As Coral Gables commissioners get ready to approve or deny the city’s biggest development ever — the $500-million Mediterranean Village project on the Ponce Circle — voters will have a stark choice in the Group IV seat. Incumbent commissioner Frank Quesada supports the project while his opponent, Enrique Lopez, has been a vocal critic of it.
Lopez, 62, a lobbyist and information technology consultant, is running for the first time. Quesada, 35, a litigation attorney, ran for commissioner in 2011 and bested five other candidates.
Both candidates expressed some of the same ideas in their political platforms: Both want to see Coral Gables preserve its quality of life, want to reduce crime and transform the city’s pension plan.
They disagree, however, on others issues: Quesada thinks the Mediterranean Village project (which the commission recently passed on first reading) is a great project. Lopez disagrees, calling it an “over-development frenzy.”
Developed by Agave Ponce LLC, the $500-million project would rise on the former Old Spanish Village site on Ponce Circle, just a few blocks south of Miracle Mile. It would encompass almost seven acres and would include a high-end hotel with 184 rooms, 314,000 square feet of office space, restaurants, stores, a gym and a multiplex cinema. The project would also include three residential towers with 214 condo units and 15 townhouses.
While the commission passed many of the items related to the project unanimously, two commissioners — Kerdyk and Vince Lago — dissented over the project’s scale and height. Their nay votes led the developers to partially reduce the scope of the project.
Quesada thinks more street lighting in Coral Gables will lower crime, while Lopez believes it will give the city a “Disney look.”
Below is a snapshot of each candidate.
In 2011, Quesada was elected as Coral Gables commissioner. He started his political career as an intern for Kerdyk Jr.. A year later, he attended St. Thomas University School of Law, graduated and began working at a Gables law firm in 2006.
Through his first four-year term, the incumbent focused on reducing millage rates, advancing government efficiency and preserving the character of Coral Gables. This term around, his goals are similar. He says he plans to work on traffic and the city’s master plan, pension costs, and continue with initiatives the city has in place.
“We will continue to tackle the tough issues like pensions, continue to protect the neighborhoods and ensure that the personality and character of our city doesn’t change,’’ he said. “We’ve repaved 60 miles worth of city streets, we are currently repairing sidewalks, we created new parks and are improving parks in the city and still have a lot of city initiatives that we’re working on.”
Quesada has heavily supported the Mediterranean Village project, a giant venture he wanted to see chopped down to a smaller scale.
“We cut down the size of the project, ensured there will be no tall buildings next to single-family homes, and we are still working to ensure that the project will not affect traffic in the residential neighborhoods,” he said.
The project abuts a residential neighborhood to the east.
Quesada also said he has been in the forefront of several issues, including crime and the Miracle Mile redevelopment.
“I called the public meeting on Sept. 11 to address crime concerns in the city,” he said. “I’ve been very proactive n making sure that we had a police chief that was going to address the crime concern in the city. I have been very involved in trying to reduce traffic through the neighborhood streets by reducing the speed limits to 35 mph on residential streets. I have also been at the forefront to try to repair Miracle Mile.”
Lopez has been a resident in the Gables for almost three decades and works as a information technology consultant in the Gables. He also is a registered lobbyist; at one time, he represented the Miracle Mile restaurant called Panzerottis, which has since shut down.
He said he was to “ensure that all components that comprise our quality of life are thoroughly evaluated as our City Beautiful reaches new heights and that unquestioned transparency, integrity and citizen inclusion are the highest of priority.”
Lopez said he wants the city to hire more police officers.
“There is no justification for the elected leadership's support of a reduction in our budgeted police force during the past four years,” he said.
He added that traffic and development are also on his radar.
“All of us chose Coral Gables because of its strict zoning codes in support of an unparalleled and enviable quality of life,” Lopez said. “This cannot be compromised by elected officials who are beholden to certain developers who prioritize their financial gain above our quality of life.”
Lopez was referring to the Mediterranean Village project. Initially, the developers had proposed building a 218-foot hotel tower that would have exceeded the city’s habitable height limitation of 190 feet. But the commissioners balked and the developer modified the project to meet the 190-foot restriction.
Lopez also believes parking and the city’s trolley system need to be worked on to accommodate more people and operate on the weekends.
According to Lopez’s resume, he is the president of Gables Business Solutions Advisors. Florida business records show he created the company in August 2014.
Occupation: Coral Gables lobbyist and IT consultant
Education: University of Miami, master’s in electrical engineering
Years lived in Coral Gables: 29
Public Service: Member of: Green Task Force, Board of Adjustment, Property Advisory Board, Emergency Management Board, Chair of Utility Service Reliability Task Force.
Occupation: Litigation attorney
Education: St. Thomas University School of Law
Years lived in Coral Gables: 11
Public Service: Ex-Officio Board Member of Coral Gables Community Foundation; member of: Coral Gables Traffic Advisory Board, and sits on the board of the Coral Gables Community Foundation.