Residents Beat Morris: Board Of Architects Unanimously Strikes Down Ponce Park Residences

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
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In what is probably the biggest blow to father and son duo, W. Allen Morris and Spencer Morris, their years long attempt to build Ponce Park Residences on the corner of University Drive and Ponce de Leon Boulevard was struck down unanimously by the Coral Gables Board of Architects.

The project had come before the City Commission at the July 25th meeting, and they had been asked to make substantial changes, restricting their ability to come back for a minimum of six months. They had also been asked to work with neighbors who opposed the project, to present a project that neighbors would be in support of.

Instead, they forged forward within three weeks and presented a “new project” with a gamble at a fast track to the Board of Architects for the September 1st meeting. The consultation with residents was not scheduled until after Gables Insider reported on Morris’ attempts to skirt the process. It was scheduled for hours after their scheduled presentation to the Board of Architects.

Their gamble was a costly one for Morris.

Inaccurate Statements

Morris’ attorney, Anthony De Yurre, began the presentation and introduced the project’s architect. He explained that “following the Commission meeting, they asked us, in the hallway outside this very chamber, to come back with a 10-story project.” In a text message to Gables Insider, De Yurre stated he was not referencing the “Commissioners.” Sources who were present outside the chamber, that day, tell Gables Insider they did not witness any conversations between Morris or De Yurre and members of the Commission. De Yurre declined to answer who had asked them to create a 10-story project.

De Yurre also stated that Morris had meetings with groups of neighbors who were all behind the project. When asked what groups and how we could speak with them, De Yurre did not respond.

De Yurre also stated that the project did not require the alleyways in order to build as high as they want. He explained that, “the properties are almost one acre.” The code does not define almost as a qualification.

Board Of Architects Discussion

Following the brief presentation by the architect with what he called “minor changes” to the project, board members began to chime in and question the two.

“The 3 dimension of this building are substantially different,” said one member. “This is a significantly different building three dimensionally,” said the Chair.

The Board began asking about the impact on the FAR by the potential approval of the Mediterranean Bonus. De Yurre and his team explained that it was 21,000 square feet. They asked the City Planner what the developer was allowed to build as of right. City Planner, Jennifer Garcia, replied that they could build up to 150 feet. A false statement. She was then pressed by the Board and explained that as of right, Morris can build up to 50 feet with no change of land-use or change of zoning. 77 feet with Mediterranean Bonus. The project was proposing 123 feet. In order to build higher, the Commission would have to approve changes to land-use and the zoning code.

Alley Vacation

The Board turned its attention to the Alley. “Can you build a building without taking the alley?” De Yurre was asked. After a lengthy pause he replied, “Yes, two buildings.” The Board member continued, “removing of this alley does help the project, doesn’t it?” De Yurre stated on the record, “yes, it does.”

City Development Services Director Suramy Cabrera took the microphone in order to defend De Yurre and prevent the line of questioning. She told the Board they were only here to discuss the design and Mediterranean Bonus. The Board explained they needed clarification on alley vacation, as it would impact the other questions.

Mediterranean Bonus

The Board began to discuss their concerns about the Mediterranean Bonus. De Yurre began getting upset at the Board. “We have been here with the 17-story project, the 14-story project, now the 10-story project.” He explained he did not believe they needed to answer any additional questions, as the project had been approved by the board twice before.

The Chair replied, “for me, the Blue Ribbon Committee and the differences are a statement by the community that what we have been approving as a board needs to be different,. We need to see if that difference is reflected in this building you are bringing now.”

De Yurre wanted to push forward with the old Mediterranean Bonus rules, which would benefit his client. As previously reported, the City has made changes over the last year to the Mediterranean Bonuses rules.

The Board continued providing comments, “Sometimes when you dilute elements, because they are individually Mediterranean doesn’t mean the building is Mediterranean. I think that’s one thing that is happening here.” The Board member then asked, “where do you find it in Coral Gables? Do you have any particular examples?” De Yurre and the architect flipped through their slides trying to find an example. They stopped on a slide with an image of the Biltmore Hotel.

The Board member replied, “I am super happy you brought this example,. “you are using a secondary facade as the primary in your building.”

Train Station

After having questioned the Mediterranean design, one board member made an observation, “the reduction of the base has given this more of a transportation building feel. It looks like a train station.” “It actually looks like a train rail overpass” said another.

Board Decision

The Board discussion ended with the Chair’s comments, “I don’t think this building is Mediterranean…I would have to say no.” The rest of the board agreed. The decision to deny the Mediterranean Bonus was unanimous.

As for the design, “Massing, geometry, detailing, blank facades, arcade proposal is not consistent with Coral Gables Mediterranean style.” The Board voted to deny the building’s design with a 6-1 vote.

In addition, they made it clear to De Yurre and Morris’ team, the project must not be tweaked, it must be completely redesigned to come back.


24 thoughts on “Residents Beat Morris: Board Of Architects Unanimously Strikes Down Ponce Park Residences

  1. The residents who took part, either in person or on Zoom, had a lot to do with this decision. We need to keep putting pressure on all our elected and non-elected representatives to ensure our voices are heard LOUD & CLEAR! Keep your eyes and ears open!

  2. This is not over. Mark my words, if Commissioner Menendez has his way- this project will be built minus a floor or two. He lied his way onto the commission to line his pockets !!!

