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Coral Gables

Coral Gables to study expansion of trolley service

Judith Davis, lifetime resident of the MacFarlane Homestead District, tells the council how important it is to her and her community to have a trolley stop placed in her section of Coral Gables.
Judith Davis, lifetime resident of the MacFarlane Homestead District, tells the council how important it is to her and her community to have a trolley stop placed in her section of Coral Gables.
Joey Flechas / Miami Herald Staff

Coral Gables is moving forward with a study of how to extend the city’s trolley service into a largely African-American neighborhood east of U.S. 1.

The commission expects to receive a report with costs and an implementation plan by May.

The commission unanimously voted to direct city staff to “review the matter, conduct any necessary studies, and then undertake action to extend trolley service in the future to the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District by establishing at least one stop to serve the needs of residents in that area,” as stated in the resolution.

The MacFarlane Homestead Historic District lies east of U.S. 1, bordered by Grand Avenue and Brooker Street. George Merrick, founder of Coral Gables, carved this slice of the city from the West Grove in the 1920s for the black Bahamian who helped him and his father build Coral Gables.

Despite yes votes all along the dais Tuesday, the commission still spent an hour discussing the matter. They addressed the necessity of conducting a comprehensive study to examine the pros and cons of extending the trolley.

At the Jan. 28 regular meeting, the commission had asked City Manager Pat Salerno to direct staff to look into costs. Salerno returned Tuesday with a list of objectives to be completed by a study team from Gannett Fleming, a planning, design and construction management firm. The firm would produce a report for the commission to consider, including options for extending the route and costs.

Commissioner Vince Lago, who proposed the resolution, favored a study but made it clear he doesn’t foresee any cons.

“We are going to put a trolley stop there,” he said. “Now, let’s figure out how.”

Commissioner Patricia Keon echoed Lago in her comments, even saying that estimates for the market for potential riders and projected ridership are unnecessary.

“Frankly, I don’t care,” she said. “This is a public good to serve a community that has not been served.”

Commissioner Bill Kerdyk Jr. said he supports the extension, but he still wants to see numbers.

“I think the approach of extending it over there is a good one, but I’d like to see the data,” he said.

Commissioner Frank Quesada said conducting a full study and getting ridership estimates is prudent, even if the project is more likely to happen than not.

“I think it’s good to have it,” he said. “As far as putting a trolley stop there, I think we’re all in favor.”

Leona Cooper — lifelong resident of the district who first asked the commission to extend the trolley into her neighborhood in 2006 — thanked Lago for pushing the issue.

“I’m very proud of you,” she said. “You’re such a young kid. You really have some chutzpah to do this.”

Lago suggested adding the stop even as residents of the neighboring West Grove have been fighting plans for a garage for the Gables trolleys in the neighborhood. Federal transportation officials have said the garage project violated federal law by failing to consider the impact on minority communities.

Also on Tuesday, the commission received a formal legal opinion from Reyes Law Firm, requested by City Attorney Craig Leen, on the issue of backyard gun ranges — a matter that made headlines in the Keys recently.

“In the city of Coral Gables, because of the size of many of our lots ... there would be an inherent danger that would always exist because of the proximity of other houses,” Leen said.

As a result, the city will enforce state law against the practice of backyard gun ranges, Leen said.

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.

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