The controversy over building a Coral Gables trolley garage in the West Grove as the result of a land swap with a local developer was not on the Gables’ commission’s first meeting of the year Tuesday.
Still, two commissioners and the city manager clashed during open discussion at the close of the meeting after City Attorney Craig Leen brought up the issue to state the city’s position.
“Reports are attacking the city of Coral Gables and I want to make a couple points clear for the record,” Leen began. “We have a trolley building now in Coral Gables near the high school and Merrick Park. The developer came to the city and made this request and this was something that came to you months ago,” he said, addressing the commission, which voted unanimously to a land swap deal with Astor Development in March 2012.
The developer approached Coral Gables to acquire land on Le Jeune Road, just south of Bird Road, where the city operates a maintenance garage for its trolleys. Astor wanted the land to build a seven-story, apartment building with high-end retail in the neighborhood of Merrick Park.
As part of the deal, Astor agreed to build the city a garage for its trolleys. The company said it could not find affordable land in the Gables and, instead, found a site on Douglas Road, just outside of the Gables, bordering a residential community in the West Grove.
“This commission and city staff and outside counsel made it clear the trolley building had to comply with federal and state law and local ordinances,” Leen said. “It is not our intention to force this on the community. The developer had to get approvals. This commission didn’t know of appeals or objections. My understanding is the City of Miami was made aware of the proposed use of this building from the beginning and our contract with the developer was dependant on approvals. The city will not accept a building, ultimately, unless all those issues are resolved. We have to act carefully in this matter. The developer is trying to work this out.”
Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff told The Herald earlier this month that Miami zoning code allows Astor to build the garage in that location.
Outgoing commissioner Maria Anderson said she would like the city to make amends.
“I would love that, as a city, we proffer a landscape or a trolley stop to build goodwill,” Anderson said. “Not interfere with the developers. But we are impacting a neighborhood that is very poor and they are looking for simple solutions.”
Commissioner Ralph Cabrera, who is term-limited and who is running for mayor against incumbent Jim Cason in the April election, agreed.
In an interview after the meeting, Cabrera said the community deserves proper landscaping as buffers. He also said the building’s design contains the exhaust and fumes. He thinks building a trolley stop in the neighborhood would be advisable.
“I thought of a trolley stop to cross Dixie Highway,’’ he said. “It’s got plenty of parking so we won’t be parking on their public right of ways. It’s generally a beautiful structure.’’
Cabrera also reiterated at the commission meeting that he had discussed having a dialog with the West Grove during a December 2011 commission meeting. He said City Manager Patrick Salerno did nothing to facilitate the process.