Trolley settlement between Gables and developer will be discussed at Tuesday’s commission meeting

07/15/2014 6:03 PM

07/15/2014 6:04 PM

A longstanding dispute over a controversial city trolley garage built in Coconut Grove’s historic black neighborhood without consulting residents may get settled by the Coral Gables City Commission on Tuesday.

The commission will consider approving a settlement that would have a developer build a trolley depot underneath a proposed high-rise condominium project at 301 Altara Ave., near the Village of Merrick Park. The developer, Henry Torres, is the president of the parent company of the trolley company, Astor Trolley, LLC.

It would mean the city’s trolley system would never use the facility in the 3300 block of Douglas Road in the West Grove — a trolley garage built in the Grove, which is part of Miami, to be used by the Gables. This outraged neighbors who didn’t know about the garage because a public hearing was never held.

This led to lawsuits, and federal investigators found that Miami-Dade County and the cities of Miami and Coral Gables violated the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 when they did not conduct a study of whether race played a part in deciding where to build the garage or how it would impact the surrounding community. Many of the area’s residents are descendants of Bahamians who built the surrounding areas, including Coral Gables.

The city of Coral Gables sued Astor over the garage, but talk of a settlement started in March. The court suspended the lawsuit in late May, and Gables City Attorney Craig Leen outlined the basics of the deal at a City Commission in June.

Now commissioners will decide on the proposed settlement Tuesday. Leen will recommend the settlement, which would pay the city about $3.5 million in legal fees and fees associated with permitting for the project.

“I believe it settles a complex matter in a way that is beneficial to all the parties involved,” Leen said on Tuesday.

Leen has met with representatives from the Federal Transit Administration, the federal agency that filed the civil rights complaint, and Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP to discuss the settlement. Both organizations support the deal.

Tied to the settlement is the approval of Merrick Manor, a 283-unit condo tower that would house the trolley garage underneath. The public will get to sound off on the plans for the depot/condo development at a public hearing during Tuesday’s meeting.

The City Commission meeting will start at 9 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way. Residents can review detailed plans for Merrick Manor at City Hall.

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