Dr. Karelia Martinez Carbonell, President Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables
The community is saying NO. Residents are saying STOP. Constituents are saying ENOUGH.
Over 2000 residents to date have voiced their opinion against the Miracle Mile & Crafts Section rezoning through signed petitions, editorials, articles, letters, public comments, social media, etc. One resident recently opined in the Miami Herald, “I cannot name one person who lives in Coral Gables who supports this type of growth, however, it is happening before our eyes.”
Constituents speaking up on an issue should mean something to elected officials. But DOES it? Will it?
Will the voice of the people make a difference on February 9th when the City Commission is scheduled to take a final vote on the up-zoning code changes to the historic Miracle Mile and Crafts Section? Yes. If residents have a say and they do.
The pushback has its merits. Coral Gables hired the same zoning firm that created Miami 21 a decade ago. Today, the City of Miami is tackling revisions to the code to “limit the massive and sometimes controversial [development] projects that have become flashpoints of community opposition” [Miami Herald June 14 2020].
In light of these issues, the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables has taken an official position requesting postponement of zoning changes affecting the future of Miracle Mile & Crafts Section. No need to rush this critical issue through.
POSTPONE THE VOTE.
What was originally presented as a “clarification” to the zoning code has morphed into major changes—without offering residents an opportunity to participate in a public forum.
The City’s initial short press release published two years ago stated, “The City of Coral Gables Zoning Code, the main document that preserves the distinctive historic and architectural character of the municipality, is being updated to clarify, reorganize and streamline the regulations that determine the future of the city.” Residents had no additional communication from the city until the item came up on first reading last October.
Subsequently, as it pertains to the Miracle Mile section, the goal [according to Ramon Trias, Coral Gables Assistant Director for Planning] was to “Encourage residents above shops. Enhance pedestrian experience.” In other words, revitalize the Mile by residential decree. However, according to the current mayor, “Throughout the years there have been many attempts to help rebrand and improve the Mile … We saw a small improvement when the former bus depot was redeveloped into a mixed-used building with residential apartments but it is not enough.”
So what is enough to improve the Mile? The best proven way to enhance the “pedestrian experience” is to strategically steward the historic nature of Miracle Mile and its surroundings by developing its retail strategy to include the area’s heritage as an economic asset. Studies support that historic districts outperform the market as a whole. And Miracle Mile can thrive if its heritage is preserved and promoted.
Presently, there are close to 2200 residences within close proximity of Miracle Mile. The premise that people have to live on Miracle Mile to shop on the Mile is flawed if one believes the marketing materials used to draw people to live off the Mile. One example states, “A great opportunity to live in the center and heart of Coral Gables … Conveniently located within walking distance to Miracle Mile” or “Located in the historic and well-known shopping district of Coral Gables, Florida called “Miracle Mile”. It is walking distance to countless restaurants, cafes, shops, and bars. This “walker’s paradise” offers residents true convenience.”
More density is not the answer. More “residents above the shops” will not increase the shopping but a place’s heritage will. Economic vitality in historic districts is supported by research. The rate of value increase in historic districts outperforms the market as a whole.
The $25 million streetscape project ignored the historic character of the area. It did not draw economic relief so heralded. Neither will a zoning change.
The local community strongly voices its concern over the potential irreparable damage to the historic character of the downtown and thus the continued economic decline of the area.
With all due respect Commissioners, listen to your constituents. They may know best.
[Recognition goes to a very dedicated HPACG volunteer for the research used in this article.]