Sunshine Meeting Lays Groundwork For Showdown December 8th

What should have been an open forum for residents to hear the City’s plans for Miracle Mile and Crafts Section and share their thoughts on that plan, turned into a scolding by the Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli and a nearly two hour discussion between the Commission and staff on the plan, before residents were allowed to speak. (WATCH FULL MEETING)

Over 280 residents tuned in through the live Zoom link, while others viewed the meeting on Coral Gables television. By the time the public comment period opened, almost a third of residents had logged off.

The meeting began with what members of the Commission described as one of the best prepared and thorough presentations made by the city’s staff. (See PowerPoint presentation)

Mayor Implies Mandate For More Development

At the start of the commission comment period, Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli decided to use his time to scold residents and unnamed blogs for spreading false information about the Miracle Mile rezoning without specifics. He then continued to make it seem he was a victim of the public outcry suggesting he was being ‘painted as a big bad wolf’ by the Coral Gables Neighbor’s Association and ‘supporter blogs’ by not wanting to adhere to the requests of the public and the CGNA requesting a delay in the zoning code vote until a new majority commission is elected in April 2021.

The Mayor turned the meeting political by implying that the changes were supported by voters, as 6 candidates who had stood for less development had lost during the past two elections, implying opponents were a minority of residents.

Gables Insider requested a list of those candidates, as well as the list of the online blogs. The mayor replied through the City’s Communications Director, Martha Pantin, that he was not referring to blogs rather emails he had received. Further, that the candidates he was referring to were “Jeanett Slesnick twice, Chip Withers, Marlen [sic] Ebber [sic], Carmen Olazabal, Rip Holmes and Randy Hoff.”

Although the mayor implies a mandate to build a concrete canyon on Miracle Mile, Valdes-Fauli himself was only elected by a margin of 186 votes in 2017 and 123 votes in 2019. There were more participants in the meeting than his margin of victory.

Vice Mayor Vince Lago, who has led the opposition to the Mayor’s position on this issue, was re-elected without opposition in 2017; as was Commissioner Michael Mena in 2019. Both have voiced concerns over the zoning changes and have voted against certain development projects.

The mayor went on to state that residents have had ample time to voice their comments on this issue. He explained that there have been twenty five (25) meetings where public comments could have been made. However, Commissioner Jorge L. Fors, Jr. addressed the fact that public notice was not required in many of those meetings, so residents may not have been informed. (List of the 25 meetings).

The mayor concluded his remarks and seemingly passed the gavel to Vice Mayor Lago and left the chambers.

In an email forwarded by a resident to Gables Insider, the Mayor replied to a resident who was submitting their comments about the proposed changes: “I also think it is an insult to everyone’s intelligence to discuss the same thing over 25 times, what is wrong with us?” before declaring that the character of Coral Gables is reserved to residential streets, not Miracle Mile. He ended his email to this resident saying, “Congratulations on your newly found interest in our civic issues.”

Commission Discussion

The Commission had a lengthy discussion over different factors of the zoning changes.

The bulk of the conversation revolved around four main points: 1) FAR (Floor Area Ratio), 2) Stepbacks/Setbacks, 3) Parking garages on Miracle Mile and Aesthetics, and 4) the Crafts Section.

FAR (Floor Area Ratio) and Stepback

FAR relates to the amount of buildable area on a lot. Wikipedia defines FAR as “the ratio of a building’s total floor area (gross floor area) to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built.” Perhaps the best way to describe it is visually, here is a graphic Wikipedia uses to explain FAR.

Courtesy Wikipedia: BCR (Building Coverage Area)
Pyramid at Djoser. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Setback is the space between the end of a property and the allowed construction zone. Stepback refers to a stepped distancing of the construction from the edge of the property. Perhaps the best way to visualize it is the Pyramid at Djoser in Egypt. As the building rises, it is pushed further away from the edge of the property.

The following images show the potential change on Miracle Mile from the existing structure on the Mile to the potential 4.375 FAR with Parking and a 10 foot stepback after third second story, with a potential six story building.

