After three hours of contentious debate, Coral Gables commissioners voted Tuesday to allow the developer of the Gables Station shopping center to put his main entrance on Ponce de Leon Boulevard, opposite the offices of an unhappy veterinarian.
A traffic signal would be constructed at the entrance, which would cut across the M-Path bicycle route.
The $100 million development will sit between Ponce and U.S. 1 just north of Grand Avenue. The project will include 316,000 square-feet of retail space.
Developer Jeff Berkowitz told the commission that the traffic signal would help to protect pedestrians, including parents who park across the street to take their children to day care.
The driveway would be the fourth access point to Gables Station, in addition to entrances and exits on U.S. 1, East Oak Avenue, and Grand. The project includes a garage with roughly 1,500 parking spaces.
Several people who own businesses and properties showed up at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting to object to the entrance on the grounds that it would exacerbate problems associated with traffic and parking. Dr. Bradley Richter, who owns the Coral Gables Animal Hospital, said traffic already backs up nightly and can be a “nightmare.”
Attorney Tucker Gibbs, who represents Richter, said he was disappointed with the outcome.
“We understand this is a project the city wants,” Gibbs said referring to the tax dollars the project can bring in, “but that doesn’t mean you put the access, the main access, to this project on the one street that really isn’t designed for that kind of traffic.”
Tim Plummer, a traffic engineer hired by Berkowitz, said an estimated 40 percent of traffic would enter on Ponce and 70 percent would leave that way. Richter and other business owners complained that the commission meeting was the first time they heard the main entrance would be on Ponce after numerous meetings with developer.
Richter hired a traffic consultant to help come up with an alternative proposal that puts the exit 75 feet further west, but that plan was shot down by Plummer and the city’s traffic consultants.
There was no mention of the M-path at the commission meeting. However, veteran cycling enthusiast John Hopkins told The Miami Herald that adding one more motor crossing would make the M-path less ride-able. He said that stretch of the M-path is particularly pleasant, but would be less so if the driveway were built. He also mentioned that Berkowitz, unlike other developers, appeared interested in listening to the concerns of bicyclists and pedestrians and wanted to work with them to find a solution.
Some compromises discussed included flashing lights and stop signs to alert cars to bicycle and pedestrian traffic, as well as improving that part of the M-path.
The commission voted 4-0 in favor of the developer’s proposal. Vice Mayor William H. Kerdyk Jr. was absent.