Zoning Code Takes A Back Seat To Role Of Public Opinion

Residents of Coral Gables are generally happy with the way the City plays its role. For the most part, they express their opinions via emails and calls to the Commission, away from public light.

However, over the last few months, residents have grown increasingly concerned that their interests are not being heard. This was the main opinion expressed by most participants in last night’s Commission meeting. The meeting had been moved from its usual 9:00AM to 4:00PM at the request of Vice Mayor Vince Lago who wanted to encourage more resident participation.

Over two hundred people logged into the February 9th City Commission meeting, which was intended to feature final votes on several changes to the zoning code.

The meeting began with the Mayor’s scripted remarks and a showcase of images of Miracle Mile throughout the years. Telling residents that Miracle Mile has changed over the years.

PAID CONSULTANT TOO BUSY TO ANSWER RESIDENT QUESTIONS

The City hired the firm of DPZ CoDesign to advise the City on the zoning changes. Over the course of the lengthy zoning change proposal process, it had been led by DPZ partner, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. Plater-Zyberk spoke very briefly before excusing herself from the meeting due to a prior commitment to teach a class at the University of Miami. Interestingly, DPZ has a team of 24 people listed on their website, and no one else was present to answer resident questions.

DPZ is under contract at an hourly rate of $250 when Plater-Zyberk is present and $175 per hour when a “project manager is present. Yet Plater-Zyberk was unable to actively participate in what was intended to be the final meeting.

Commissioner Mena excused Plater-Zyberk because of the two week short notice and her potential contract with the University. One resident responded by suggesting the consultant could have found a substitute.

DISDAIN FOR RESIDENTS

However, the meeting quickly spiraled out of control as Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli repeatedly interrupted and went after residents who voiced their opinions and concerns about the lack of transparency and resident input in the process during the public comment period.

Every time a resident was recognized, the Mayor proceeded to taunt them by saying how many times that resident has been recognized for public comment on these zoning issue.

One resident, Leon Kellner, who was United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and prosecuted Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, was cut off by the Mayor in a very abrasive way. This brought about a motion from Commissioner Jorge L. Fors, Jr. and seconded by Vice Mayor Lago to allow Kellner to complete his remarks. The Mayor said it was up to him and he would not entertain the motion. According to City Attorney Miriam Ramos, the Mayor has the authority to control public comment. The motion to overrule the Mayor should have called for a vote, but Ramos disagreed and did not interject to explain.

As if the Mayor’s attacks on residents were not enough, Commissioner Michael Mena made it a point to challenge residents for their inability to understand the code and question their integrity.

Dr. Gordon Sokloff, a prominent dentist in Coral Gables and the Chairman of the Transportation Advisory Committee, asked why the over 1,000-page document of changes was not presented to residents in layman’s terms. A condescending Mena began to quote an 8-page memo from October “to see what part of this don’t you understand?”

The document, being from October, does not reflect the changes voted on yesterday.

This is not the first time Mena has overstepped with residents from the dais, as he sparred with parents of George Washington Carver Elementary and Middle Schools over the Wawa development.

Mena took things further yesterday by calling out David Winker, a prominent zoning lawyer, who has advocated for many resident groups in the City, as having filed a “frivolous lawsuit” stating he was speaking not only as a Commissioner, but as a lawyer himself.

Coral Gables reached a new low in public shaming, intimidating and antagonizing someone who has filed a lawsuit against the City. This, so called frivolous lawsuit, must have some merit as Gables Insider has learned that the City has hired high-priced Holland and Knight to represent the City. If it was a frivolous suit, wouldn’t the large team at the City attorney’s office have handled this internally?

CIVILITY OATH VIOLATION?

It is important to note that the Commission signs a civility oath, which is part of their sworn oath of office. It specifically swears them under oath with the words: “to my colleagues and to all those I represent and serve, I pledge fairness, integrity and civility, in all actions taken and all communications made by me as a public servant.”

COMMISSION CANDIDATE PARTICIPATION

Among those who spoke in opposition to the changes, were several candidates for the upcoming City Commission election, including (in alphabetical order): Rhonda Anderson, Javier Baños, Tania Cruz-Gimenez, Jackson Rip Holmes and Mayra Joli. Most of them were victims of the Mayor’s attacks, and seemed to voice a common concern over the lack of transparency in the process, as well as the lack of respect by the Commission towards residents.

Present but not speaking on the issue were Alexander Haq, Kirk Menendez and Jose Valdes-Fauli.

Not present for this crucial City Commission meeting were Alex Bucelo and Claudia Miro.

ZONING VOTE

As for the zoning vote, that too was chaotic. After the meeting, many participants were really unclear as to what had and had not been voted on.

The Commission voted to approve the zoning changes, not related to the Crafts section or Miracle Mile, by a vote of 4-1 with Lago being the only vote against.

On the Crafts section, the measure passed by a 5-0 vote, with changes to the boundaries of the Crafts section and a reduction of height to 45 feet.

Miracle Mile was tabled once again to allow for the Commission to consider the proposals submitted by Vice Mayor Lago and Commissioner Mena.

