“We felt like it was almost a fait accompli, so we said, ‘Let’s create something beneficial for the community,’’’ said Jihad Rashid, vice president of the Village West association. “How about some jobs? How about retail? How about trolley stops?”
The Gables’ answer, again relayed through the developer: No.
Birdsill, the Gables development director, said extending trolley service would have cost the city $200,000 and also required purchase of a new bus.
But Grove residents and activists argue that the Gables will benefit substantially from the deal with Astor, gaining a large, modern depot to replace its obsolete facility, as well as a significant boost in property tax revenue from the new development — a mixed-use, 180-unit rental apartment and retail complex that will fill nearly an entire city block.
By Astor’s and the Gables’ own reckoning, the city has already gained more than $1 million from the swap: Astor is paying $3.2 million to buy the Grove land and build the garage in exchange for Gables-owned parcels valued at under $1.9 million, according to city documents.
The existing garage, on LeJeune across from Coral Gables High School, sits in what was formerly the Gables’ industrial district. The city has been gradually transforming the area, once home to a collection of auto body shops, warehouse-type offices and the city’s maintenance yard, into a dense, upscale neighborhood of shops, condos and apartments. The maintenance yard, moved west of the Gables to unincorporated Miami-Dade County a decade ago, was replaced by the tony Village of Merrick Park designer-store mall.
West Grove residents say they should not have to bear the weight of the Gables’ gentrification efforts. Longtime residents and homeowners, some of whose families have lived in the West Grove for generations, say they are struggling to maintain the area’s character, and the Gables’ bus garage won’t help.
Residents complain that they received little to no meaningful notification of the project and, without a public hearing, only token opportunities to express opposition.
“This project is going to change the dynamics of the neighborhood,’’ said Clarice Cooper, who works in The Miami Herald’s advertising department, grew up in the West Grove and lives three doors down from the new depot. “I don’t think a trolley garage is going to benefit our neighborhood, aesthetically, financially or otherwise.’’
Unable to afford an attorney and tired of constant battles, though, residents and activists decided not to appeal when the planning director approved the new garage in June.
“We’re just regular people and we’re trying to get through this bad economy, and we don’t have the time and resources to follow up everything that the city does,’’ Sands said. “People get tired and worn down.’’
But the start of digging earlier this month reawakened residents’ simmering anger, he said, as well as bitterness that Sarnoff and city officials did not fight harder on their behalf.
“We were dealt with in a patronizing way. The City of Miami dropped the ball and they owe us better,’’ Sands said. “I guess it’s a win-win for everybody except for the folks in Coconut Grove.’’