Opinion: Ponce Park Residences Meeting

Gordon D. Sokoloff, DDS

Dr. Sokoloff is the Vice Chair of the Parking Advisory Board and the former Chair of the Transportation Advisory Board

Last week, I attended a neighborhood meeting hosted by developer Allen Morris, who along with his team, presented his proposed “Ponce Park Residences”: 161 apartments and retail slated to be built on Ponce de Leon at University Drive near downtown.  It was the developer’s intention to “sell” his vision to those who live in that neighborhood.  Mr. Morris stated that he wants to build something “special” in keeping with our “City Beautiful and not City Mediocre”.  Here are the take-aways from that meeting:

1. The developer conveyed that the City wants to “gift” a public street to him because of a “dysfunctional intersection” claimed to be caused by the “relief” lane which is the right-hand turn lane off of Ponce de Leon onto University Drive.

Commentary: This relief lane keeps traffic from stacking up along Ponce de Leon.  The traffic studies show a relatively low number of fender benders in this area: about 20 in 20 years.  Most accidents happen further west on University Dr. where the Vicky Bakery is located.  There have been NO fatalities or serious accidents of any kind at this intersection.  Neighbors living in this area have never witnessed dysfunction or danger at this intersection either.   The residents are firmly against “the city” handing this street over to the developer.

2. When asked who is the “City’ that wants Allen Morris to fix the intersection issue, the answer provided was: the City staff and the Public Works Department. 

Commentary: The “City” is not the city staff.  Our City staff (including the Public Works Department) are employees who are paid with our tax-dollars.  Most are hired and directed by the City Manager, who in turn, is hired and directed by our elected City Commission.   The City is comprised of residents who live here, pay their taxes, elect their Mayor and City Commission and whose job it is to direct the City Staff accordingly.

3. According to the property and zoning code, the height allowance for Ponce Park Residences is 75 feet (approximately seven stories).  Allen Morris is asking for 179 feet (approximately 16 stories): over DOUBLE what code allows.

Commentary:  Morris says that he requires this extra height to do something “special”.   While claiming that it would be preposterous to tear down his other project (Alhambra Towers), -or the Biltmore Hotel due to their height, Mr. Morris is correct:  the Biltmore is iconic and Alhambra Towers is smack in the middle of downtown Coral Gables, just where it belongs.  The neighbors in this residential neighborhood must already endure the effects of The Plaza; they don’t want something nearly just as tall which will contribute to the density and traffic where they live.  The residents will support what the zoning code allows: seven stories. 

4. The developer boasts that they will be donating a public park made up of cement pavers (no grass) for the residents’ enjoyment as part of their Ponce Park Residences project. 

Commentary: Just diagonally across the street is the “Central Park” of Coral Gables: Ponce Circle Park.  Ponce Circle Park is well known, large, and has served the community for as long as Coral Gables has existed.  The residents do not need nor want another park across the street.

5. Earlier this year, the City Commission passed the Plater-Zyberg Zoning Code rewrite after hours of debate and the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Yet, here’s another developer submitting plans for a project that’s over double the height of what’s allowed by code.

Commentary:  Why bother with the expense and arduous task of passing a zoning code rewrite when our City staff doesn’t even enforce the code??  Residents are certainly held to the zoning codes and property ordinances; developers should be required to abide as well. 

Any resourceful developer can construct something elegant that is seven stories.  Merrick Park is only three stories and is a great example of the kind of construction and scale that beautifully depicts “The City Beautiful”!  As an involved resident of Coral Gables, I know of no other resident who proclaims that what Coral Gables needs is more density, traffic, and parking issues which Ponce Park Residences would undoubtedly produce.  Our City Commission must act on behalf of their constituents and direct and manage the City Staff, – and not the other way around.  More so, the Commission must act on behalf of Ponce residents and direct Mr. Morris to either take his project somewhere else or build it according to what city code allows.


15 thoughts on “Opinion: Ponce Park Residences Meeting

  1. I know Dr. Sokoloff (albeit only professionally), like so many of the rest of us. I admired him for his determination and his verve.

