Sunshine Meeting: Residents Clear, Mediterranean Bonus Policies Must Change

Ariel Fernandez

Founder & Editor
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The City Commission held an evening sunshine meeting on June 14th to discuss the City’s Mediterranean Bonuses. The meeting had been requested by Commissioner Rhonda Anderson at her first Commission meeting on May 11th.

Mediterranean Bonus

The City offered a 30-minute presentation on Mediterranean bonuses, made by Ramon Trias the City’s Director of Planning and Zoning.

According to the City’s website, “The Coral Gables Mediterranean Style Design Standards are provided in the Zoning Code as an incentive to property owners to encourage and expand the creative use of the various architectural styles in association with promoting public realm improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists in exchange for development bonuses that provide amenities and features typically provided in Mediterranean style buildings. The intent of the ‘Coral Gables Mediterranean Architecture’ design bonuses is to continue the support of George Merrick’s vision consistent with the established historic building fabric of the City and enhance the image of the City by providing a visual linkage between contemporary development and the City’s unique historic thematic appearance. Bonuses provided via the Coral Gables Mediterranean Style Design Standards are granted in a two level bonus program. The 1st level of bonuses is intended for all types of architectural design while the 2nd level of bonuses requires development in adherence to Coral Gables Mediterranean Architectural Design.”

Residents Comments

Over 300 residents attended the meeting, nearly 100 in person and over 200 via Zoom.

Dr. Enique Bernal, a resident on Valencia Avenue, spoke about the changes his neighborhood has endured due to zoning changes and the effects of the Mediterranean Bonuses. “The Commission took rights away from us for rights given to the developers.” As reported on Gables Insider, a Court decision in March ruled the City Commission had violated the zoning code in approving a settlement granting concessions to a developer on Bernal’s block. “It feels like bad faith,” he added, “it seems like collusion between the City and developers.” “You can give extra rights to developers and we can’t do anything about it.”

Bernal was voicing his concerns over the increased FAR (Floor Area Ratio) the City’s Mediterranean Bonuses grant developers. Irrately, City Manager Peter Iglesias replied to Bernal by saying “as a physicist you can get a calculator and run the numbers.”

Every resident who spoke expressed their interest in seeing the Mediterranean bonus changed, some proposed a different approach: changing the code to require Mediterranean architecture and placing penalties that reduce the FAR for those who do not comply with the Mediterranean requirement, rather than giving bonuses for adding the features.

Alberto Manrara, member of the City’s Property Advisory Board, was the last resident to speak and urged the commission to ask themselves, “Is it good for the residents? If you cannot answer yes, vote it down.”

What To Expect Next

The Commissioners expressed their gratitude to residents for voicing their opinions on the issue, and committed to continuing to engage with residents concerns on this issue. However, they were clear that no changes should be expected by residents any time soon.

No additional meetings have currently been scheduled, but they did say any one of them could place the item on the agenda for a future Commission meeting.

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12 thoughts on “Sunshine Meeting: Residents Clear, Mediterranean Bonus Policies Must Change

  1. Asked about the next step Monday night the Commissioners and Mayor seemed at a loss. They implied that each would meet with staff to consider options. I regret that our apparent Sunshine Law prevents them from sitting down in an office and collectively formulating proposed actions!
    Why waste a constructive session.

  2. MORE PARKS NOT MORE PERKS. The issue is bigger than new construction. It is about the preservation of our city’s historic fabric. It is about preserving our unique quality of life. The issue not more Mediterranean construction, it is about less construction. Period. Coral Gables touts itself as a champion of sustainability yet continues its permitting of demolitions of good old buildings only to approve mediocre new ones. Sustainability should include advocating for a kinder, greener and healthier resolution. Why deconstruct to construct? Why not preserve and re-purpose? Maybe embracing a new paradigm shift may lead to better planning for the city’s built environment.

    Last year, a developer bought the entire 300 block of Madeira only to have the whole block of older buildings demolished to build a 174-unit luxury rental project. This is just one example of how Coral Gables continues to green light demolitions of older properties to make room for new construction. Think of the environmental impact! Think about the lost historic footprint!

    On several occasions I have asked the city to put a moratorium on demolitions until a master plan is developed that documents the collective historic footprint of the city. Recently, the development services director responded, “While I may agree that the greenest building is the existing building – and therefore, renovating is always greener than demolishing and rebuilding, I have no legal mechanism for holding or putting a stay on the issuance of demolition permits.” And the city attorney opined, “The City cannot issue a blanket moratorium on demolitions without impacting on private property rights.’’

