Dr. Karelia Martinez Carbonell, President of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables
No, the City is not starring in the next Star Wars film, but it may have lost its light source—“government in the sunshine” that is.
According to several issues this year, it seems the City decided to pull the blinds and shut the lights. Open and transparent discussions are best face-to-face, but the City went dark.
One example of several behind closed doors conversations, is the zoning issue affecting our City’s historic downtown. The item, brought by staff to the Commission in October, passed on first reading but bypassing public comment. A zoning code clean up became a zoning code rewrite. It turns out residents were in the dark and only recently learned of the proposed zoning changes affecting the historical integrity of Miracle Mile and the Crafts Section.
Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law was enacted in 1967. Florida’s Sunshine Law, a series of laws put in place to guarantee the public’s access to governmental records, includes an open meetings rule: Public boards have to conduct their business in public and notify people before they do.
Due to the circumstances referenced and the fate of the historic downtown in jeopardy, a devoted HPACG member made it possible for the organization to hire legal counsel. The objective is to pursue all avenues available to stop zoning decisions negatively impacting Miracle Mile and the Crafts Section.
Letter submitted on January 4, 2020 by attorney David Winker to City Commissioners, City Attorney, and City Manager
RE: February 9, 2021 Commission Meeting on Zoning Changes
I represent the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables, a non-profit organization founded in 1991 to promote understanding of the importance of historic resources and their preservation in Coral Gables.
I am writing to formally request that the Miracle Mile remote parking and Crafts Section zoning changes to be heard at the Commission Meeting scheduled for February 9, 2021 be temporarily postponed until such time that public attendance is possible at the Commission Meeting in accordance with the City Code.
Critical to have in-person meeting with public attendance
As you are aware, Governor DeSantis’ Executive Order 20-69, which allowed governmental meetings to take place virtually through “communications media technology, such as telephonic and video conferencing,” expired on November 1, 2020.
As such, public meetings are to be carried out in accordance with each municipality’s city code [Article I, Section 24(b) of the Florida Constitution provides that “[a]ll meetings…of any collegial public body of a county, municipality, school district, or special district, at which official acts are to be taken or at which public business of such body is to be transacted or discussed, shall be open and noticed to the public[.]” Florida’s Sunshine Law, found in chapter 286, Florida Statutes, provides that “[a]ll meetings of any…agency or authority of any county, municipal corporation, or political subdivision, except as otherwise provided in the Constitution,…at which official acts are to be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, and no resolution, rule, or formal action shall be considered binding except as taken at such meeting.” § 286.011(1), Fla. Stat. (2019). Section 286.0114, Florida Statutes, also provides, with respect to certain “propositions” before a board or commission, that an opportunity for public comment must be afforded.]
Sec. 2-30 of the Coral Gables City Code requires that “All meetings of the commission shall be open to the public except as otherwise authorized by law.”
It has become clear that very few Coral Gables residents were aware of the “community meetings” that took place with City staff. Whether that is an issue of inadequate public notice or an aversion to virtual meetings among a city population where the median age of voters is over 60, there can be no argument that there was almost no resident participation in the meetings.
The February 9, 2021 meeting will not be “open to the public” and the decision regarding whether to make these zoning changes is a once-in-a-lifetime decision. Allowing remote parking would result in a transformation of historic Miracle Mile that is unprecedented in its 100-year history.
There is no need to rush this critical issue through as the pandemic is soon coming to an end. The roll-out of vaccines has begun and it appears that in-person meetings will be possible as soon as early summer.
This important decision deserves more transparency, education and public participation. It has become clear that Coral Gables residents are overwhelmingly opposed to the zoning change to Miracle Mile.
The Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables is asking that this important decision be made in a regular, in-person meeting when public attendance and participation is possible.