Staff “Mistake” Leads To Biltmore Section Upzoning To Maximum Height Of 190.5 Feet

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
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On February 9th, the City Commission took a vote to make changes to the City’s zoning code, which were explained to residents as a slate of necessary clarifications to the zoning code.

As part of a sunshine meeting on February 1st, a presentation showing what the changes would be outlined that the changes would “PROVIDE FOR LOW-DENSITY MULTIFAMILY BUILDINGS IN MULTIFAMILY 3 AND HIGH-DENSITY MULTIFAMILY BUILDINGS IN MULTIFAMILY 4 (BILTMORE WAY).

At the meeting, the City’s Planning and Zoning Director informed the Commission that voting for the changes would not bring any height or density changes to Biltmore Section. The Commission voted unanimously for the changes.

In the summer, residents started inquiring about the zoning changes and found that there was a large issue with the change. The zoning of their Biltmore Section neighborhood had been changed from Multi-family Special Area (MFSA) and MF-2 to MF-4.

Substantial Height Changes

The change from MF-2 to MF-4 represented a substantial height difference and addition to density, a completely different reality to what had been proposed to the City Commission. With Mediterranean bonuses: One building would see an allowed height increase from 45 feet to a maximum allowed 77 feet. Nine buildings would have an allowed height increase from 70 feet to a maximum allowed 97 feet. Another ten would see an allowed height increase from 150 feet to a maximum of 190.5 feet. The height of these ten buildings would allow for the tallest buildings in the City overseeing the Granada Golf Course.

Trias admitted his mistake and the City began scrambling to find a solution. The Commission had voted on the changes under a false premise presented by Trias, however making things right would not be simple.

Ramon Trias

It is hard to understand how Trias could have made such a mistake. He has been the City’s Director of Planning and Zoning since 2012 and was the Chair of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council before that. He also has outside employment “consulting on town planning, education” at Trias and Associates. Residents have expressed their disbelief that someone with Trias’ experience and wealth of knowledge would make such a mistake about the basics of planning and zoning.

Bert Harris Act

Although the City has seldom turned down an opportunity to fight a legal battle with brute force, the City Commission has long feared a lawsuit from developers over the Bert Harris Act. According to the Florida Bar, “the State of Florida enacted the Bert J. Harris, Jr., Private Property Rights Protection Act in 1995, which provides a specific process for landowners to seek relief when their property is unfairly affected by government action. Under the act, a claim exists if a governmental entity inordinately burdens an existing use of real property or a vested right to a specific use of real property.”

However, residents in the neighborhood informed Gables Insider that developers have yet to purchase any of the properties in question, allowing for an opportunity for the City to correct the “mistake.”

But time is limited, these same sources explain that “developers are circling like vultures trying to land their first bite.”

Planning and Zoning Board

On Wednesday, December 8th at 6:15PM, the City’s Planning and Zoning Board will be considering the City’s solution to the “mistake.”

However, the solution falls far short from reversing the changes. In fact, it excludes more than half of the properties included in the change and only removes the Mediterranean bonuses from properties south of Biltmore Way and does not make any changes to those north of Biltmore Way or on Coral Way.

The proposal states: “At the request of the City Commission, Staff has drafted a Zoning Code text amendment to remove the ability to obtain additional building height using the Mediterranean Bonus program for all properties zoned Multi-Family 4 (MF4) District south of Biltmore Way. The MF4 zoning district was recently created as a result of the Zoning Code Update to be consistent with the Multi-Family Residential High Density land use designation of the Comprehensive Plan. As allowed in the land use designation, additional height is secured when complying with the Mediterranean Bonus program to a maximum of 190.5 feet, whereas the permitted building height without the bonus is 150 feet. However, the City Commission has requested to remove the ability to obtain the bonus height for properties south of Biltmore Way when complying with the Mediterranean Bonus program, and only allow additional density and intensity. This was the maximum building height when these properties were in the former zoning district of Multi-Family Special Area (MFSA). The proposed maximum for all MF4 zoned properties south of Biltmore Way is 150 feet. Accordingly, the maximum height with Mediterranean Bonus of 190.5 feet will be removed.”

