City attorney: Coral Gables staff concerns with trolley settlement to be addressed at Tuesday meeting

07/20/2014 12:00 AM

07/21/2014 10:13 AM

Coral Gables’ city staff has raised concerns regarding the proposed settlement of the controversial city trolley garage built in Coconut Grove’s historic black neighborhood, which will be discussed at the City Commission meeting Tuesday.

The settlement would prevent the city’s trolley system from using the facility that had been built outside of Gables city limits in the 3300 block of Douglas Road in the West Grove without consulting surrounding residents in a public hearing.

Instead, the settlement would allow the developer, Henry Torres, to construct a trolley depot underneath a proposed high-rise condominium project at 301 Altara Ave., near the Village of Merrick Park. Merrick Manor, the 283-unit condominium tower, will be built by Torres, who is president of the trolley company’s (Astor Trolley LLC) parent company, which is The Astor Cos.

City Attorney Craig Leen says approval of the settlement would resolve complex litigation between Coral Gables with others. Three lawsuits surround the West Grove facility, two of which involve the Gables. The settlement would pay the city about $3.5 million in legal and permit fees.

But as city staff reviewed Leen’s settlement proposal, some had concerns about traffic and sewage drainage in the proposed area. The latest traffic study for the project was in 2011, and did not consider the presence of the trolley facility or an additional 103 units from the approved high-rise proposal. Additionally, the sewer capacity analysis was based on previously proposed building densities.

Updated studies will be required by the Public Works department for construction to proceed.

Leen says both matters have been resolved and he will address them extensively Tuesday in addition his full recommendation.

“I want to make sure everything is discussed at the hearing because I want it to be a public process and for them to see all of the factors,” Leen said.

The public will be able to make comments at the hearing Tuesday, but ultimately the decision will be up to commissioners.

“I don’t think there will be any regulatory issue of it being passed,” Leen said. “They have to look to see if the building is appropriate and that they want to have the trolley building there.”

Leen says he will recommend the commission approve the settlement because he believes the agreement serves the mutual interests of all of those involved.

“Certainly the city would like to see this issue resolved in way that everyone is treated fairly,” Leen said.

Comissioner Vince Lago told the Miami Herald on Friday that he was not privy to any recent concerns regarding the project, but supports the proposed location of the trolley depot.

“I think it is in the best interest of the city that the facility be built within the compounds of Coral Gables,” Lago said.

The City Commission meeting will held at 9 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way.

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