Opinion: Stop The Proliferation Of Blocky Non-Mediterranean Buildings In Residential Coral Gables

Frank Janeczek

Janeczek is a lifelong resident of Miami, and an avid gardener and plant lover.


Talk to someone who has lived in our beautiful South Florida communities for decades, and you will quickly learn that the character and charm of our neighborhoods is being destroyed by irresponsible development.

Although I understand that we need more housing and that there are benefits to growth, I also understand that developers are financially incentivized to provide cheap product all to the benefit of their pocketbooks. One shocking example is happening — in real time — in our backyards. Although time is running out, there is still an opportunity to stop this injustice.

Coral Gables is currently considering approval of a massive building on a quiet street in the North Gables. The existing neighborhood includes small one and two story structures, and the existing roadway contemplates providing services, including emergency fire and safety operations, for a small number of families. The Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board on Wednesday Feb. 9th at 6pm, and later the Coral Gables City Commission will be conducting hearings to decide whether to permit the construction of this out of scale, monstrous building, that will run almost the entire block on Madeira between LeJeune and Salzedo. The building is completely out of scale with its surroundings, with single-family homes in the backyard and also right across LeJeune Road. Worse, approval here will set the precedent for this sort of low-quality non-Mediterranean development throughout the city. Sadly, two charming 1926’s garden-style apartment buildings designed by noted architect H.C. Schwedd that the City determined meet the criteria for historic preservation in 2005 are slated to be destroyed as part of this project, only to be replaced by this charmless, gigantic new thick block. With 143 units, housing several hundred new residents, the building will pour immense traffic not only onto Madeira but will further worsen LeJeune with all the traffic turning off and onto Madeira. Imagine the tragedy if an emergency vehicle had to make its way through Madeira with the morning gridlock on that narrow street. Clearly, this is a life and death issue as emergency vehicles, stuck in the overwhelming traffic, will be unable to timely arrive and provide aid. This is precisely the sort of irresponsible development that Coral Gables does not need, and so at odds with human-scale Mediterranean ideals that are the aesthetic hallmark of our charming community . In response to this threat, residents commissioned an independent architect to conduct a solar study to demonstrate the effect of shade on the neighboring buildings.

This new building will cast the contiguous single story structures behind it in shade all year long, a shade that will extend for blocks during the winter bathing homeowners on other streets in shadow during the winter.

Some will even loose the benefits of newly installed solar panels. We all prize the Florida Sun! How can it be taken away from us?

The reason that this building is being permitted to grow to such an extent is in a little known provision for
“Planned Area Developments” (PAD) for parcels over an acre that permits a developer to double the size of certain buildings if and only if, the building provides a “public benefit” including that it will be beautifully Mediterranean and contribute to the aesthetic beauty of the neighborhood. Although beauty is subjective and in the eye of the beholder, unbelievably, the Board of Architects approved this monstrosity of a building and found it to be sufficiently Mediterranean in style as to be entitled to a Mediterranean bonus allowing it to double to 143 units. Not to mince words, but this building is ugly, cheap, and the developer should not be rewarded for its transparently stingy efforts.

The Planning and Zoning Board is continuing to consider the project and we can only hope that the individual members who comprise the board will be fair and impartial. Shockingly, one of the board members is, yes, the architect of the building–a clear cut conflict of interest! After all, if this building is approved, this board member will profit immensely. We must not allow greed to destroy our neighborhood.

We the neighbors ask that the Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board send this project back to the drawing board to re-imagine the building in a true Mediterranean spirit, human in scale, to be a credit to the City Beautiful. Please come Feb. 9, 6pm at City Hall or via zoom. (If you can’t attend, please send an email to [email protected] and your commissioners and be sure to mention 301 Madeira.) Please ask that the building be scaled down to a human scale. There are such powerful forces of profit and politics driving these enormous projects through, against what residents really want from their community. It will take extra pressure for democracy and clean government to prevail over cronyism. For more information see www.301madeira.com.

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14 thoughts on “Opinion: Stop The Proliferation Of Blocky Non-Mediterranean Buildings In Residential Coral Gables

  1. The 301 to 341 Madeira Avenue project will destroy my lovely quiet neighborhood. Not only aesthetically, but every which other way. That monstrosity of a building does not belong in a residential area. Apparently, no one cares about us, the residents and our quality of life.

  2. I am fairly new to Coral Gables and I am not sure I completely understand the zoning & planning commission’s motivation for “high-rises” in areas of single family homes? (except for more income to the city). Does the income really outweigh the cost of more people, cars, additional schools & additional infrastructure, etc etc. I used to live in an area in California where the city & county controlled real estate growth with water-credits. It was ok to renovate, build etc, as long as you didn’t exceed your water-credits. If you wanted an additional sink in the kitchen, you had to be ready to give up a sink or a toilet in another part of the house. Would never happen in FL, I know. Probably because we have so much more water than California 😉

  3. The five commissioners love to take pictures of themselves cutting up cardboard boxes.

    Have they forgotten the very big, expensive, glass box they created? The “mobility hub”.

