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Coral Gables business group to review recommendations for downtown

Patrons stroll Coral Gables' Miracle Mile in winning photo submitted for a Best Block in Miami contest in 2012. The Gables' Business Improvement District commissioned a study to look at how possible zoning changes could drive business to Miracle Mile and the city's downtown areas.
Patrons stroll Coral Gables' Miracle Mile in winning photo submitted for a Best Block in Miami contest in 2012. The Gables' Business Improvement District commissioned a study to look at how possible zoning changes could drive business to Miracle Mile and the city's downtown areas.
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A draft consultant’s report commissioned by the Coral Gables Business Improvement District is recommending that the city change zoning rules to allow bars and nightclubs in downtown.

Among the uses the 38-page document suggests permitting are outdoor recreation and entertainment, gas stations, day-care centers, educational facilities, movie theaters, health clubs, TV/radio studios and entertainment uses including nightclubs, comedy clubs and lounges.

Nightclubs could not exceed 5,000-square-feet in the draft’s proposal.

The BID is an independent agency made up of downtown property and business owners. Its board has not yet voted on the consultant’s proposal nor forwarded it to City Hall for consideration.

Coral Gables zoning does not permit bars in the city. Establishments that serve liquor and spirits must have a kitchen. For example, The Bar, on Giralda Avenue, has been around since 1946 but has a kitchen so it is a permitted use. “Lounges” mentioned in the consultant’s report would not equate to stand-alone bars, BID executive director Mari Gallet said Thursday.

Rather, lounges could be 500- to 800-square-foot gathering spots for poetry slams, jazz performances or readings to entice young professionals to remain in the city in the evening. Mayor Jim Cason, in his campaign run earlier this year, said the Gables needs to have activities that would cater to this crowd but never publicly suggested nightclubs.

The draft, dated Aug. 15, focuses on a 12-block area known as the Zein/Friedman Miracle Mile Overlay District.

The BID’s move to hire consultant Jaime Correa and Associates was meant to determine potential changes that could be made to the city’s zoning laws to allow for new types of businesses in the district and to allow those that are already there to modify their establishments should zoning change. The district encompasses Giralda Avenue in the north, Andalusia Avenue in the south, Le Jeune Road in the west and Douglas Road in the east.

“We are a group of property and business owners, and we are looking at the future of our downtown. The city has always been visionary but has always been methodical about its planning. We don’t want to be South Beach. There is already a South Beach so why do we want to compete with that?” Gallet said. “We don’t want to be a nightclub haven …or to suggest something that will make the city lose its authenticity.”

But the move to study possible changes sparked an outpouring of letters to the Miami Herald, spearheaded by former mayor Don Slesnick, who frets that the suggested provision change to allow nightclubs could turn the Gables into South Beach and bring along the attendant noise, traffic and crime.

City Manager Pat Salerno has said these fears are unfounded because staff and the City Commission, which would ultimately have to rule on any proposed changes after review by the Planning and Zoning Board, has not been approached to make any changes.

The draft does not reflect the views of the BID’s board, Gallet said. “The people we hired researched what was going on in other cities and brought all that thinking and the codes to us to look at what other great cities are doing.”

The BID plans to look at the proposal at a meeting on Thursday morning, but the draft is only a study now and not policy, she said. The BID would have to approve the consultant’s proposal and then take it to the city’s Planning and Zoning Board and ultimately to the City Commission — a lengthy process, which would also include a series of public meetings in early 2014, before an approved proposal reaches City Hall.

“We’re simply doing some heavy lifting and putting into conversation … what we hear is important for us to stay relevant,” Gallet said.

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