The city asked Astor to put the new depot in the Gables, but the developer said he couldn’t, Birdsill said.
“He could not find land [inside Coral Gables] at a price that would work for him,’’ she said.
Astor’s attorney, Mario Garcia-Serra of Greenberg, Traurig, said there were few properties with the right zoning close to the trolley route, which runs from the Douglas Road Metrorail station through downtown Coral Gables to Flagler Street. His client, he said, doesn’t believe the depot will burden the neighborhood, which desperately needs new commercial development.
“This at least brings some sort of development, some sort of activity, to the West Grove,’’ he said.
That posture infuriates residents, who say plunking down a bus garage and maintenance shop in the neighborhood, no matter how well designed, will do nothing to lift the area’s fortunes and will only hurt home values already in decline because of the economic crisis. The area’s homes, some valued up to $130,000 by Miami-Dade’s property appraiser, have provided a measure of social and economic stability even as much of the West Grove has gone into decline, losing population and businesses at a steady pace.
“Who wants to buy a house behind a depot?’’ asked Al Henry, whose 72-year-old mother, Dorothy Henry, has owned the pink house with flower beds directly behind the site since 1985. “You know this is just going to be a big mechanic’s shop. It’s just four feet away and when you’re looking out the side windows, you’re going to be looking at a wall.
“We had the house appraised when we got word of this. I’m not going to tell you what it was, but it’s peanuts.’’
Dorothy Henry, recently retired after 46 years as a secretary at Miami Children’s Hospital, raised her five children in the home and is now raising three adopted kids, ages 10, 12 and 15. Her barbecue grill backs up to a weedy chain link fence that stands in what used to be her neighbor’s yard. Astor demolished that house, along with other buildings that included a four-plex and a neighborhood institution, Bernice’s Soul Food restaurant, which fronted Douglas.
Trolley won’t extend service
The five parcels purchased by Astor for the depot sit on Douglas between Frow and Oak avenues, and homes will face the new depot at the back and both sides.
Once the depot opens, staff and drivers will arrive for work as early as 5 a.m. and not leave until 11 p.m. Though the city says trolleys can only transit on Douglas Road, entrances and exits will be on Frow and Oak, and neighbors like the Henrys worry about safety for the neighborhood children who gather to play and ride bikes along the street.
“They all come here versus going up Grand Avenue because they know this is a safe street,” Al Henry said, as two girls on purple bicycles pedaled back and forth on the street.
Said his mother, “You could look out anytime and see 35 kids just playing.”
Adding insult to injury, residents say, is that once they realized the depot was effectively a done deal, they asked that the Gables at least extend trolley service to the neighborhood, and provide a small retail space or kiosk in the depot for a business that could serve the community. They note that the Gables city line is just a block west of the new depot, and that the garage will affect Gables residents, too.