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On Wednesday, December 8th, the Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board voted unanimously to support the City reversing the upzoning of the Biltmore Section south of Biltmore Way, following the “mistake” that led to its upzoning in February of this year.
The Planning and Zoning Board heard from City staff, who admitted a mistake had been made which led to the upzoning of the Biltmore Section from Multi-Family 2 (MF-2) and Multi-Family Special Area (MFSA) to Multi-Family 4 (MF-4).
As Gables Insider reported in February, “the City hired the firm of DPZ CoDesign to advise the City on the zoning changes. Over the course of the lengthy zoning change proposal process, it had been led by DPZ partner, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Plater-Zyberk spoke very briefly before excusing herself from the meeting due to a prior commitment to teach a class at the University of Miami. Interestingly, DPZ has a team of 24 people listed on their website, and no one else was present to answer resident questions. DPZ is under contract at an hourly rate of $250 when Plater-Zyberk is present and $175 per hour when a project manager is present. Yet Plater-Zyberk was unable to actively participate in what was intended to be the final meeting.”
That final meeting was the meeting where the zoning changes were presented to the community prior to the final vote by the Commission. The changes were explained by Plater-Zyberk as a simple cleanup of the zoning code, she never mentioned any upzoning or changes to height or FAR to the Biltmore section.
City Realized Mistake
According to the City’s Development Services Director, the city did not realize what the changes had actually done to the Biltmore Section until residents pointed it out to staff. She defended the City’s Planning and Zoning Director, Ramon Trias, who specifically told the Commission in February that no changes to height would take place under the proposed changes.
Prior to the start of the Planning and Zoning Board meeting, the city released the following statement:
“In February 2021 the City of Coral Gables Commission approved a Zoning Code update which looked to remove inconsistencies in the code. The approval occurred after various years of public input and meetings and was led by renowned architect and urban planner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. As a result, in addition to removing complexity and variations there were many other positive changes including requirements for open space for commercial and mixed-use projects.
The Ordinance before the Planning and Zoning Board simply returns the properties that are now 190.5 feet in height due to the elimination of the Mediterranean architectural requirement back to the 150 feet in height they were previously afforded. This change results in no decrease to development potential because the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is not affected.”
Planning and Zoning Board’s Recommendation
Many residents and stake holders addressed the Planning and Zoning Board on December 8th. Most of them requesting that the changes be reversed in their entirety. The change before the board only reverses the changes to properties south of Biltmore Way. Not reversing the entire change would have a negative impact on historic structures in the area, including the Junior League of Miami’s headquarters.
The board debated the changes to the entire area and board members Wayne “Chip” Withers and Claudia Miro argued on behalf of those present, that the Commission should right the wrong by reversing the entire upzoning of the Biltmore Section.
Board member Robert Behar, who made the initial motion, reluctantly accepted an amendment to his motion that recommended to the Commission that they should not only move forward with the proposed reversion, but should also consider reversing the rest of the changes to the Biltmore section.
The Commission will now take up the item in January.