There will potentially be a sunshine meeting in the coming weeks to discuss the proposals, but no decision has been made.

The new vote on Miracle Mile zoning changes is scheduled for the March 9th Commission meeting, also time-certain at 5:00PM.

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23 thoughts on “Zoning Code Takes A Back Seat To Role Of Public Opinion

  1. I agree that Nick Jones, who is opining on issues involving the City of Coral Gables and its residents, should confirm whether he is a Coral Gables resident and in what area or section of the City he owns property. Like Karen Kirk wrote, Miami-Dade County Public Records do not show a Nick Jones, or Nicholas Jones, Nicolas Jones, Nikolas Jones, or Nickolas Jones, who owns property in Coral Gables.
    Leon Keller please share the information you find regarding what is required to recall a City of Coral Gables Commissioner. Thank you.

  2. I was the next door neighbor to dr. Sokol off for many years and know him to be a man of excellent character, honest and most of all interested in doing the best for his neighbors and the neighborhood. If he believes the zoning code and the changes that are proposed have not been explained properly and should be made clearer, then I back him 100%. He is interested in the improvement of our city and not after whatever can get him re-elected. Gordon, I’m glad to read that you are still fighting the good fight for your neighbors.

  3. To Get Out!!- You have all of it correct. Valdes- Fauli has treated the residents with disdain all along, and his “tone – at -the top” has infected the city staff, who do exactly as they want, with no regard to what the taxpayers who pay their salaries and huge pensions, want. Keon campaigned on stopping over-development and getting the runaway pension costs under control. She has done the opposite. DON”T vote for her for mayor or you will get more of Vauldes-Fauli. Vince Lago appears to be the only one who listens to the residents and tries to get the financial mess under control. Most residents do not know that we have one of the most underfunded pension plans in the country, and the liability is enormous. Every resident should ask for a copy of the pension payments – they will see that most of the general employees retire in their 40s and 50s with huge guaranteed pensions that are automatically increased every year. It will astound you.

  4. The behaviors is what is most disturbing to me. If we don’t remove or recall these bad players, residents will remain feckless. I feel embarrassed, really.

  5. Were you guys even at this meeting? Go back and watch it. I’m sure you’ll change your opinion. You can tell it’s an election year and how things are misrepresented in order to get clicks.

  6. What an embarrassment. What a disaster the entire Coral Gables City Commission has become. If only we could kick them all out and start over. Thank G-d that toad Valdes Falli will be gone. He is sitting there being an ass because he knows he is not running and he’s just letting it rip…you can smell it from one end of the city to the other. I beg of any voter to not vote for Pat Keon…she’s a developers dream candidate. I don’t know anything about the other guy, but to only wish there was a 3rd option outside of any sitting commissioner. These people and many that came before them, have destroyed our city with concrete and sky high buildings. I’m sure Big George would be rolling over in his grave screaming in disgust.

  7. Hey Nick Jones, I own my house and live 500 feet south of the Plaza Project and deal with the nightmare Ponce is turning into. Why don’t you tell all of us where YOU live?? Because I just looked up property records for Nick Jones and found no property owners in the Gables. I couldn’t even find an N. Jones that owns property in the Gables. So please share? Are you one of my neighbors in the south portion of the Craft’s section??

  8. Mayor, get the Hell out of our City and take Mena with you. We do not want you, we do not agree with you and we will not accept how you treat the citizens of Coral Gables. I also have to put Keon in this group as she only supports what she wants, not what the residents want. This City has been turned into a circus and a cold concrete jungle. This is not what I pay higher taxes for. It is one fiasco after another, from a fire station next to million Dallar homes, to over building, to changing Miracle Mile, to shutting off PUBLIC roads for 12 residents in Matheson area because they think they are entitled., to hurting an ecology rich area for a useless boardwalk to over inflated pensions sucking the life out of of our City’s financial stability. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
    It’s time to take our City back and give this City back to the residents.

  9. I am disappointed that I missed the meeting although it appears that the interests of the citizens of Coral Gables were well represented by concerned citizens. What is very troubling is the apparent disdain exhibited by Mayor Valdes-Fauli and Commissioner Mena to the legitimate concerns voiced during the meeting. This type of behavior should not be condoned and is contemptible. You two work for the citizens of Coral Gables and if we have an issue, you address it civily and not react like a couple of third-world potentates. The city is not your fiefdom. I am happy to see that the mayor is stepping down and that we have two competent candidates vying for his seat. With respect to Commissioner Mena, a recall should be seriously explored.

  10. Well said Dr. Sokoloff!
    I have been to many meetings with my Ponce neighbors over the past several months. We are a viable, organized and growing group of residents and voters who are concerned about the over development in our neighborhood and Coral Gables.

  11. All these Pretty Boys (Mena, Quesada, etc), aka “postalitas” manage to get elected as pro-resident, and, very quickly, their true intensions (pro-developer, $$$) are revealed.