In the words of attorney David Winker who represents Preserving Biltmore Section, a group of Biltmore Section residents opposed to the upzoning, “we have spot zoning, we have contract zoning, now we have ‘mistake’ zoning.”

Community Concern

Over the last few days, several groups have released statements and asked their members to voice their concerns to the Commission and the Planning and Zoning Board.

Junior League of Miami: The Junior League of Miami emailed its members informing them that, “recently, the City of Coral Gables re-zoned a significant number of blocks around our Headquarters at 713 Biltmore Way. At that time, we inquired about how we would be affected as we knew that the property next door was considering a sale. City officials assured JLM that no additional height would be allowed. However, this was not accurate, and the area was re-zoned to allow for more height. The City claims that this was done in error and is attempting to reverse the additional height allowance but is carving out our side of Biltmore Way and Coral Way from the reversal. We want to be included in the reversal like all of our other neighbors in the zoning district.”

Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables (HPACG): The HPACG sent out the following: “to this day, the City has never noticed nor explained to residents in the Biltmore Section the original zoning changes, the consequences or the proposed remedy for the City’s mistake that will adversely affect property values and quality of life in the multi family district and in the surrounding residential areas.”

Coral Gables Neighbors Association: The Coral Gables Neighbors Association sent the following to the Commission, “The Coral Gables Neighbors Association stands with the Biltmore Condominiums Coalition on this issue….Anything less than a complete reversal of the February zoning changes and a reversion to the zoning previously in place for the entire Biltmore Section is unacceptable.”

Biltmore Condominiums Coalition: The Biltmore Condominiums Coalition is asking for the City to “reverse all zoning changes in the Biltmore section…and restore the original density, FAR, height and setbacks; remove the Mediterranean bonus for all properties in the Biltmore section; elimiate the MF-4 zoning district and re establish the MFSA and MF-2 zoning districts in the Biltmore Section; and transparency and public notices to the neighbors.”

Planning & Zoning Board Meeting Link

The matter will be heard by the Planning and Zoning Board on December 8th at 6:15PM, before heading to the Commission. The Planning and Zoning Board can be seen on Zoom by clicking here.

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16 thoughts on “Staff “Mistake” Leads To Biltmore Section Upzoning To Maximum Height Of 190.5 Feet

  1. If it’s “hard to understand how Trias could have made such a mistake”, then you’ve never worked with him. He’s a myriad of reverse decisions and “oh, no I didn’t say thats”.

  2. Our parents taught us the difference between right and wrong. It didn’t sink in to Ramon Trias. He perpetrated a massive deception on many innocent people living in the Biltmore area.

    If Ramon Trias has any shame left in him, he must resign, now.

    Should he not resign, the City government must fire him, now.

    If the City government doesn’t do that, it is weak and no longer trustworthy.

    Regarding anyone on Ramon Trias’ staff who aided and abetted his massive deception, that staff aide must also resign or be fired, now. It is a small punishment for the horrible thing he or she did to many innocent people living in the Biltmore area .

    If the City government doesn’t fire them, now, the City government has their massive stain of deception on its front door.

    Finally, except for Chip Withers and Claudia Miro, the rest of the members on the Building and Zoning Board must also resign, now. Losing their job is small punishment for betraying the people they were supposed to protect.

    Should they are not fired now, the City has lost the ability to govern.

