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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.