and made an incredible amount of money, then it needs to be reported. He should have stepped away from the vote. If you know so much please report him to Ethics. His laugh can turn into a frown if found guilty. Please do not let it rest and allow these things to continue in Coral Gables. Please. It costs nothing to report him.

  3. Menendez is laughing all the way to the bank thanks to his developer as s kissing skills. Anybody interested in knowing go to Zillow.com and check out sold homes in C G zip 33134, 300 block of Catalonia & Malaga Ave (hint 1.86m & couple of 2.0m) on both blocks for the Alexan Crafts Project.

  4. Keep sending your emails to all the commissioners, pack their in boxes with emails. Call them. Let them know you oppose the zoning change. Let them realize it’s not just a few residents, but hundreds of residents who oppose this over development. Today it’s Ponce Park Towers. If we let Allen Morris over build, the giant structure becomes precedent for more and more.

  5. Dear Miami-Dade State Attorney:

    It appears that certain Coral Gables officials are …

  6. Karelia et al, please fight to eliminate immediately the Med Bonuses. Metro Miami extends from Florida City to Palm Beach. We have 5 million people living in the tri-county area. We don’t need to be giving concessions to developers. We no longer live in a sleepy ghost town recovering from the 1926 hurricane. The Mediterranean Bonus was OK for another, economically depressed era. No Bonus = Less Height! We need to make the change for a better future. It seems MORONIC to not do so. We need to save our energy & time to fight other issues.

  7. I am so tired of fighting this bought and sold crooked Commission, and their crooked ways. Ordanice #2018-13 is what it is in our City. You all want legal action against you? We the people of Coral Gables are sick and tired of what you have allowed in our City. We are sick of you not listening and supporting us. We are sick of a horrible City Manager and Attorney. I hope any of our attorney residents will help us recall Menendez and sue the City for not keeping their fiduciary responsibility to uphold ordanices and ignoring code. Those 3 commissioners and related staff are despicable and it will come back to you. This is our property you want to give away. That is illegal as it belongs to the residents of CG.

  8. FORBID OR RESTRICT THE ALLEY GIVEAWAY.
    NO ALLEY. NO PROBLEM.
    [Additionally, the zoning code for that project only allows 50 feet NOT 77 feet]

    An ORDINANCE is a law or decree by a municipality. An ordinance is a local law. Usually ordinances forbid or restrict some type of activity.

    The City Commission has the duty to abide by its Ordinance and “forbid or restrict” any activity that veers from the decree.

    The Coral Gables city plan is a local historic landmark, officially recognized in 2018 by a unanimous vote of the City Commission [Resolution #2217-240 and Ordinance #2018-13].

    And with that designation, George Merrick’s planned city — with its “right-of-ways, parkways, roadways, alleys, open space, parks, swales, reservations, sidewalks, waterways…” — is legally protected by Ordinance.

    Residents must continue to hold elected City Commission accountable to keep its duty and abide by its Ordinance #2018-13 to “forbid or restrict” any activity that veers from the decree.

    Oppose any public land GIVEAWAY — specifically historically protected areas such as ALLEYS– by using the power of local law and ordinance legislation.

  9. a regular, tax-paying citizen in CG (you, me) can barely get a permit to add a garage, a bedroom or a bathroom. even if within code for setbacks, etc etc. what color you paint your house is regulated by code. what galls me is the developers’ expectation that code will be simply set aside for them. as a regular tax paying citizen, i know that would be a false expectation. the code Mr Morris is looking to violate is 2yrs old. this is not a 1960s era relic. is TWO YEARS old. in the world of codes, that’s practically yesterday. Commission allows this violation, code becomes a JOKE. maybe it already is. neighbors are right. I’m typically pro-development with many years spent in the Comm Real Estate business, allocating capital all over the world to all types of projects. but what Ive seen here in CG is crazy. why write a code only to violate it 2yrs later? anger is usually directed at the commissioners, but i listened via Zoom to every minute of the hearing on monday. i thought the mayorv& commissioners did a great job, just having the patience to listen

  10. With all the corruption here it will be for sure built.
    However why don’t you talk about the big project on the vacant lot at the corner between Menores and Mendoza and how that project will affect parking for all the residents of the old 1920’s buildings on both streets? Why are you ignoring what’s happening there?

  11. Try building on your residential lot an inch over what the code is allowed. They city will literally make you knock it down or won’t approve your plans. Commercial developers need to be held to the same standard. Period. End. Of. Story.

  12. Menendez you sir, are one big fat liar. Everything you said during the campaign, you have not supported or acted on. I can only say you are one big creep. Mena I expect this behavior from as he has been a low life for awhile. Fors, we will do everything we can to let the voters of Dade County know how you do not support your citizens, and you will not destroy more of Dade County as you have in Coral Gables. Hope you like your unemployment. How and I mean how can you all support a project that 99% of the residents are against? Your oath is to support us, not greedy developers. And for Mena to say ” people regret the height of the Plaza, but it is there and we can not ignore the fact that it is there”. What kind of a twisted remark is that? We have a height restriction and that is the fact, this is not selective zoning. This building is against everything the Gables is about with more empty retail space. I think a recall should be in effect for Menendez and Mena / Fors need to be shown the door NOW !!! Listen to us, we do not want this project, and we are the people of Coral Gables.

  13. It will be built. Remember who not to vote for in the next election- Menendez- in the pockets of the developer and Mena- I would rather hold my nose and vote for your opponent- the guy who says he is an outsider but is the biggest insider with his wife in the legislature and him a lobbyist – maybe he will do less damage than you. The building is across the street from Ponce Plaza – directly – so if that monstrosity was built – why not this one ? Where is Anderson on this? Quiet as a mouse too.

  14. Residents have to keep on going fighting in this case, but the show of force was significant. Every since seat is as taken, and there were people standing.

    It was unfortunate that they postponed the vote, as there were 3 votes to deny, but this is more of the same.

    I wish the commission discussion had included a resident representative, rather than a conversation between the commission and the developer. Mena was annoyed by the booing, but that was a byproduct of allowing the developer to answer question without the residents responding to each assertion.

    I will be there next meeting on this issue. I encourage everyone to go next time.

  15. Fors has always viewed his position in the Gables as a stepping stone, he’s never cared.
    Mena has always been a developer’s puppet.
    Menendez is just confirming what we feared when he campaigned.
    Two will be gone soon so hopefully they don’t get away with a final additional damage as a parting gift!!!

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