  3. Surami Cabrera, Development Services Director, continues to tell more lies, confuse, delay, wasting city tax money. She is not invested in CG, doesn’t live in Coral Gables, yet depends on CG paycheck. Let’s get someone in this position who actually listens to the residents and cares about blue skies and green spaces. Not concrete jungle.

  4. The architects on the Board of Architects are not worth $1,000.00 per hour or $400,000.00 per year.

    They are worth nothing.

    They have ruined the City by approving, time after time, commercial and residential monster buildings.

    They should pay the residents billions of dollars.

    They also should all resign and be replaced with architects who are more than mediocre and, above all, who have integrity.

  5. “He (De Yurre) explained he did not believe they needed to answer any additional questions…”
    This developer sense of entitlement to concessions such as the Mediterranean Bonus and zoning changes needs to end immediately. We Coral Gables citizens must regain control over the future of our city.

  6. Board of Architects gave a great show.

    They declined the request by Allen Morris for the Mediterranean Bonus that would permit their building an additional 22 feet [2-3 floors] of height.

    Then they proceeded to advise Allen Morris on the changes that would enable the building to obtain the Mediterranean Bonus when the proposal is brought back to the Board at a future date.

    This after the Board chairperson declared that vacating the alley [disregarding the Ordinance that defends public land and effectively limits Allen Morris to 5 floors on both sides of the alley] is acceptable in her opinion [no Board member defended the Ordinance after that although one had done so at length before the chairperson made this incredible declaration].

    Allen Morris then staged a performance in the evening for the illusion of neighborhood involvement and it was outdoors under a big tent [literally].

    The only thing missing all day were popcorn vendors and elephants [there were plenty of acrobats].

  7. BOA did the right thing these projects were out of control in height and intrusive in neighborhoods. another win for us residents

  8. Zena, Had you taken the time to attend previous BOA meetings you would have been aware that up to recent time the BOA members’ hands were tied by the higher ups. You may want to watch the Commission meetings where the Mediterranean Blue Ribbon Committee reports were discussed to see how hard it was to get the Mediterranean issue taken care of. Please concentrate on what happen yesterday! They need to be commended not criticized, and an apology is in order.

  9. THE BOA UPHELD ITS MISSION as expected. However, what was not expected was how staff misrepresented its position. For example, one staff member vouched for the project at 150 feet which was a misleading statement when in fact only 50 feet is allowed as of right. And another staff member, when pressed about the alley giveaway answered that “public works” opined that it was okay to vacate the area. Public Works? Since when does “public works” make concessions on public land?

    BOA was thorough in its deliberations. Staff was thoughtless.

  10. Thank goodness that law and logic prevailed. As evidenced by the unattractive massive buildings that are being constructed, we as residents of Coral Gables unfortunately cannot rely on our Mayor and Commissioners to maintain our City Beautiful as George Merrick designed. Our alleys cannot be touched and our codes have to be upheld. Please remove the ‘art” graffiti on the building on Miracle Mile and Ponce.

  11. Not surprised at all about Surami Cabrera… She was a bit of a rogue element back in her days at Miami-Dade County. She’s got to go, for good.

  12. I needed a good laugh this morning and got it! 20+Development Projects: 7 under review; 7 approved (excluding Gables Village);12 permitted or under construction (excluding public and commercial buildings)that look more like Brickell than CG is worried about this design not fitting in? It actually looks quite good, not boxy, better scaled than some others.

  13. To Zena—the BOA services provided by the licensed architects on the Board are pro bono; each Thursday session served equates to about $1,000.00 in lost fee’s per architect. Do the math- one year is roughly $50,000 in lost Billings per member, 8 years of service is $400,000 per member. They are certainly NOT enriching themselves, but are trying to enrich the City’s architecture…even if at times under hostile conditions.

  14. We the residents wish the Commissioners and Mayor had the backbone to stand up to this developer. Forget the Manager and Attorney, as they have been bought and sold by Morris. It is time to wipe the slate clean and start over with our entire leadership. It is time to “push back” on all the mess this group of so-called leaders has created.

  15. Looks like the City Planner and the City Development Services Director have their pockets full of cash provided by the Morris team. Not a surprise.

  16. Yesterday I was very proud of our BOA!! They were right on point and they did an amazing job! They did their job!

  17. I am very glad the BOA vote this way and hopefully they will be right on others protects as well. My home is on the area of the “mistake” and I am aware of what is happening in Coral Gables and I don’t agree. Please work thinking on our history and pay attention to residents.

  18. To Gables residents: Now please rise up and say NO to the latest attempt to annex Little Gables.
    It seems you have enough problems and issues in your city.
    Encourage your leaders to pay attention to your many needs and just say NO to annexation.

  19. Allllllll aboard! Finally the architects wake up and realize that this building in no way Mediterranean. The free giving of the med bonus has to stop. The town houses by NG developers looks Mediterranean and gorgeous. We need more beautiful charming architecture.

  20. I will NOT apologize. You have a poor memory if you believe the Board of Architects has the best interests of the City at heart. Don’t you remember the “mobility hub”, the “mistake” in the Biltmore Way zoning upgrade, Robert Behar’s arrogance to residents, etc.? Please write all of these and all the others down so you will remember history in Coral Gables and not be so quick to join a bunch of puppets on the BOA, enriching themselves at the expense of taxpayers.

  21. The BOA is finally realizing that they have the power to put a stop to these projects that have nothing to do with Coral Gables. Another big win for residents.

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