Parking on Miracle Mile and Aesthetics

Parking was a large part of the conversation. Commissioners all seemed to be concerned about the possibility of parking pedestals on Miracle Mile. This is currently allowed in the zoning code.

Commissioner Patricia Keon, who arrived late at the meeting, explained that she believed the most important thing should be aesthetics, arguing against parking garages on Miracle Mile. She also advocated against parking garages in the rear of those buildings as well. In other words, no parking on new construction on the Mile.

Vice Mayor Lago expressed his desire to limit the FAR on buildings that did not provide parking. Developers have long used the reduction or removal of parking to maximize their income on properties. This would reduce the incentive of removing parking.

Several residents, like Dr. Gordon Sokoloff, don’t want to give-in to the notion that parking garages have to necessarily be ugly, referring to several garages in Miami Beach with hanging ivy and trees that are rather beautiful.

In nearly 100 years, there has not been a single proposed parking garage on Miracle Mile.

The Crafts Section

The changes to zoning for the crafts section were bifurcated from the zoning changes at first reading, in order to provide separate consideration to these. The measure had first been proposed by Vice Mayor Lago and then was proposed by Commissioner Mena and adopted. This will bring a separate vote on the matter.

The crafts district changes apply to Catalonia, Malaga and the north side of Santander between LeJeune and Salzedo.

The section is currently a residential neighborhood just outside the downtown of Coral Gables. However, the proposed changes state that the goal of the proposed changes is to “transition from downtown to residential neighborhoods.”

Public Comment

Residents who spoke voiced their concerns about changes to the Mile.

Dr. Sokoloff, Chairman of the City’s Transportation Board, spoke of the changes the Commission had made under Streetscape, and how they were supposed to be the saving grace to Miracle Mile spending over $25,000,000.

Other speakers voiced their desire for the changes to be brought up after the April election, which will elect at least two new Members to the City Commission.

Commissioner Fors added he was interested in making changes to the public notice requirement to ensure that the City’s eNews, which is sent weekly by email to residents who subscribe, sent out notifications on meetings that involve the Commission.

Thanks to the several speakers who gave a shout-out to Gables Insider for keeping them informed.

Second Reading

The issue will come to a head at the December 8th City Commission meeting, where the items will come to the Commission on second reading. Meaning the Commission can take a final vote to approve or disapprove the proposed changes. where the commission will discuss the additional community meetings to fully vet out the zoning items.

As a result the following items are being considered at the December 8th meeting:

A Resolution of the City Commission directing staff that irrespective of any required legal notice or other means of providing notice, notices of all public meetings shall be transmitted via email to all email address in the City’s email database. (Sponsored by Commissioner Fors)

A Resolution of the City Commission directing the City Manager to conduct a Community Meeting in mid-January 2021 regarding the Zoning Code Update with extensive notice provided, for the purpose of staff explaining the proposed changes to the community and obtaining input from the community and further directing the City Manager to bring the Zoning Code Update ordinance (including the bifurcated Miracle Mile ordinance) to the February 9, 2021 City Commission meeting for second reading. (Sponsored by Vice Mayor Lago)

Residents are able to voice their opinions during the public comment portion of all commission meetings via Zoom or by telephone.

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14 thoughts on “Sunshine Meeting Lays Groundwork For Showdown December 8th

  1. It looks like this is happening. The best we can ask for is that hack architects from other cities are not hired, who would only make Miracle Mile look like a strip mall in Anytown, USA. Miracle Mile can be redeveloped, but give it a character that is defining to the City and it’s history.

  2. The Mayor, the “builders best friend” is now acting like a little dictator having a temper tantrum because his “subjects” don’t see things HIS way!
    To repeat the old saying—“Politicians (as opposed to LEADERS)are like babies, they need to be changed often, and for the same reason!!!

