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Coral Gables/Coconut Grove

Trolleys undergo required inspections in controversial garage

Coral Gables trolleys have been spotted at a controversial maintenance garage nearing completion in Coconut Grove.

But the city is not using the garage for maintenance. The trolleys were on site because the city has been performing inspections required by contract.

The city, however, still believes the garage violates zoning laws, said Coral Gables City Attorney Craig Leen.

“This is something by contract that we’re required to do,” he said. “Obviously, I understand the residents’ concern and our position is the same as theirs, that it doesn’t meet the zoning.”

The city, which sided with residents in the historic black neighborhood who bitterly oppose the garage, finds itself in the awkward position of having to both comply with its contract with developer Henry Torres and zoning laws, Leen explained.

“We’re trying to do two things,” he said, “but I want to assure the residents we have not changed our position.”

Torres and Coral Gables struck a land swap deal last year in which the city agreed to give the developer land where the garage now sits near the swank Village of Merrick Park shopping mall if Torres found a new spot. Torres wants to build a 10-story mixed use luxury condominium project.

The developer bought several lots in the 3300 block of Douglas Road and obtained a permit for the garage from the city of Miami. No public hearing was required.

But residents have repeatedly complained that their objections were ignored. With the help of pro bono attorneys, they sued in state court, arguing the garage violated Miami’s zoning laws. A judge ruled they failed to follow Miami’s appeal process.

After they sued, Coral Gables filed its own lawsuit, arguing that it, too, believed the 12-bay garage failed to comply with zoning laws. The city and the developer are expected to be in court in February.

In the meantime, the city must comply with obligations included in the contract, including the inspections, Leen explained.

The garage also caught the attention of federal transportation officials after a resident filed a complaint. Last month, the U.S. Department of Transportation found that both cities, along with the county, violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and ordered the governments to comply by conducting studies on the impact the garage will have on the surrounding neighborhood. They must also perform public outreach.

The three governments wrote federal transportation officials on Dec. 2 saying they would comply but object to the findings, Leen explained. The Federal Transit Administration, which conducted the investigation, is “preparing a response that will be transmitted in the near future,” a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

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