    Unfortunately, it’s wasted, at least in this case. As a Gables resident, I’ve been trying for more than twenty years to get The Gables to do something so simple as enhance traffic policing at “hot” hours, in small and identifiable sections of The Gables, to keep neighbors and their kids and pets from being at risk of the insane cut-through drivers, in their rented Rovers and BMWs and Maseratis (how crazy is that, by itself?!) while uniform/traffic cops are either having their endless coffee breaks or chasing down young women or black kids in glitzy cars. It would not cost anybody the first penny. Results: Zero. Absolute, total zero. I’m reluctant to go out on my streets unprotected.

    Think anybody has a chance of getting the ambitious and self-enhancing members of the current (or, any other) Commission to do anything where real money is concerned? Look for flying pigs; really cold bats from hell; non-macho people with badges and guns, or your favorite unicorn.

    Thanks, Dr. S. Expend your efforts on something more likely to produce success, such, for example, as a courageous Member of Congress (either house) in Washington, or sane and balanced state legislators and executives (you can bypass DeSantis: he’s beyond salvage).

  2. It is a special design. Much better than The Palace, which is just a very bad Mediterranean design. I am not in favor of closing or gifting any more public streets or alleys, like what happened off Valencia and Salzedo, or Ponce and near Aragon. The building is beautiful, and much better than what is currently there. Compromise and everyone will be happy.

  3. Álvaro Diago, it seems you would be very happy moving to the Brickell area where there is an abundant of high rises for you to pick. The Coral Gables residents surely do NOT want developers to ruin our “City Beautiful.”

  4. As well as expressing our opinions about the proposed Ponce Park Residences, let’s also acknowledge the existence of the behemoth across the street. How it came into being is beyond my layman’s comprehension, but The Plaza is here and in many ways makes a grand architectural addition to the “Crafts Section” of the City. [South Florida architectural historians please note the similarity of The Plaza’s main building to Miami’s McAllister Hotel (1919 – 1988).]

    That said, I do wonder if much of the opposition to the development of the Crafts Section reflects concern over the continued viability of the Miracle Mile sector as the City’s commercial center of gravity. We heard such concerns when the Merrick Park project was announced, so it’s no great surprise that we hear similar concerns being raised about The Plaza and, by extension, the surrounding area — i.e., Ponce Park Residences.

    But while Coral Gables was originally organized around discrete zones of functionality, decades of
    growth have necessitated an urban landscape that expands beyond conventional boundaries to meet the needs of a modern populace. Actually, Coral Gables was always a polyglot city, with design standards that referenced Italian, French, Chinese, Dutch, Moorish and American Colonial
    architecture. The mix was always the message.

    The Ponce Park Residences building is, in my opinion, a masterful design by a master architect,
    Chad Oppenheim. On the other hand, I believe Allen Morris should revisit the project with a view
    to retaining the “relief lane” from Ponce to University Drive and eliminating the pocket park as a so-called public benefit. Finally, given the current trend of demolishing older rental apartment buildings to develop luxury condominiums, now might be an ideal time to encourage a rental
    building such as Ponce Park Residences.

  5. I agree with Dr. Sokoloff and thank him for alerting residents of our city. I was disappointed to know the developer is Alan Morris. I admired his Alhambra Towers building located at 121 Alhambra Plaza. During the Christmas season I enjoy seeing the manger display. But after reading about his properties in Florida and Atlanta, I concluded that William Morris has plenty of other places to develop his building.

  6. Great article Dr. Sokoloff. We don’t need the proposed Ponce Tower, later conveniently changed to Ponce Residences to make it look more palatable to the neighbors. A lot of window dressing but the same monstruosity!

  7. The City is deeply in debt with extravagant public projects lined up one after another. Sorry to break it to you, but this development is necessary to keep the city coffers flush. Don’t expect it to stop any time soon. Enjoy your flat milage rates.

  8. BRAVO Dr. Sokoloff!!!! The residents of our City Beautiful are lucky to have you working & being involved in to keep Coral Gables what it is meant to be according to Merrick’s vision. If you need help please let me know. We don’t want & we don’t need greedy developers taking over our residential neighborhoods. We need to fight density & overcrowding of our street with unnecessary traffic jams. The city employees/staff work for the residents, our taxes paid their salary, we are their bosses not the other way around. I hope our new elected Mayor and new Commissioners have the resilience to stand with us the residents to stop this frensy for Coral Gables to become the next Brickell Avenue or “Manhattan”. Progress is good when kept in check, we have a City Charter, rules, regulations & Codes so lets enforce them. And yes, exceptions could be made BUT only for the benefit of the residents and the City, NOT the greedy developers! Let’s keep out City Beautiful!!!!!!!!