  3. I attended the virtual meeting on November 30 to ascertain your thought process on the above. I got the impression that you had already decided upon proceeding with what the consultants, staff and interested parties are telling you. The meeting appeared to be a mere orchestration in the name of transparency.

    You all gave the impression that your motive for rewriting the code was to resuscitate Miracle Mile by encouraging mixed use development with emphasis on creating residential units. Commissioner Mena gave the impression that he was in favor of a low density model while commissioner Lago had no qualms about height restrictions although he too seemed to favor a lower scale. The Mayor came across as his usual condescending self by reminding us that the subject had been debated 25 times in a public forum and postponing the matter until after the elections was unnecessary. He boastfully came across as a champion of development who spoofed at the six anti development candidates who did not make it while running on that platform. We all know of his very narrow victory to Jeanette Slesnick. i am not sure what Mr. Fors stands for.

    Here are some of my concerns about your thinking on the zoning rewrite.

    1 Retail, Ma and Pa stores and the mega malls have been gradually loosing share of retail business not only because of Covid19 but also because people are shopping online. I don’t think developing residential units will create an enhanced shopping experience. Take the example of the Dadeland Mall that has plenty of onsite parking and has plenty of large and small franchised stores. Their business was down 56% this year during Black Friday. The outlook for retail seems grim after large scale bankruptcies .

    2 Coral Gables, under your leadership and others before you, is already overdeveloped and in quite a few cases, unnecessarily. I lived in Palm Beach, for 20 years and undoubtedly it is one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. No development could take place because all of Palm Beach is non conforming to the zoning code. For any development to take place developers have to seek permission from neighbors and obtain numerous variances for height, setbacks, density, aesthetics, parking etc. If the property owner or developer did not start construction within a certain time frame, they lost their zoning status. Mr Lago cannot compare Worth Avenue to Miracle mile.

    3. It was not clear where the remote parking would be. The scale of development you are opening doors to would require thousands of parking spaces in high rise garages. I don’t know why you do not consider underground parking. It might be more expensive and could be funded by a private and government partnership, but would keep the concrete jungle out of sight.

    4. I am in favor of postponing the rezoning until after a new election and when the public can be physically present to participate and give you their feedback. People do not understand your consultant terminology such as FAR etc. They do understand, however, that developers will buy out or partner with small property owners to create a bigger footprint resulting in greater height and density. Please wait.

    Your penchant for development eludes me. Do not rewrite the code to promote development in the guise of resurrecting Miracle Mile to retain its luster. Do it, if not for yourself, but for the sake of your children and grandchildren and if you are lucky, for your legacy.

  4. BOTH SIDES CRAZY

    COMPROMISE is a MUST!

    4 stories & Remote Parking is the SOLUTION. The Gables founders looked/ dreamt of Spain & Italy. Look at our street names. 4 stories is what you find there; the parking is underground or a block or two away and not fronting precious retail streets. We have the trolleys to get us closer to the Mile and there’s also Freeebie shuttle service. We all need to walk a little, get some cardio.

    We are all surrounded by fatso, sin vergüenzas, with Handicap Tags who want FREE Parking and right in front. These are the people with the circular driveways, who would park in the living room if they could.

    Side One: A few greedy developers and a few politicians acting like cheap whores who want MAXIMUM PROFIT and won’t spend on condoms. These are the Six (6) story people.

    Second Party: Anti-change, resentful for Riviera development people. Envious people who only see the greed and Big Bucks some would make. This is no longer a sleepy Southern town, but a Metro area of 5 million people that extends all the way to Palm Beach. By opposing the Remote Parking they are keeping the Mile at 1 or 2 stories. Not fair to long term property owners paying so much in Real Estate taxes to be stuck at 1 or 2 stories.

    History Repeating. What’s going on now happened years ago when Mr Slesnick replaced Mr Valdés-Fauli.

    RESENTMENT/ VINDICTIVENESS for not getting City Hall Annex Project. Spilllis Candela Architects got it. Along with SELFISHNESS, more time in Car if Beautiful Park Project happened at Biltmore Way in front of City Hall.

