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Plans for Hialeah apartment, retail complex halted after neighbors’ complaints

The Shoma Homes Company has halted, at least temporarily, plans for a multimillion-dollar complex of buildings in Hialeah because of protests from neighbors who say the project lacks sufficient parking spaces, authorities reported Thursday.

Deborah Storch, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, said the developer withdrew its proposal to build three apartment towers, with stores and parking on the lower floors, in a popular area of the city.

“The owners decided to withdraw the application for the project,” Storch told El Nuevo Herald. “I believe that this was a good project, but the neighbors criticized it for a problem with the shortage of parking spaces.”

The attorney for the developer, Felix Lasarte, said the decision was made at the end of December because of the neighbors’ persistent complaints.

“I believe all the criticisms are unfair for a project of this caliber, really exaggerated criticisms,” Lasarte said. “What we want is to renovate a forgotten area of Hialeah that requires new investments.”

Lasarte pointed out that the plans call for an investment of about $50 million to develop three towers with a total of 350 apartments and nearly 70,000 square feet of commercial area in the busy area of Hialeah Drive and East 4th Avenue. Shoma invested $11.7 million just in buying the land, where an aged commercial center now operates.

Alice Sargent, one of the leaders of the neighbors group that opposes the project, said she had some doubts about the developer’s decision.

“It is true that they have withdrawn the request to the city, but I am very skeptical about what can happen later,” said Sargent. “What we believe is that the developer is planning to return after the council approves some measures that benefit Shoma.”

In fact, the council on Tuesday gave initial and unanimous approval to an amendment to the part of the Planning and Zoning Code that refers to the minimum required parking space for residents and visitors of a building. The debate for ratifying the amendment is scheduled for Feb. 11.

“With these changes in the law, is the city preparing the way for approving the Shoma project that until now could not be approved?” Sargent asked.

Hialeah’s current regulations require the project to have 1,100 parking spaces, the neighbor added. The complex was originally designed with 732 parking spaces, but that was raised to just over 800 because of the criticisms.

Lasarte said one alternative was a modern concept in which the spaces assigned to residents who leave to work during the day would be assigned for commercial use by the clients and workers at the shops and offices.

“This concept exists in cities like Miami and Miami Beach, where some neighborhoods have been renovated,” said Lasarte. “What we are looking for is a consensus with the neighbors.”

Lasarte added that during the conversations, the neighbors said they were worried because of the practice in Hialeah of subleasing rooms within a dwelling, which leads to more people needing parking spaces.

Plans for the project eliminate the possibility of such an “overpopulation of vehicles,” he said.

“It is evident that there is a problem of trust, and that’s why we have been seeking an understanding with the neighbors,” said Lasarte. “We already bought the property there, and now we’re going to reconsider the project.”

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