Planning And Zoning Board Special Meeting, Requested By City Attorney, Yields Another Vote Against Ponce Park Residences

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
[email protected]

On July 13th, the Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board held a special meeting, at the request of Coral Gables City Attorney Miriam Ramos, in order to provide Ponce Park Residences another opportunity to get a “required” 4-vote minimum to send a recommendation to the City Commission.

City Attorney And Department Heads Skip Meeting

Even though members of the Board, the developer and residents were forced to change their plans to be present for this special meeting, Soler Ramos was not present to answer questions from the Board, developer or residents, regarding her legal opinion requesting that this meeting take place. Gables Insider has learned that when asked earlier this week, Soler Ramos informed a resident that she would not be present.

As the July meeting had been cancelled, Chair Eibi Aizenstat had a scheduled trip and was out of town and the Board took a vote to allow his remote participation via Zoom. Vice Chair Robert Behar led the meeting.


Anthony De Yurre, attorney for developer W. Allen Morris, was allowed 10 minutes to present, followed by a presentation by City staff. Staff’s presentation was made by City Planner Jennifer Garcia. Neither Development Services Director Suramy Cabrera nor Public Works Director Hermes Diaz were present to answer Board questions. This would be an issue as Garcia was not prepared to answer some of the Board’s questions.

De Yurre and Garcia gave similar presentations to those given on June 8th. Garcia took it further explaining that the City has historically trended in a path towards taller buildings, linking staff’s recommendation to approval with this trend.

Public Comment

Residents were allowed to provide public comment. However, Behar instructed that if they had spoken at the June 8th Board meeting they were only allowed one minute to speak.

Longtime Coral Gables resident, Maria Cruz, was the first to address the Board. She questioned the process and the limitations being placed on residents who spoke at the prior meeting, explaining that this meeting had different discussion points. She spoke for one minute.

Cross Examination

As he had attempted to do at the June 8th meeting, De Yurre interjected after Cruz completed her public comment. He asked the Board for the opportunity to cross examine Cruz. Following a brief discussion, the Board decided to allow De Yurre to cross examine residents immediately after their comments. At the June 8th meeting, the Board Chair had not allowed for the cross examination to be done on the spot, asking for it to be done once all residents had spoken.

De Yurre cross examined Cruz for nearly two minutes, although Cruz was only allowed one minute to address the Board with her comments. His questions were nonsensical and confirmed the speculation from the June 8th meeting, that De Yurre’s intent was only to intimidate residents to keep them from speaking out against the project.

Several residents addressed the Board following Cruz, all urging the Board to vote against the project. Behar did not stop anyone at the one-minute mark. He allowed residents to provide their full comments.

De Yurre once again tried to cross examine following the second resident, but the Board interjected. Board Member Claudia Miro asked if cross examination had taken place the prior meeting, which the City’s outside Counsel Craig H. Coller confirmed it had not taken place. De Yurre was asked if he could conduct his cross examination at the end. He explained that it would be extremely difficult for him to keep track of what residents asked and said. The Board asked him to have his assistant take notes for him.

Resident Aurelio Durana, asked Coller a procedural question. “Are we allowed to cross examine Mr. De Yurre?” In a response that shocked most in the room, Coller said they could do so at the end.

De Yurre’s Tactic Backfires

De Yurre stood to cross examine residents after public comment closed. He asked for the resident who lives closest to the project to come forward. No one did. Coller interjected that it would be hard for a resident to know if they are the one who lives the closest. De Yurre eventually desisted on his attempt to cross examine residents.

However, residents did not. Cruz was the first to rise. She explained she is “not an attorney, but enjoyed asking questions of my students when I was a teacher.” She asked De Yurre about how many who are working on the project design live close. De Yurre could not answer. She followed up with how many live in the City of Coral Gables. He was unsure, but said he believed it was just one.

Two other residents cross examined De Yurre before David Winker, attorney for over 150 residents in the surrounding neighborhood took the opportunity to take on De Yurre. A much fairer match-up.

Winker focused his questions on lobbyist registration and how many members of the Morris group are registered. He focused on if Morris himself was registered. De Yurre stated he was, but when pressed he could not provide the date. Winker asked if Morris had participated in meetings with City staff about the project. De Yurre stated he was not aware of him doing so.