    The people who complained then,and now, most probably live in SOUTH Gables, Riviera area and are ENVIOUS of the NORTH Gables improvements. Roxie Boulton’s Oak Tree disappeared so now no EXCUSE to not do City Hall Park.

    These people spend more time in Downtown South Miami, and shouldn’t be complaining so much. They need to compromise as much as the pimps and working girls on the other side.

    COMPROMISE: 4 stories & REMOTE PARKING.

  5. Just looking at the renderings of a future Miracle Mile makes me sick, so does living with the construction impacting S. Dixie Highway for the past several years.

  6. HISTORIC MIRACLE MILE HAS HAD TO FIGHT MANY BATTLES DEFENDING ITS HISTORIC LEGACY. “In the 1920s, City founder George Merrick established the business section of Coral Gables and planted seeds for its healthy development. In the 1940s developers led by George Zain saw the potential for the four-blocks of undeveloped commercial property and began working to develop a ‘miracle mile’ as a unique shopping experience. In the 1980s, the historic preservation movement was at large in Coral Gables and the public was voicing concern over modern high rises changing the character of the downtown area. In response, a 70 feet (three stories) height restriction was placed on properties fronting the Mile” [Miracle Mile: The Evolution of a Street, Coral Gables Museum 2016] My question is, how does the 70 feet/3 stories now become 70 feet/6 stories? HOW DID THE MATH CHANGE? Say NO to any height change above 3 stories and NO REMOTE PARKING. MIRACLE MILE HAS AN ECONOMIC ADVANTAGE. STUDIES HAVE PROVEN THAT “HISTORIC DISTRICTS” HAVE GREATER IMPACT TO ECONOMY. THESE OFFICIALS KEEP DOING THE SAME THING OVER & OVER AND GETTING THE SAME BAD RESULTS. TIME TO THINK OUT OF BOX!

  7. The mayor’s reply to the citizen who became involved shows his arrogant attitude and complete disregard for the taxpayers. He won only because the taxpayers were so frightened of another Sleznick shoveling even more of our tax dollars into the black hole of the unsustainable pensions. So like many elections, he was perceived as the lesser of two evils. Why should the taxpayers be forced to choose between rampant over development and the yawning employee benefits black hole. We need Vince Lago- he is committed to restructuring our absurd pension plan AND not giving in to the developers. PUBLISH THE VOTES OF THE COMMISSIONERS FOR ALL OF THE PAST 2 YEARS CONCERNING DEVELOPMENT OR PENSIONS. The public need see this without spending countless hours on the website searching for the answers.

  8. The mayor has often said that the mile is sick. And his evidence is the 40 empty store fronts. In addition to being a horrible mayor, he is also a lousy business man. Those stores are empty because the lease rates asked make it impossible for anything but a large national chain to survive. If we allow developers to build massive new projects, they will make their profit on floors 2 through 6. The new retail will be that much more expensive. Miracle Mile will have NO local businesses, NO character, and a terrible personality. Much like our Mayor. When will people realize that new development is not the answer. We already have plenty of residence within striking distance of the mile to fill stores, if they are worth going to. We DO NOT need residents living on the mile for that to happen. Please stop buying that line. What we need is a comprehensive plan to make sure local merchants want to, and can afford to, set up shop on the mile. The new pedestrian side walk is just a first step. A good one, but a failure if we don’t build upon it. For one, grant outdoor seating to restaurants that have requested it and been denied. Second, established a fine for landlords who’s properties remain vacant for an extended period of time. I am not in favor of rent control, but we need to provide incentives, and/or disincentives, to keep stores occupied by small businesses. Third, invest in monthly, free events on the mile. Bringing people in once a month, every month, will go a long way to towards satisfying the required foot traffic merchants need to survive. Our Mayor is clueless. The best thing our great city has going for it is his impending departure. I only hope that our new Mayor, and Commissioners, have the gumption to make these decisions based on sound business principles, not for their political gain.