  3. A complete reversal of the so-called “mistake” immediately is the ONLY solution the residents of Coral Gables should stand for! The mayors “listening” tour seems to have amounted to nothing but a puff piece. So many issues have arisen in such a short time period since his taking office:
    The property sale on LeJuene across from Havana Harrys issue, the underhanded non-renewal leasing of Burger Bobs and CGCC issue, the continuing white cookie cutter homes and McMansions being built issue, the allowing of buildings to come right up to the sidewalk issues, the Wawa being built across from Carver elementary issue, the near allowance of a hotel on the corner of Ponce and Miracle Mile issue, the unwanted “dog” park designation on Catalonia and Anderson, the latest new garage rendition that is not in keeping with Coral Gables Mediterranean architecture, and on and on…
    Anyone as experienced as Mr. Trias does not make this kind of “mistake”! Should the mayor and commissioners not rectify and then remove him there will be many unhappy constituents who will not only voice their grievances out loud but also at the ballot box come election time!
    The brand new townhomes in the 600 block of Almeria Ave look like offices not residences. The amount of townhomes being built in the Biltmore section is out of control and encroaching on my residential area resulting in more traffic and lets not forget they are trying to take away some of the residential parking in front of the 600-700 block of Biltmore way already.
    Perhaps the Mayor could fix his offices mistakes and then focus on the empty MM store fronts and increase in crime!

  4. Cancers need to be promptly removed totally or they keep coming back. Time for radical action is here and now. Take note for the next election.

  5. I don’t understand what the problem is…all the commission has to do is to tell the “circling” over-developers and land owners hoping to sell their property at a premium that a “mistake” was made and reverse the entire “mistake”. Surely the developers and land owners can understand this just as easily as the resident were expected to?!
    Problem solved!

  6. Wonder how much money/goodies Trias will garner from his “mistake”. The mistake is allowing him, and other dishonest or arrogant “public servants” to stay on the Coral Gables taxpayer gravy train. Now and forever- their pensions and subsidized health care keep on giving to them, and taking from the taxpayers.

  7. after living all over the country and dealing with muinicipal staffs everywhere, the incompetence in CoraL Gables continues to amaze me. it i s vey obvious these people do NOT have a service, solution-oriented mindset. just self-preservation, bureocray and obfuscation, yes.. now a “mistake ” by one of the apparently most experienced people in the staff and what are the consequences? dismisssal? that kind of. mistake is not small! he needs to go, set an example, a tone of what’s tolerated, what is not.

  8. That kind of action and (mis-)conduct could hardly be the result of, or be called, a “mistake,” even if the action had been taken by one who is deficient in the use of this area’s language (not too likely, here), and the language of the law.

    The conclusions are inevitable, the mechanations, obvious. Mr. Trias should be “invited” (by subpoena) to explain his “mistake” to state or federal prosecutors – – after signing a waiver of immunity. Any member of the so-called “planning board” who does NOT take immediate and decisive steps toward sending Mr. Trias back to wherever he came from, and, of course, rectify/remedy (i.e. undo) the “mistake” should join him.

    To its public officials and some of (but not, all of) its employees, this is most definitely not “the City Beautiful;” rather, the City Bountiful.

  9. “It is hard to understand how Trias could have made such a mistake. He has been the City’s Director of Planning and Zoning since 2012 and was the Chair of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council before that. He also has outside employment “consulting on town planning, education” at Trias and Associates. Residents have expressed their disbelief that someone with Trias’ experience and wealth of knowledge would make such a mistake about the basics of planning and zoning.”. Precisely!

  10. This “smells” very bad. Rest assured that a one foot decrease in allowed height in any section would have caused a fire storm by the Commissioners.

  11. Mark this under “irrelevant,” but the work you do at Gables Insider is so valuable. Very few cities in south FL are lucky enough to have dedicated journalists holding the government accountable. Thank you, Ariel!

  12. Nothing but a COMPLETE reversal of all zoning changes made on February 9th will suffice. Enough of “mistake” zoning changes, specially since Planning and Zoning LIED about he extent of the changes to the Commission. This is scandalous and should be reversed in its entirety immediately.

  13. Add this to the long list of under-handed attempts by some in City Hall to sell Coral Gables to any over-developer.

    Someday, enough concerned residents will put an end to it, once and for all.

    Someday, the City will have a special election: no buildings over 5 stories.

    Someday, enough concerned residents will throw out the scoundrels in City Hall.

    Someday.

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