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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.
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.”
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.