  9. The most revealing part of the meeting was the interaction between Mr. Trias and the Commissioners. As Commissioner Keon has repeatedly told us, this process has been ongoing for three years. As the mayor lectured, there have been 25 meetings that we should have attended if we more interested in the City. I would have expected that every question the Commissioners had about the zoning changes would have been answered in the last three years. Commissioner Lago has been touting remote parking in exchange for lower development height. Why didn’t he know that it couldn’t be done without retaining an expert as City Attorney Ramos explained. I guess the Commissioners are going to repeat the mantra Nancy Pelosi used before the vote on Obamacare – you won’t know what’s in it until its voted on.

  10. Let’s recall and consider: When the Mile was being redone, was it completed timely? No. Not even close. Were there penalty clauses in the contracts of the parties responsible for making the Mile more attractive if they didn’t complete their job on time? I wonder. How much income was lost by the business owners along the Mile during this elongated period of beautification? Each and every one of them I have had the pleasure of speaking with has told me income was noticeably down during that period. Not only was the angle parking removed, but people didn’t want to come to the Mile because it was a hassle with all the construction taking place. Now, imagine once more all the cones, concrete barricades, orange nets and re-routed sidewalks outside the buildings along the Mile to facilitate the construction being advocated by the Mayor and Commissioner Keon. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Right now the Mile represents what Coral Gables should be and, further, explains why the residents are against any more development in the area being considered. Why are other cities jealous of what we have? Because we have been able to maintain some semblance of a small town feeling as opposed to a mighty metropolis continuously flexing its borders by adding new development. Construction cranes along the skyline, the noise associated with this sort of development and sitting on the Mile behind convoys of cement trucks or 18 wheelers hauling trailers of rebar while trying to make their way through the side streets of Coral Gables is not acceptable and is certainly not consistent with the moniker of our municipality otherwise known as the “City Beautiful.” If the mayor of Coral Gables and, likewise, those who are in favor of further development in the downtown area, were to take a stroll down the sidewalk of South Miami Avenue to City Centre, from 13th Ave. to 2nd Ave., in the Brickell area, you would see what this proposal foretells for our current downtown area. Why on earth would we want that? We are not the Miracle Mile of Chicago, we are the Miracle Mile of Coral Gables and we like it that way. So, Mr. Mayor, I implore you and your supporters in this mistaken belief that you are making our City better by moving in this direction of more development along the Mile to face reality and accept the fact a majority of the residents (and I would venture to guess, a majority of the small shop owners along the Mile) do not share your prospective vision for the City Beautiful. In closing, I regretfully offer this vision, I do not believe future City Commissions will vote to fund a statue to honor your legacy as the Mayor for Developers and place it next to George Merrick’s statue. Can you imagine: Raul Valdes-Fauli looking up while reaching skyward with a skyscraper in the palm of his hand. I don’t think that is what Mr. Merrick had in mind. Respectfully sir, you should concede this effort to bring more development to downtown Coral Gables or, as they say in the game of chess when you cannot avoid losing, “resign.”

  11. Personally I am so sick and tired of the attitude and arrogance of our Mayor, that I wish he would leave office today. No one would listen about him when we were voting and now you are lpaying the price of his actions. Rumor has it his brother is going to run for a Commissioner and the residents better think twice. Commissioner Keon goes along with him, wanting development and a concrete jungle for Coral Gables. For the Mayor to comment on the Woke Community of issues is deplorable. Maybe if he was an understanding person he would know that this may be the first or second issue we have felt was so important that we need to make a stand. No to developers, no to off-site parking, no to a concrete jungle and no to those leaders who lack respect for the ones you pay their way and support our City. Commissioner Lago, thank you for standing up to this unacceptable Administration and for being there for the residents of our City Beautiful. We want to keep it that way.

  12. Why is Coral Gables being over developed and the beauty of the city being over run by selfish greedy developers? Coral Gables is supposed to be city beautiful. Not so much because of overwhelming development. It’s ugly what’s going up in Coral Gables.

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