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In a meeting that carried on for over three hours, the Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board voted unanimously to deny all seven requests for W. Allen Morris’ Ponce Park Residences.
As previously reported on Gables Insider, Ponce Park Residences is a planned 179 foot 17-story tower with 161 residential units and over 18,000 square feet of commercial, at the corner of University Drive and Ponce de Leon Boulevard, requesting the City vacate University Drive to allow the developer to maximize on their ability to build.
Over 100 residents attended the meeting in person and via Zoom and many of them spoke out in opposition of the project. Developer Morris was a no-show, not making himself available to answer any of the Board’s or resident’s concerns.
De Yurre Attacks The Media
Morris’ attorney, Anthony De Yurre, spoke on Morris’ behalf and attempted to make the case for this project, which one resident referred to as an “indecent proposal.”
De Yurre began his presentation by attacking the media for its reporting of this project, using what has become the most commonly used words by those in Coral Gables who are seeking to skirt the facts, “misinformation.”
De Yurre went on to present their side of the arguments:
- De Yurre states that “this is not a free gift of land, the City is keeping the land. Right now it is held in trust as we have a reversionary interst over it as a reversionary owner should it be vacated and that’s what we are asking.” He added that they will be “giving the City a portion of our property.”
- “The proposed project was a brainchild of the City in its beautification of Ponce de Leon Blvd”
- He explained that they had reduced the project from 190.6 feet to 179 feet.
- “There are 200 pages of accidents, and I was told in hearings that these are lies.” He showed diagrams of seven accidents before stating he would spare the board’s time, as there are “hundreds of pages.”
The City’s Director of Planning and Zoning, Ramon Trias, followed De Yurre’s presentation. “I have never seen such a complicated application in my many years now working in this business,” he said.
A point of contention from residents had been Morris’ comments at a neighborhood meeting earlier this year, where he stated that the idea of vacating University Drive had derived from City staff. Trias countered this assessment, “the vacation of University Drive has been portrayed by the applicant as the City’s idea, and I don’t think that’s accurate.” He later added, “the applicant attempted to reflect the plan with the designs. Their decision to do this as part of their parcel had very significant effects on the FAR and just overall impacts on the project.”
Trias explained that many concerns had been voiced on numerous occasions to the developer and his team and changes were not made. “The timeline of the review goes back a long time. About a year or so ago it went to the DRC, then it went to Board of Architects several times, there were neighborhood meetings in November of 2020. There were some other meetings to discuss the project and today we have the Planning and Zoning Board meeting or the second Planning and Zoning Board Meeting, because as you know the first time we saw this was some months ago. So what happens is that, during that time, in my perspective, the project has not changed significantly. The applicant may say we made some changes, and they are right, they made some changes, but in terms of a significant redesign that would address some of the concerns, I don’t think that has taken place. So that is why they are presenting a project that is basically the same project that they presented last time.”
Over the course of the year, residents have often asked what is allowed for the developer to build as-of-right, a term often used by the City Commission. Trias explained that it was a difficult question to answer, because our code does not provide a definition for as-of-right. “If one were to ask the question today, what is currently allowed without any changes, without any Med Bonus, without any alley vacation or anything like that, we would be looking at a 4-story, 45-feet, two buildings one on one side of the alley one on the other side of the alley. I think that what happens is that the request is a big change. The applicant is asking for 179, but the actual request of the land use plus the Med bonus that applies to that land use is 190. 150 is the compound height without the Med Bonus, 190 is with the Med Bonus level 2.”
“Change of land use is the biggest change…what has been requested is the highest land use that we have. The land use gives you the extra height,” Trias added.
Trias recommended the denial of six of seven requests from the applicant and later changed his lone holdout on the vacation of the alley to recommend denial of all seven requests.
One-by-one, residents spoke out against the project. Their concerns were numerous. Not a single resident spoke in support of the project.
Jennifer Davis, a resident who explained she was steps away from the proposed project, voiced her concerns with the potential traffic impact in the area. She explained that their dead end street had a Police study conducted, which found that “we were receiving 400 cars a-day in traffic and that is a lot of cars on a dead end road where you have 14 children, one is a baby. People regularly play in the streets, because we don’t have much backyard space.” She added, “we play in the front, we play in the park and that’s where we congregate as a community and this excessive over-development really has an impact on our lives and our quality of life…we have severe concerns about the excessive development that’s occurring in the city it’s so close to our homes.”
Yanira Serralta who held her young daughter as she spoke, explained that this was not the reason they moved into Coral Gables. She expressed the concerns over raising children in this neighborhood and explained that, “the way things are going, I don’t see a good future here.”
Dr. Eduardo Gonzalez Hernandez, a surgeon and 20-year resident explained that, “this is not a Mediterranean plan. This is not a decent project, this is an indecent proposal.” He turned to De Yurre and questioned him on his comments about creating something special, “You’re creating something very special you said. You are destroying something very special I would say.”
Oscar Sosa explained that, “we feel that it’s going to encroach on our lifestyle. The city already, we think, committed an error when they approved The Plaza. It’s huge and it’s creating so many problems for our living.”
Sosa spoke about De Yurre’s comments earlier in the meeting regarding the project not being the largest in the area, “what the developer always mentions is there are another 6 buildings out there that are bigger than this one. Just because you committed a few mistakes before, you don’t have to do the same thing.”
Sosa also added that neighbors had requested copies of the accident reports De Yurre referenced. He explained that of the 200 plus pages De Yurre presented, only 17 accidents had actually taken place in 20 years at the University Drive location the developer seeks the City vacate.
John Fisher took the issue of the growing development in the area further, “we need a moratorium in construction in this area. I know a lot of people say its not possible. Why not? Its time!
Every member of the Planning and Zoning Board spoke out with concerns about the project. Their concerns mirrored those of residents. They challenged the developer on not having made substantive changes to the project prior to coming before their board.
Trias recommended the board defer the items to provide the developer an opportunity to amend the application. However, Board Member and former City Commissioner Wayne “Chip” Withers interjected saying the developer should take the project up before the Commission with what would seem to be a denial vote from the board.
De Yurre stated they would be willing to go back and present a project that takes into account the suggestions heard at this meeting. But as residents, Trias and Withers had pointed out, the comments heard at this meeting had been heard for a year at every prior meeting and Morris had only made minor changes.
Board Member Venny Torre, a developer himself, spoke to the need for a revision of the City’s zoning maps. He explained that the map is confusing and calls for drastic contrasts between one property and an other. He also questioned the ability to build higher, if the developer is able to amass a larger plot of land.
In the end the Planning and Zoning Board voted unanimously to deny all seven requests from the developer. The application would now go before the City Commission who could still approve the project, as the Planning and Zoning Board’s vote is only a recommendation for the Commission’s consideration. Morris could also withdraw his application, although doing so would subject his project to any changes to the Mediterranean Bonus that could derive from the Blue Ribbon Committee’s suggestions.