    Perhaps they should spend more of their time cutting up the “mobility hub” glass box than cutting up a cardboard box.

    Wait. I have a better idea. Better for them, our public servants, to follow the choice of the residents in the north Gables who do not want a non-Mediterranean, big box in their neighborhood.

  4. The Puppet Patrol has announced the winner of its very prestigious award. The award goes to the the Planning and Zoning Board in voting FOR another, large un-Mediterranean building in the north Gables. The Planning and Zoning Board voted AGAINST the residents in that neighborhood.

    At every Board meeting, this rare Puppet Patrol Award must be displayed so all can see it, while the Board Members tell us they are not controlled by the big over-developers.

    Please note this is another Puppet Patrol Award to Robert Behar, the smallest puppet of them all.

    Finally, this rare Puppet Patrol Award is in keeping with the Planning and Zoning Board’s prior APPROVAL of the Mobility Hub, a big glass box for cars on Miracle Mile . More than SIX HUNDRED residents signed a petition AGAINST it. Not one resident signed a petition FOR it.
    The Mobility Hub will cost the residents over FORTY MILLION DOLLARS for a big glass box they don’t want. The big developer, his architects and his lawyers, all smiled when the Planning and Zoning Board approved the Mobility Hub. They know how to pull the strings on their little puppets.

    Soon, the five commissioners will vote on the another, large un-Mediterranean building, in the north Gables. Will they again approve it like they did the “Mobility Hub’? Will all five commissioners again forget they live in a democracy: a government of the people, by the people and for the people? It is not a government for the 5 commissioners, to satisfy their personal interests, financial or otherwise.

    After the commission meeting, will the big developer, his architects and his lawyers, all smile again when the five commissioners approve another, large un-Mediterranean building in the north Gables and nod to each other they know how to pull the strings on their little puppets?

    If they do, another Puppet Patrol award is on the way.

  5. Following the Hearing is my letter to the commission today… it gives a flavor of what is going on.

    To:[email protected],[email protected],[email protected],[email protected],[email protected]
    Cc:[email protected]
    Sat, Feb 12 at 11:53 AM

    Dear Mr. Mayor –
    Dear Commissioners –

    Following our Zoning and Planning Board meeting for 301 Madeira on Wednesday, January 9th, unlike the developers attorney and architectural staff, there was no opportunity for the Coral Gables constituents to also provide similar follow up and rebuttal.

    As such, as custodians and final decision makers to this project, it is of essence that you also receive respective our respective local community and constituent feedback.

    As our neighborhood concerns are already well documented such as the lack of any traffic study in an already congested street, for brevity, I will summarize new key take-aways that came from the hearing that you must be duly informed of.

    Planning & Zoning Board
    • As there is a Robert Behar present at Guenster (hired by the developer), at the architect firm and on the Board, Mr. Behar rightly recused himself from the meeting and waited outside with his employ the developers.
    • Despite a respectful audience, prior to his departure, unprompted Mr. Behar set a disrespectful, defensive tone demanding a police officer to be present to control the local neighbors present.

    3-Minute Public Commentary Session
    • Of the 3-4 speakers in favor of the project were developers, property investors or acquaintances vouching for the developer.

    – All remaining speakers were local residents and interest groups that were firmly against the project.

    Additional Hearing Take-aways
    • Scale – One Board member expressed concern of how the code permits development of a massive tower extending the entire length (v. width) of a suburban block. The massive structure is directly out of proportion to the narrow side-street and surrounding buildings and single family homes.
    • Guest Parking – The same board member also expressed concern that there are only 7 guest parking spaces for 143 units. With a 300% increase in density, the narrow Madeira Ave is already congested with both backed-up traffic and parking. My neighbors west of LeJeune Rd. have already had to install “no parking” signs to deter overflow parking, and with speeding traffic I at no time may leave my children unattended in my own front yard.
    • Compatibility – Another board member struggled with recommending what is superimposing an incompatible super-structure in the middle of a suburban setting but that still met the code. He felt that after the “seventh” tower is built, it would then become “compatible”. This directly addresses the core issue, changing the fundamental character and essence of City Beautiful.
    • Water Run-off – The board addressed the community concern of the massive water-run off and the developer has admitted as to not conducting the DERM study/review. The 9-story tower, 10 feet from the property line, will overshadow the homes on SW 16th Terrace which occupy shallow lots. In addition to the blocked sunlight already documented, there is a clear health and safety issue of little/no drainage from such a large structure.
    • Living Cost – In the January 26th “neighborhood meeting” organized by Guenster, the building was marketed as a “high-end” tower similar to the Sophia three blocks north on Salzedo (between Navarre and Minorca), which is still part of the commercial district. In this hearing, this was instead presented to provide additional “affordable housing” to Coral Gables.
    • “Park” – To meet code, the developer had to leave a small segment of green space at the end of the block. Abutting 9 stories, this was generously presented by the developer as “gifting a park” to the City, and was incongruously compared to other city parks stretching the imagination.

