The Coconut Grove Village Council on Thursday joined the chorus of opposition to a new trolley-bus fueling and maintenance garage now under construction on Douglas Road in the predominantly black West Grove.
Meanwhile, West Grove residents have lined up lawyers to fight the project, and a University of Miami law professor is asking federal authorities to assist the residents with possible civil rights issues.
The garage is part of a deal between the city of Coral Gables and Astor Development to build a luxury mixed-use complex on a site that includes the existing trolley garage. It would sit in the 3300 block of Douglas Road amid a single-family, residential neighborhood.
Although its members are elected by Grove voters, the council has no authority over land use. The Grove is a part of the city of Miami bordering the city of Coral Gables.
Council vice chair Kate Callahan cited “improper notice and improper zoning” as the reasons for the council’s objection to the facility. Members also agreed to provide funding “to help defray legal costs to stop the project immediately.” The council’s resolution will be drafted and presented at the next [Miami] City Commission meeting.
“If the Gables is going to have the luxury of the trolleys, then they should have the negative aspect as well — gas and oil spills, maintenance, the beast as well as the beauty. West Grove village is tired of having the beast dumped on their community without public discourse,” Callahan said, referring to the fact that she and other council members learned of the facility’s development through news reports rather than from City Hall.
Meanwhile, council members learned that neighborhood groups opposed to the garage have lined up lawyers to help them.
Pierre Sands, president of the Village West Homeowners and Tenants Association, or HOTA, said he met with two local attorneys and a third by conference call who had agreed to provide pro bono counsel to affected West Grove residents.
“There is a land use attorney on board and very excited about taking us on. They’ve indicated it’s pro bono. That’s the first victory this community has had,” Sands told the council.
Coral Springs-based land use and zoning attorney Ralf Brookes said he is one of the lawyers who has agreed to take the case.
“The minority neighborhood would bear the burdens of trolley maintenance including public health impacts, but has been denied the benefit of federally funded trolley service for years,” Brookes said in an email on Friday.
Also volunteering his services was Lowell Kuvin, who became a lawyer after Coral Gables cited him for violating a city ordinance against parking a pickup truck overnight in a residential neighborhood. Kuvin lost his case in court, but city voters repealed the law at the polls in November.
"I believe there are many issues here,” Kuvin said Friday. Is the West Grove being singled out as a receptacle for industrial complexes that other cities don’t want? Did the city follow its own zoning laws? Were people properly noticed?"
Meanwhile, students under University of Miami professor Anthony Alfieri, who directs the law school’s Center for Ethics and Public Service, have been conducting legal research into some of the issues surrounding the trolley facility, including questions of civil rights.
“We are reaching out to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District [of Florida] to assist in providing community education and civil rights workshops to residents in the West Grove. We’ll be asking them to explain to affected homeowners and nonprofits how they can initiate a civil rights investigation of the cities of Coral Gables and Miami,” Alfieri said.
Gables officials asked Astor to find a new site for the trolley garage in exchange for the old one. Unable to find a suitable site in Coral Gables, the company found the site in the Grove. Under Miami’s 2010 zoning ordinance, called “Miami 21,” approval of the project did not require a public hearing, according to the city.
Plans call for the garage to be completely enclosed and air-conditioned to contain noise, fumes and odors, and work will be limited to basic maintenance, the city said.