  9. It is great to see the residents of this city taking an interest in publicizing what is going on. With the loss of The Gables Gazette information on government and political discussion in this city all but disappeared. We need to be grateful to people like Ariel Fernandez, Gordon D. Sokoloff and Elaine de Valle aka Ladra of Political Cortadito, for keeping us informed of all the nefarious dealings. Keep up the good work.

  10. I applaud this development and initiative. The city is lucky to have a developer that wants to invest in this spot and continue enhancing and adding value to the area. Great job!

  11. NOT SO FAST. THIS HISTORIC AREA IS NOT TO BE DISTURBED. From a historic preservation perspective, the applicant [developer] is requesting a recommendation of approval for an amendment to the City Plan [a historic document] for the vacation of the alley and the abandonment and vacation of a segment of University Drive [also with historic implications]. In other words, the applicant is asking the city to give away public HISTORIC land! Additionally, the proposed 17-story new construction will adversely impact the historic, architectural or aesthetic character of THREE distinct historic properties nearby. These are: [1] Corner of 205 Malaga where a 1926 White Way lamppost [a landmark] is in situ and is one of only a few still standing; [2] 2901 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, legally described as Tract E, Plaza Coral Gables; [3] 247 Malaga Avenue, legally described as Lots 26 & 27, Block 29, Coral Gables Crafts Section. This proposed new construction within Coral Gables historic Crafts Section will adversely affect historic landmarks within 500 to 1000 feet. Under Section 3-1006 of the Coral Gables Zoning Code, the Historic Preservation Board’s review and approval of the proposed development is required to determine if the proposal adversely affects the historic, architectural, or aesthetic character of the historic properties. I understand that the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and Section 106 of the NHPA have certain guidelines and criteria as well. As Dr. Sokoloff states, “Mr. Morris take [your] project somewhere else…”

  12. Bravo Dr. Sokoloff. Thank you for attending the meeting and the excellent analysis. As a longtime (though not as long as you) Gables resident, I applaud any citizen who calls out attempted civic chicanery for what it is. I hope that your efforts meet with the same better-late-than never Commission examination that “Greco-gate” apparently instigated.
    Thank you again.

  13. I too thank Dr. Sokoloff for his attendance at the meeting, as well as for his synopsis of the meeting and his thoughtful commentary. The “City Beautiful” cannot remain as such if we “gift” developers with street closures, concrete “parks,” and zoning code rewrites that do not serve (and actually harm) the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of the community that we know and love, and which w support with our hard-earned tax dollars.

  14. Thank you Dr. Sokoloff for the information regarding this meeting. I wholeheartedly agree that another 16 story building is not needed in that area and no one wants or needs the proposed paver/concrete park. I attended the commission meeting this morning and was glad to witness our commissioners move the Greco lot sale to an invitation to bid and I applaud their pointed questions regarding the various timelines, the use of the funds from the sale, and excluding brokerage fees from the transaction. Hopefully they will continue to heed the call of their constituents and, as Dr. Sokoloff points out, enforce the zoning code on these and all developers.

  15. Thanks are due Dr Sokoloff for not only attending this meeting, but also reporting on it.
    I’m very upset to learn that the developer mention “the city” as an interested party in his project, but let me be very clear, I am not SURPRISED!! It has been obvious to me, and to many others, for a long time that “the staff” and I add, some volunteer members of various boards, assist the developers by giving them suggestions on how to optimize their investment. Anyone who finds it difficult to believe how “we” help the developers could take time to watch the meetings of those boards who deal with development! Last one I attended I found it very upsetting how the developers, and/ or their representatives thanked the “staff” for their assistance!!
    By the way, I still remember how the Public Works Department and the City Administration put together a plan to “improve our neighborhood” to fit what the University wanted to do. And, we are still waiting for the corrections that even the County thinks are necessary!
    Let’s get the elected officials to reign in the employees and get them to look after us, and not the developers and their profits!

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