Lobbyist Registration

Following weeks of waiting, Gables Insider received a response to its public records request placed after the June 8th meeting. The request sought to confirm Morris’ meetings with staff, without being registered to lobby. Gables Insider‘s request for a copy of the City Manager’s calendar showed that Morris and City Manager Peter Iglesias had met on August 31, 2021 for an hour and thirty five minutes and they had breakfast on April 5, 2022. He had also met with De Yurre on March 10th.

An email from Morris’ assistant on June 27th reads, “We had called because Mr. Morris has a meeting this Wednesday afternoon with City Manager Iglesias. Mr. Morris would like to brief Ms. Suramy Cabrera on this prior to Wednesday. Please let me know when she has 15 minutes for a quick call.” The subject line reads “121 Alhambra Exterior Restaurant Seating Approval.” Although we cannot confirm the topics discussed at the meeting, seeking this type of approval directly to staff is considered lobbying.

A search of Morris’ lobbyist registration shows he did not register to lobby either project until June 30th.

Board Discussion

During the Board discussion, Venny Torre who had left early the prior meeting due to a flight he needed to catch, went after Behar on his vote on the TDRs item. The item was not up for discussion this meeting, but had been voted on 4-1 with Board Member Miro being the only dissenting vote. Torre said to Behar, “If you are giving away the TDRs, you lose your bargaining chips.”

Torre then went after the residents who spoke saying no one could mention any negative impact taller buildings will cause them. He added that he had researched the City’s last 60 years and seen that this discussion had been the same for 60 years and the height had come and there had been no negative impact.

Miro spoke out against the process. She explained that the City Attorney and her deputies had been forceful with her and “I was told that, because the City Attorney had opined that ‘the board failed to make a recommendation, therefore we had not done our job.’ That’s not what happened. We were ill advised.” She was referring to Coller’s advise to the Board that a 3-2 vote sufficed, and the matter would go to Commission without a recommendation.

Coller’s Apology

Coller apologized to the Board for his error. He explained that “it was my mistake. I immediately informed the City Attorney. I told the City Attorney I felt it needed to come back to this Board.” Gables Insider inquired on whether Coller would be waiving his $250 per hour fee for this nearly 3-hour meeting, as it was his mistake that led to need for this new meeting. As of the time of publishing, no response had been received.

Motion And Vote

Following comments from the rest of the Board, Behar explained that he had concerns on the 8th, and no one had been able to address them a month later. He explained he was ready to entertain a motion for denial.

Board Member Miro motioned to recommend the denial of the comprehensive plan, and Board Member Withers seconded. The motion carried 5-2 with Behar switching his prior vote from supporting to opposing the project.

City Commission

The project’s first reading will be heard by the City Commission on Monday, July 25th, at a time certain of 5:00PM, in order to allow for resident participation. To watch the meeting live click here. The meeting will also be available live on the City’s YouTube Channel. You can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.


25 thoughts on “Planning And Zoning Board Special Meeting, Requested By City Attorney, Yields Another Vote Against Ponce Park Residences

  1. COMPROMISE! Let’s be reasonable. Give the developer the alley, more footprint. There’s a lot of open space in the area.

    However, cap the height at 5 or 6 stories to match what’s allowed on Miracle Mile. Ponce de Leon is AS IMPORTANT as Miracle Mile. If Morris truly loves the Gables he’d understand. Exclusivity & COVID. Rich apartment dwellers want less neighbors. Who wants to live in a beehive? In Europe the tall residential buildings are Public housing.

  2. It is beyond my comprehension why this project has not been killed before now. Cross examination of speakers? And for longer than the time allotted to the speaker! Pretty outrageous. Where is that right granted Ms. Ramos? If it exists I want the right to cross examine any speaker in support of the project then. How much more time and money has to be wasted before the developer is sent back to the drawing board?

    My hope and prayer is that the Commssion will do the right thing here and kill this outrage.