  12. Nick, at the last commission meeting, I was not representing the Ponce Neighbors, – nor did I specify that I was. I spoke on my own behalf as a citizen and ALL citizens who were (are) entitled to an understandable version of the zoning code-rewrite; not just those around the Ponce section. I MAY have mentioned that I had requested the ‘layman’s version’ of the code-rewrite as the Chairman of the Transportation Board, which is factual and on record. No matter what, MANY citizens asked for a more UNDERSTANDABLE version of the code. Not all homeowners groups need to be registered or “official” to exist. We come together as concerned citizens whenever the need arises. Even our Mayor did this on North Greenway when he was knocking on his neighbors’ doors (including my parent’s home) when the city was discussing a jogging track and/or other options around the Granada golf-course. What counts, – is that we’re all residents, we all pay our taxes, – and the Ponce de Leon Homeowner’s group has a blossoming e-mail list of people who vote! No matter what section we’re from: ALL citizens of Coral Gables have a right to be heard and respected by their elected officials. If you require their names for some reason, I’m quite certain that the City Clerk may provide you with that information.

  13. To Mr.Sokoloff, Ponce Neighbors INC. was incorporated on 1/12/21 and has one person, a non-resident as agent. If there were many people involved you would have shared their names.

  14. Not picking sides here for the record. But how can the city, mayor, commissioners not be transparent, honest or whatever when this zoning matter has been going on for about 3 years & the many notifications the city has made in writing, on-line to the affected property owners? As far as Miracle mile it has for many years had a 6 story height restriction in place with no development there for a long time one of the main changes as i have read it is the off site parking allowance so more SF can be built, the owner-builder-developer takes on huge $$$ risk with these projects, their time, permitting, zoning, inspection requirements. As far as the Crafts Sec look at a zoning map & you will see how these 2.5 blocks are sandwiched in between totally commercial zoned property immediately to its North & South boundaries so it makes 100% complete sense. Both these downtown locations are East of Lejeune which serves as buffer to residential property. I see natural human feelings opposing these matters and unreasonable demands wanting CG to remain stuck in the 1920’s with antiquated zoning laws & not be a progressive city increasing their tax base so tax millages can remain low & us citizens pay reasonable property taxes.

  15. To Nick Jones, you are misinformed. Ponce Neighbors aka the Ponce de Leon Homeowners Group has been a well-established group of neighbors along the Ponce de Leon corridor from University to Velarde Avenue. I represent only one of well over two-hundred HOUSEHOLDS of people in our neighborhood who have coalesced and fought for the preservation of our neighborhood over the past twenty years.
    I am also among MANY residents who requested a readable, layman’s version of the zoning code rewrite. The original, 1000 page document was condensed into a smaller, abridged eight-paged document, but the language in that smaller document was not interpreted or made any easier to understand. There was no “glossary” so that even a resident’s “abuela” (as one Zoom resident asked for) could understand it. There is a difference between “abridged” and “layman’s version”. The zoning code affects all of the residents. This very simple request could have been, and more importantly SHOULD have been accommodated for the benefits of all residents so they could understand the code better, – and then ask questions if needed. I had personally asked Mr. Trias about a few of the nearly 80 ‘amendments’ contained in that summary, – to which Mr. Trias himself stated that some of the content is difficult to understand. Commission Fors corroborated that point quite appropriately and accurately at a few of the commission meetings. The rudeness and condescension was more than obvious; the Gables Insider covered that aspect quite well. The residents absolutely deserve better than the perfunctory process that the Mayor orchestrated at the last commission meeting.

  16. I’m a Coral Gables homeowner and resident and have been following this issue since it came to light. The lack of respect and transparency shown by this mayor and commission is appalling and unacceptable. I have never seen a mayor treat the community he serves with such disregard. On this issue, this commission speaks in technical terms and I find it difficult, actually impossible, to understand what they are talking about. I only understand what is happening when residents ask questions which reduces these issues to laymen’s terms. It seems to me this commission has a lot to say and they use words such as “streamline” or “simplify.” What they are not saying is what prevents developers from building these structures on Miracle Mile in the first place. In my opinion these changes are what will allow developers to build structures that are financially beneficial to them. I believe deep pockets are what is driving this and this commission is refusing to listen to its residents.

    @Leon Keller, I support your efforts and, while I am not an attorney, would help in any way I can.

  17. All this harks back to Major Valdes-Fauli, which has turned this city into a concrete canyon.
    Remember how he wanted to ruin city hall itself…and we had to pay to undo the(mess)work he
    had started. It seems we (The people) have short memories!!

  18. Mena was right to question a made-up association of one – Ponce Neighbors. Not to mention Winker, who lied under oath saying that he was a Gables resident. I understand Gables Insider has a horse in the April race, but maybe they shouldn’t make it so obvious with the blatant Lago praising.

  19. If Commissioner Mena chooses to ignore his obligations to the residents, there is a procedure to remove him; it’s called recall. I am going to research how to do it and put together a group to make it happen.

  20. I’m a lawyer and I can tell you that Commissioner Michael Mena is not a real lawyer and it is concerning that he is commenting on ongoing litigation against the City as a Commissioner. Hopefully the City Attorney told him to stop messing with Winker, who seems to win all his “frivolous” cases against the City. Just ask the Valls how their demolition of the Pancoast ranch house is going.

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