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Parking in Coral Gables has long been a concern for many. The lack of parking in downtown leads many residents to avoid the area and frequent stores and restaurants outside of Coral Gables.
However, the City’s parking woes are not limited to downtown. Most concerning to residents, the City is working actively to take spaces away from residential neighborhoods to accommodate the needs of developers and businesses. Additionally concerning for neighboring residents is that the City is making changes without notifying residents or resident input.
The issue was brought up at the last Parking Advisory Board and most recently at the City Commission meeting on July 13th.
On Biltmore Way in particular, residents were shocked to learn that the Parking Advisory Board had voted on a measure to allow for a pilot program that benefits a new business at the David William. The program would allow for the business to purchase 20 parking permits, taking away from the residents and visitors who frequent the David William and several surrounding buildings that rely on those spaces.
This is only exacerbated when the David William, prone to underground garage flooding as previously reported, is forced to move 150 vehicles to street parking.
When asked about the measure at the Commission meeting, Parking Director Kevin Kinney explained that he had personally conducted a parking study, which showed the parking was not being utilized.
However, a resident public record request for a copy of the study yielded no results, as no official study had been performed. In fact, Kinney replied in an email to the City Clerk dated June 23rd that “We did not pay for a traffic study, as part of the review I visited the 600 and 700 blocks of Biltmore way on approximately 6 different days to count vehicles to confirm that there was sufficient space available to provide a limit number of monthly permits.” There is no indication that Kinney was present for a full 8 hour period the permits would accommodate for.
Additionally, Kinney was unable to provide residents with numbers of available spaces, locations, dates or times from his “visits.”
In an email response to an area resident, the City Clerk, Billy Y. Urquia, replied to a public record request for the results of these studies, “For the purposes of his recommendation to the Parking Advisory Board he surveyed the parking in March of 2021. The trips to count spaces occurred prior to the March Parking Advisory Board meeting and were in the early afternoon to verify how many open spaces were available. No formal report/log was kept, simply verifying the number of open spaces. During the surveys of 600 and 700 Biltmore there were always more than 30 spaces open and available and usually there were more than 40 spaces available.”
It is important to note that according to an opinion by former City Attorney Craig Leen, Director Kinney, as all staff, is supposed to be held to “truth in government” when addressing the Commission. (“Staff is typically not placed under oath. Section (A)(2) of the Citizens Bill of Rights (part of the Miami-Dade County Home Rule Charter) requires “Truth in Government” for county and municipal officials and employees so we are already under a similar legal requirement to an oath. Also, the City’s False Claims and Presentations Ordinance applies as well.”)
Special Accommodations For A Friend
What business is the special accommodation being made for? Benworth Capital Partners, a private real estate lending firm. According to Kinney, Benworth’s office at the David William will open on July 26th.
Gables Insider has received a copy of the initial request from Benworth’s CEO, Bernie Navarro, from the City for a solution to the parking situation. The request did not go to the Parking Director, it went to then Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli.
Valdes-Fauli’s response, “This is a creative suggestion,” copying the Parking Director and the City Manager.
Kinney proceeded to engage with Navarro asking what the need would be. “The unit consists of 5480 square feet. If we use a formula of 4 spaces for every 1000 square feet, we would need 22 spots,” replied Navarro.
Kinney responds, “The option that we can explore would be to create a monthly permit program for any employees that work out of the David Williams office that would allow them to park in zone 2 during normal working hours. The employees would individually sign up for the permits and payment would be monthly or quarterly. I will speak to our senior staff to see if such a program could work in tandem with our Residential Parking Zone.”
No mention of parking studies.
The proposal was then brought before the City’s Parking Advisory Board at the same March 25th meeting, where the Greco deal was first discussed. According to the minutes, “The Parking Director reviewed parking conditions on the 600 & 700 blocks of Biltmore Way. The Parking Director would like to provide limited on-street parking permits to businesses on these blocks that do not have the ability to obtain enough parking on-site. This would be a pilot permit parking program limited to approximately 20 of the 97 available on-street parking spaces.”
The minutes seem to imply that the matter derives from the Parking Director visiting the block. Nowhere in the minutes does it say the spaces are specifically earmarked for Benworth or that the request came from the company.
Even more concerning, residents of the buildings directly impacted by the reduction of spaces by almost 25%, were never notified that the matter would be taken up by the Parking Advisory Board.
The larger underlying question many are asking, is the City responsible for providing parking to a business that purchased an office space without enough parking spaces, at the expense of neighboring residents?
The unit purchased by Benworth came with only two assigned parking spaces in the building.
The code is specific on the parking requirements. “The office parking requirements is 1 space per 300 square feet,” states Economic Development Director Julian Perez in an email exchange with Kinney. However, according to Devin Cejas, the City’s Deputy Development Services Director, in the same email thread, “they were grandfathered in as to parking and past settlement agreements and legal opinions. This would be for their own benefit outside of code constraints.”
The matter is scheduled to be re-discussed by the Parking Advisory Board on July 28th at 5:30PM.
MG Developers Gets City To Remove Public Parking Spaces
Just a few years ago, the City eliminated 6 residential parking spaces on Biltmore Way in front of the Beatrice Row townhouses to install an extra wide swale and trees; enhancing the MG development when the units were for sale; and now that it is fully occupied, forcing visitors and service vehicles to park in the alley, blocking individual garages, or parking illegally in what is now a striped loading zone. Yet another example of showing preference for developers at the expense of residents. But this is not the first time MG Developers has sought the City’s help.
3400th-3600th Block Of Ponce De Leon
The 3400th through 3600th blocks of Ponce de Leon Boulevard, have on street parking which is used by residents and businesses alike. Enter MG Developers.
In January of 2020, the Parking Director stated that there had been a petition he had received signed by property owners asking for a designation of the 3400 block to become a residential parking zone (RPZ). This area is a shared used zone.
A petition was filed by one of the principals of MG Developers while there were no residents living in any of his four, newly constructed units. The other signature was from a resident who had previously owned the other two apartment buildings on the same block; there was no “50% + 1” signatures required for such a petition to be accepted. Furthermore, the person who owned the other two, older apartment buildings bequeathed her two buildings to her son who quickly rescinded his mother’s signature on the petition via a letter of request to the City. The signed petition from the residents in the two older buildings was delivered to Kinney and asked that “parking be returned to members of the community at large.”
Subsequent neighborhood meetings were held with affected residents and local small businesses and it was clear that the support for the measure did not reach 50% of owners. The measure was another favor, in this case to help increase the value of the properties for a developer.
The zone was created without the 50% +1 of the property owners in the affected area which is required to make the change in parking rules. Kinney made the change anyway.
The process was discussed at the January 28, 2021 Parking Advisory Board meeting. According to the minutes, “The PAB recommended that the staff look into establishing a public workshop/process for stakeholders prior to creating a RPZ.”
These days when the City is seeking to increase transparency, the process seems like a no-brainer.
To date, no such process has been created. Residents in the area have expressed their hope that the Parking Advisory Board will take a harder look at these processes and ordinances and how they are executed by staff. Continuing with the goal of transparency, staff should work in concert with City Boards made up of citizen-volunteers so that there is complete transparency and consideration for all residents.
There are two 3600 blocks along Ponce de Leon in addition to the 3400 block that remain mostly vacant of cars during business hours and as a result, more cars are parking on swales in the neighborhoods. With all of the added construction along Ponce, the City urgently needs to find a better way to address this problem.