    With all due respect to the board member who mentioned his research going back 60 years, one must go back further to Merrick’s Master Plan created a century ago. Everyone involved in the city planning must study and memorize Merrick’s plan. It is a masterpiece. It should be required reading and the renewed blueprint for a “monumental city.” If anyone is interested in a copy, please send a request to [email protected]

    Aside from the city’s planning staff recommending to P&Z the denial to vacate the alley and University Drive [2021], the Historic Preservation Board’s denial of the same [October 2021] and now the P&Z’s denial of the comprehensive plan, and the overwhelming opposition to the project from the surrounding affected neighbors, the Commission has plenty to consider. But most importantly the fact that Merrick’s Master Plan, historically designated in 2018, needs to be front and center when considering any proposed projects. The plan should be dusted off and given its rightful place again in city planning. Projects moving forward.must meet Merrick’s standards.

    The root of the problem can be fixed only if the city embraces its century-old roots.

  4. Our streets are named Granada, Valencia, Malaga, Sevilla, Cordoba, Palermo, Messina, Salamanca, for a reason. These cities are beautiful! Since we copied the names, we should copy the rest. Our Downtown should look like these Spanish & Italian cities. We should aspire and emulate our wise European forebears when it comes to city planning. Simply ask would the people in these beautiful cities approve a tall, non conforming project? Would our beautiful sister cities approve the project?

  5. Corruption must go! City Attorney Miriam Ramos must go! The entire staff for the Planning and
    Zoning Board must go!

  6. The city attorney and the city manager are not passing a stink test. Our city gub’mint has become a ship of fools.

  7. I believe it was Mr De Yure who asked residents, repeatedly, what is the impact to you, directly? The answer everyone should give is – public safety. As Board Member Miro said, the City of Coral Gables is NOT meeting the national standard on firefighter staffing when it comes to high rise buildings of seven stories or more. The standard is based on scientific research and calls for 43 FF on initial dispatch. Keep in mind there has not been a firefighter staffing increase since 1993 and there are 34 new projects coming on-line, 27 of those are high rises of 7 stories or more. Go to Instagram @coralgablesfirefighters to see the video of projects. Public safety public safety public safety

  8. It certainly was a great evening in the Beautiful City! Calling a meeting after it was canceled didn’t work! Scheduling an extremely important Planning and Zoning meeting during the Summer hoping that the residents would be away didn’t work! Not even the chair of the committee was physically present because he was away! I guess they heard his comments during the June 8th meeting and were hoping he couldn’t participate, but that didn’t work! The attempt to bully and intimidate the residents by announcing their “cross examination” didn’t work! The not so veiled threat of a lawsuit to get the Board members to vote for approval didn’t work! What trick does the Morris team have up their sleeve? I guess we will know soon. Are the elected officials going to bend under the pressure? Are the newly registered lobbyists going to exert their influence by going to City Hall, meeting for breakfast, lunch or dinner with members of the staff, the City Manager, the City Attorney or the elected officials? I guess we will find out sooner than later! We, the Coral Gables residents are tired of the games that are played! How many more times are the people that we pay for going to line up with the developers? Haven’t they learned who their real bosses are? How many more mistakes are going to be made in favor of the proponents of unrealistic and unwanted development? When are we going to see our interests protected by those who are paid to follow our codes? When are our elected officials going to direct the staff to do the right thing, or else? Enough is enough!

  9. Hey Roberto, if I am not incorrect I have seen you always support the developer and the staff at Coral Gables City Hall. Who do you work for or who are you related to? Your post shows me you have been paid off by someone and 95% of the residents are angered by the destruction of our beautiful Coral Gables with concrete, traffic and promises that do not happen. How many people are going to profit from this? Enough is enough. This is our City and we pay dearly to be here. We are the decision makers. And those who spoken in favor of the project past and present are related to Mr. Morris, do not live anywhere near the project or are staffers who will hopefully loose their jobs when we vote in new leaders. We will remember the names.

  10. I only have one question Coral Gables, What part of no don’t you understand?

  11. “Morris and City Manager Peter Iglesias had met on August 31, 2021 for an hour and thirty five minutes and they had breakfast on April 5, 2022.”

    Iglesias doesn’t even return residents’ emails.

    Either Iglesias is misinformed about who he really works for or we residents are!