    The structure meets the city’s updated code. The board had no recourse but to therefore recommend it to the city commission.

    The out-of-town developers in turn following their business model are looking maximize their return on investment, and have rightly in their best self-interest pushed the envelope of the city code to maximize their return per square foot.

    Now it is up to the commissioners to move beyond the code and business interests and to also address their constituents’ concerns, namely, to review what is fair and reasonable. Our neighbors are not against a development, they simply wish a project that meets the character and scale of our community.

    As our elected commissioners you represent us against the larger, faustian business interests, and are vested with substantial decision-making authority.

    With this authority comes accountability to the upper, middle and working class community you represent, who have clearly spoken out converting our green, suburban setting into a future anonymous metropolis of concrete “Mediterranean” towers with rentals that no have vested interest in the community.

    I ask you to exercise your powers in good conscience and in good faith, and do what is right for the community that you were elected to represent …and for the City Beautiful.

    Best regards,

    Frederick

  6. Great article – wrong location- the project is slated for Malaga and Catalonia — ok your credibility is shot.🤪🤪🤪🤪-not welcome by residents who live south of University Drive on Salzedo. Thx for sharing – get your facts straight or sober up.

  7. I laughed when I saw the public meeting notice for this project. It was only a simple exercise required by law until it was approved. Every commission candidate votes against development and in the end major projects out of character with the Gables are built. The latest liar is Mendez or Menéndez who would walk the neighborhood just south of this project asking for votes and telling a very well rehearsed soap opera how he lived here all his life and raised by a singe mother and this jerk sold every one a bill of goods because he owns property that will benefit when this project is built. Baños should have won and Anderson is probably and I say probably the only one who works in our interest. The others have their own interests in mind and probably are benefiting from outside projects – why else would this project be built or that obscene out of place Ponce Plaza

  8. Along with some neighbors, I watched the proceedings last night in painful disbelief. On one side of the dais we had a board made up of a group of men who were exceptionally self-righteous and convinced that they were serving the greater good by ultimately voting unanimously in favor of this monster project, a building project that challenges all notions of simple common sense. The board bristled at any mention of corruption and seemed to be expecting rough speech and unmanageable behavior from the ‘opposition” (neighbors and residents). One needed the reassurance that the Security officer would be close at hand, ready to evict anyone who behaved in a threatening way. Following the well-rehearsed presentations by the project’s attorney and others, we were able to hear those persons who know the developer’s family and waxed poetic as they described this building as their legacy. Oh, please, really?
    Most amazing were the men and women who spoke live at the meeting as well by zoom. They were intelligent, articulate, passionate and most importantly, respectful. We were so proud of them and for a moment believed that their presentations maybe moved the needle just far enough to require a more focused investigation into the consequences of approving this project. Unfortunately, this is not what happened. All voted in favor after the residents presented. One was having some “apparent” conflicts as he described a friend’s plea the night before to stop building so large. He was a pretend-Hamlet bathed in the artificial pathos of the evening as he wrestled to vote or not to vote in favor. in the end, not even he could muster the courage to vote against more development.

  9. It’s sad to see this continue to happen. The new City Commission said they were going to try to reach consensus.. they are not accomplishing this as of yet, but here is another opportunity to prove themselves. From all the people I talk to… residents do not want this type of massive, lackluster construction to continue. And what is the public benefit to get a PAD?
    This case is also very alarming as single-family homes in Little Gables are right behind it. Really? This is how we treat our neighbors? No wonder many of those people did not want to be annexed when the Gables was trying to absorb that area.
    Many of us live in single-family homes and would likely be as or more frustrated if all of a sudden quaint, historically significant garden apartment buildings behind us were being replaced with a behemoth like this. Who’s idea was it to allow even 5 stories there let alone a PAD up to 7 stories when it was 2 stories going back to the 1920s? And don’t get me started on the architecture. I would like the BoA to explain to me how this is a Med building. Let’s get real, people.

  10. I believe the requirements for a building to be considered of “Mediterranean” style are well defined, so it should not be arbitrarily decided by the Board of Architects or the City Commission.
    Also, it is important to recon use that if you buy a house next to an area zoned for residential buildings, you should be aware that taller structures than one’s house will be built nearby.
    It is unfair for the owners of property where buildings can prospectively be built, to have neighbors complaining when they want to act on their rights.

  11. What about the City’s Mobility Dud? If they will approve that monstrosity then how can they ever deny anything else?

  12. Is this project designed by one of the members of the Board of Architects or the Planning and Zoning Board?
    Both Boards are corrupt and self serving. Most of the members have multiple conflicts of interest. They are all patting each other on their backs.

  13. This is an important issue facing Coral Gables. Kudos to Mr. Janeczek for taking up this matter and seeking to protect the beauty and liveability of our precious community.

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