Hundreds of Coral Gables residents Wednesday night packed a ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel to share frustrations, fears and find out more about future developments in the city.
Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick hosted a brainstorming session called “Coral Gables 2030” and organized residents into breakout groups to discuss potential development along South Dixie Highway, Ponce de Leon Boulevard, proposed annexation efforts, downtown development and more general topics like schools and public safety.
Much of the discussion at the tables overlapped into concerns about increased traffic, building density and developers potentially changing the character of the City Beautiful, with the city in the middle of a heightened period of redevelopment.
The most heated discussion centered on potential zoning and land-use changes on South Dixie Highway especially with the proposed Paseo de la Riviera project. The controversial project, which includes a 10-story hotel, open space, shopping and a 13-story residential building, received partial approval from the city’s planning board last month and will go for city commission consideration Oct. 22.
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“Developers, if they’re going to make a change, should make the change only in exceptional circumstances, it shouldn’t become the rule,” resident Leon Kellner said.
Residents from the North and South Ponce areas also spoke out against some proposed ideas for townhouses and other developments along the corridor.
Former Beacon Council President Frank Nero said that as Coral Gables continues to draw developers, residents have to be involved.
“You really need to know where you’ve been and where you want to go and then chart out, ‘Well, how do we get there?’” Nero said. “The planning and development of a city ain’t instant grits.”
As the speakers from various breakout groups spoke, city staff and volunteers wrote down the ideas. Slesnick said she would ensure the messages were communicated to the rest of the commission, the other four members were absent from the meeting.
The planning and development of a city ain’t instant grits, you really need to give some thought to it.
Frank Nero, former Beacon Council president
There was support for annexing the nearby unincorporated neighborhood of Little Gables and for the Underline project, a proposed 10-mile linear park and bikeway spanning from Miami to Dadeland under the Metrorail. About three miles of the project runs through Coral Gables.
Other major themes throughout the meeting were increasing communication with residents especially on things like historic preservation regulations and proposed development.
“All of sudden developers seem to be taking over everything and turn around all these new projects that most people just don’t know anything about,” resident Jack Coe said.
Still, others said development proposals should not be greeted with immediate opposition and residents should take time to learn more about each project.
“We have a lot of people saying not in my neighborhood, but I think people just need to be better informed,” resident Lily Calvo-Florentino said.
For more information on proposed and ongoing projects in Coral Gables, visit coralgables.com/developmentprojects.