    I understand about property rights and my request is not a “blanket moratorium on demolitions” rather a “pause on demolitions” in order to: curb the continued erosion of our city’s historic fabric; understand the broader effects of demolitions on our health; study the adverse environmental impact of added density; and halt the loss of green space and tree canopy. The city just needs to hit the pause button. Not forever, just for now.

  3. Let me be clear that I am challenging the process, not individuals. I have the utmost respect for Peter Iglesias an an honest and very competent engineer and executive, glad to have him as City Manager. And I thank Mayor Lago and the Commissioners for starting a process that, provided it has quarterly updates, could reduce the mistrust that is poisoning our city’s civility.

  4. Stop electing commissioners who work for law firms which represent the interests of developers!

  5. Folks: Let’s give a little credit to our new elected leaders who stepped up to the plate to schedule this meeting. It was clear the two-tiered approach of the Med Bonus is not very popular, and it needs to be changed to scale back the over development of the massive projects that have been popping up throughout the city. We have a good and bright group of elected leaders, who listened and will react accordingly.

  6. Once again, a corrupt city commission. Really sad this has now happened to Coral Gables.

  7. Rhonda Anderson and Vince Lago are doing what they were tasked to do by the voters- stop the runaway development and bring sanity to the boondoggle pension benefits that cost the taxpayers an additional 50-60% over and above the already generous salaries. Even with the $29 million a year CG funnels into the pension fund, we still have a massive deficit. When the inflation hits and all the pension holders get huge increases, the deficit will again grow by leaps.
    Maybe they will also look at the unresponsive and rude employees, the ridiculous permitting process homeowners must go through ( while developers get a pass on just about everything), etc.

  8. I applaud all the residents who showed up last night (over 200 on Zoom and 100 in person) to voice concerns and offer solutions to the overdevelopment “pandemic” in Coral Gables.

    Newly-elected Commissioner Rhonda Anderson is leading the effort to put development decisions in the hands of residents and her calculated attempt to start chipping away at developers’ perks by focusing on the Mediterranean Bonus is commendable.

    But, it is apparent that there needs to be a moratorium on all development until the city has a true plan, endorsed by residents, to determine what the city should look like and to hold developers to strict rules before giving them the privilege of building in the City Beautiful.

    Right now, there are too many loopholes for developers: there is a Zoning Code, a Land-Use Designation map, a Comprehensive Plan, a Mediterranean Bonus, Planned Area of Development (PAD), Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and “overlays” which are manipulated by developers to get what they want.

    What we end up with is a mish-mash of architectural aberrations, height & density NOT harmonious with neighborhoods, and a city that appears “confused” about its historical heritage.

    Last night’s meeting ended with no clear direction forward by the commission.

    How many more meetings must we have, repeating our concerns, before the elected commission finally has heard enough and starts acting? In the meantime, the developers will hurry to get their project applications approved, threatening lawsuits citing precedents condoned by city staff and the commission, and the monstrosities will continue to rise out the ground…. all while the mayor and commissioners keep “listening”.

    We must all be Howard Beale from “Network” and let them know we are NOT going to take it anymore! Bombard the mayor and each commissioner with emails and phone calls and DEMAND ACTION NOW.

  9. Commissioners and Mayor beware: Despite having voted you into office, it seems that momentum is increasing to prevent more obscure deals and illegal zoning accommodations in detriment of CG residents to occur.

  10. Follow the money and the truth will be known.
    We participated in the call and could not believe why the City would bend-over-backwards for developers? Just look at any of the condos on Ponce de Leon. Where are the setbacks? Where are the green spaces? The City of Coral Gables has a very outdated, but lucrative PENSION PLAN. Is this one of the reasons???

  11. the big topic at last night’s meeting was over-development.

    for years, the big developers have told us how to run our city. for years, there has been talk, talk, talk to stop them.

    now is the time for action.

    the voters, not the big developers, will decide the fate of our city.

    an immediate, special election will impose a moritorium on over-development and abolish the terrible “mediterranean bonus”. without a bonus, no over-development.

    the voters will win the election, because, even each of us may have less money and power than the big developers, we have more votes.

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