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Coral Gables

Coral Gables may extend its trolleys to area near West Grove

The Coral Gables City Commission wants to explore the possibility of extending the city’s trolley to the area around George Washington Carver Middle School.

During his comments at a regular meeting Tuesday morning, Commissioner Vince Lago said he was disappointed after reading a recent Miami Herald article that detailed U.S. transportation officials’ investigation into how Miami-Dade Transit and local cities spent millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds for transportation projects. Federal officials concluded local governments violated parts of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 by not reaching out to minority communities.

Title VI of the law requires local governments that use federal funds for transportation projects do not discriminate based on race, color or national origin.

Federal transportation officials concluded last year that Coral Gables, Miami and Miami-Dade mishandled a plan to move a trolley maintenance garage from Coral Gables to the West Grove, a largely African-American neighborhood.

The city of Coral Gables approved a deal to swap land with developer Henry Torres so he can build luxury, high-rise condos on the former trolley garage site, near the tony Village of Merrick Park. But the city is now suing the developer in court, siding with neighbors of the future garage and claiming the building violates Miami's zoning code.

The cities of Coral Gables and Miami, however, failed to seek input from the West Grove residents and failed to conduct a study to determine the project’s impact, as required by the civil rights law, concluded officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The neighbors were incensed about the garage being built in their neighborhood and filed a complaint with the DOT, saying their civil rights were violated. After an investigation, the DOT agreed.

On Tuesday, Lago proposed the city consider extending the trolley’s service area into the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District, just east of U.S. 1, bordered by Grand Avenue and Brooker Street. Coral Gables founder George Merrick carved this slice of the city from the West Grove in the 1920s for the black Bahamians who helped him and his father develop Coral Gables.

“I think that everybody in this community deserves a bite at the apple,” said Lago, who was elected last year.

Commissioners agreed and instructed city staff to look into the costs associated with extending the trolley route.

“We want to be as inclusionary as possible in this process,” said Commissioner Bill Kerdyk Jr.

The city, however, failed to extend the trolley routes when Leona Cooper, a longtime resident of the neighborhood where the trolley garage was moved to, asked the city to do so in 2006. Instead Coral Gables extended the route north to Flagler Street, using the federal stimulus money, along with city and state funds, to pay for it.

In other developments, the commission voted to negotiate with AECOM Technical Services, to design and develop plans, specifications and cost estimates for the renovation of Fred. B. Hartnett Ponce Circle Park, 2810 Ponce de Leon Blvd.

According to the resolution, which passed unanimously, the city will negotiate with AECOM and, if a deal with AECOM does not come together, other short-listed firms.

City Manager Pat Salerno said the renovation would put utilities underground, eliminating noisy generators, portable toilets and water hoses and electrical wires being run across the ground during events.

“It’s a good venue, but in some ways, it’s an uncut stone,” he said.

The budget for the project is $4 million.

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.

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