by Dr. Brett Gillis
The proposal that the City Commission is considering to upzone and change the land use of the 300 blocks of Catalonia, Malaga, and Santander Avenues (which are currently low-scale residential) is, at best, befuddling and concerning. Commercial intrusion into Coral Gables residential neighborhoods is not the answer as upzoning one area just pushes the abutting neighborhood up against the new commercial zone.
A few residents from the area proposed for upzoning appeared before the Historic Preservation Board and convinced the Board to declare 333 Catalonia Avenue as not historic, stating that it is out of scale and context with their neighborhood and, in their estimation, lacked architectural merit. One of the most abhorrent aspects is how the former Assistant City Manager appeared at the meeting to speak against historic preservation so that the neighborhood could “have a single-family residence go in, which is what our block is all about.” Was the Historic Preservation Board bamboozled or what! This same person (who owns land in the area proposed for upzoning) has now turned around and is requesting that the area be upzoned and the land use changed to allow 6-7 story mixed-use/commercial buildings.
The irony of life: if 333 Catalonia (the 2-story 1920’s apartment building) is out of scale and context for the neighborhood at 2 stories, then surely 6-7 stories with mixed/commercial use should never have even been considered. If the Commission passes this proposal, then we will see if residents that face Bird, Red and Je Jeune Roads line up to request the same even though they too are currently residential. Who could blame them? After all, these are much busier corridors than the Crafts Section.
Another comment made by a proponent of upzoning was that their neighborhood has been forgotten in terms of upgrades and improvements. How preposterous! These blocks of the Crafts Section have been an in-town residential neighborhood since at least 1963 and enjoy many advantages: closer proximity to downtown (walkability), access to Coral Gables transit (free trolley), better maintained sidewalks and no trash pits, connection to sanitary sewer (unlike most of us with only the option of septic), and Freebee service (free shuttle service!). Most of us that live west of Le Jeune do not enjoy these services. I live near the Country Club Prado and watched for 5 years as the fountains were down and the historic features in a state of disrepair. Graffiti even began to appear. The sidewalks in front of my house have not been repaired. Trash pits are getting so large they look like trenches. Over the past month our garbage has rarely been picked up on time, and when there is a hurricane where is the excess debris thrown? Not on Catalonia, Malaga, or Santander Avenue! Oh no, instead, they throw it on the Country Club Prado and impose this on the residents near 8th Street.
Mixed-use/commercial intrusion and an increase to 6-7 story buildings on Catalonia, Malaga, and Santander is not the answer! The City Commission criticized the former Commission for allowing the intrusion of the Aloft building into a residential area. It’s time for the Commission to practice what it preaches.
On a separate but related issue: to introduce a new mixed-use/commercial district that close to Miracle Mile now…. when Miracle Mile is struggling so much already? What are these people thinking? Miracle Mile and Merrick Park have enough competition as it is!
The City should help the Crafts Section, and all neighborhoods for that matter, by increasing beautification efforts and responsible measures that mitigate crime, traffic, and overflow parking. Upzoning is NOT the answer. The Commission should vote to hold the line and do what is best for the City, not what’s best for the pocketbooks of a few.