  12. Who appointed the two that voted for this land grab? Those appointments should be rescinded immediately.

  13. Coral Gables needs more high quality projects such as this one. The world-class architecture that I’ve seen in the renderings being presented are incredible. The existing corner where they are proposing to deliver a park is currently an eye sore and needs to be redesigned asap. Once completed, it will all seamlessly connect up north through the Plaza and Ponce Circle Park. What do people really not like about this project? The height?! 80 or so luxurious condo units will have very little impact to the area..

  14. I have lived in Coral Gables since 1980. Some of the changes that have taken place in the interim years have served our community well. However, this business of unilaterally building higher and more densely is not acceptable. In the last election for Mayor this subject was front and center, with overflowing promises to the effect that the interests of the residents of this city would be adhered to and honored (and not just by the mayor). I should not be surprised that elected politicians promised one thing and are doing everything in their power to ignore what they promised.

    However, it amazes me that regardless of the how hard and carefully the residents make clear their wishes to oppose what the developers and the politicians keep pressing for, and no matter the number of no votes that take place, the more schemes and dirty tricks are put forth to overcome the will of the residents (postponing meetings to gain advantage against opposition, calling meetings when many residents are on summer vacation, limiting speaking time for residents, etc.).

    It is abundantly apparent that the will of the residents is not being served, so the time has come to bury this subject permanently, followed by firing all non-elected persons involved in trying to subvert the will of the residents. This action should be followed by voting out every and any politician involved, at the very earliest opportunity. That will be the way I vote, likely seconded by many.

  15. Not surprised at the continuation of the City Hall circus. Not sure who is the designated Ringmaster, as there seems to competition by and between our City Manager and City Attorney for the coveted title. Thank you fellow residents of P&Z Board for having the backbone that our City administration lacks. Yes, backdoor meetings with city management, pressure from the developer, a sudden unsolicited legal opinion, the no-show at the meeting she called, the outside counsel’s mistake, cross-examinations at the meeting, et al, all indicative of continued incompetence and highly questionable practices in our city government. When does the charade end? Should be interesting to request to see more communication by and between the suspects on the topic. Looking forward to the commission meeting. Gables Insider, the heat is on. Keep it up!

  16. “Competent substantial evidence” is needed for the P & Z Board and the City Commissioners
    to REJECT an over-development project.

    The over-developer has the corrupt staff of P & Z Board in its pocket. The corrupt staff provides
    “competent, substantial evidence” for the over-development to proceed.

    However, the residents have tons of “competent, substantial evidence”. Each time a resident
    complains at a meeting the proposed project is much bigger (taller, wider, more density, less safety, etc) than nearby buildings, the resident has provided “competent, substantial evidence” to REJECT the proposed project.

    That’s what happened at the P & Z meeting yesterday.

    More than 25 residents complained the project was much bigger than nearby buildings.

    Only 2 said the project was ok ; the corrupt staff and the project’s lawyer.

    So, with more than 25 saying “no” and only 2 saying “yes”, the public servants on the P & Z Board, who showed some integrity, had to say “no” to the project.

    Too bad the public servants did not do their job on the Mobility Hub. But, they will be gone soon.

  17. It was funny to see land use attorney freaking out that even after four times it was a no-go. The ‘building of a record’ for a lawsuit was laughable. It’s a new day in coral gables. Elections are coming up. Anyone endorsed by an old timer can’t be voted in.

  18. Ok Lago and the Commission. Proof is in the pudding. WE WANT THE CITY MANAGER AND ATTORNEY FIRED !!! Add the staff members who think they know what we need better than the residents, who supported this project. And if you vote to pass this project, there will be a horrible ground swell against you and the City. It is all negative against it and you need to do what we pay you to do. And NO NO NO there is not a trend to build higher, and if there is, it is time we all fight back over the destruction of our City Beautiful. It is up to you. They go or you go in the next election ( Fors this will follow you to Dade County, believe me) and with you will be them anyway. Do the job we elected you to do and serve the residents, not your own beliefs or developer interests.

  19. All Coral Gables residents that oppose the project need to show up on July 25 because the City Commission controlled by the City Manager is likely to approve the project.

  20. All Coral Gables residents that oppose the project need to show up on July 25 because the City Commission controlled by the City Manager is likely to approve the project.

  21. This is only the beginning of the residents taking back their government.

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