Coral Gables presented its plan Tuesday night to build a $5 million trolley garage at the city fire station on South Dixie Highway, and was immediately greeted by a chorus of naysayers.
“If the good people of the West Grove did not want the trolley garage there, then why should the people of Coral Gables bring it here,’’ said Macdonald West, who has been living in the Gables since 1974.
West was one of about a dozen residents who spoke out against the proposed project, saying the garage would be noisy, aesthetically unpleasing, impact traffic and disrupt their quality of life. Some residents asked the city to cut their taxes for proposing a maintenance facility near their manicured homes, while others suggested the garage be moved to the city’s equipment yard on 72nd Avenue and Coral Way. (Public Works Director Glenn Kephart said the city would evaluate that option.)
City employees gave residents a snapshot of what the garage, now on LeJeune Road, across from Coral Gables High School, would look like. The garage would be located west of the fire station at 525 S. Dixie Hwy., and hold eight trolleys inside and three trolleys outside. The two-story garage would not touch existing driveways, but it would reach up to 38 feet high. Officials say they would add landscaping.
The trolley garage sparked controversy in early 2013 when Coral Gables cut a deal with a developer to build a new garage in the 3300 block of Douglas Road in Coconut Grove. In exchange, the city agreed to hand over the trolley garage site on Le Jeune Road to Astor Development to build a luxury condo tower near the Village of Merrick Park.
That plan sparked lawsuits and a finding by the U.S. Department of Transportation that the cities of Coral Gables and Miami, along with Miami-Dade County, failed to comply with the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 when the trolley garage was built in the west Grove. The law states that municipalities have to conduct proper outreach when federally funded transportation projects are built in minority neighborhoods. Some of the trolleys were financed with federal funds.
Although Astor completed the project, Coral Gables never moved the trolleys there. In fact, the city sued Astor, contending the company did not comply with the city of Miami’s zoning rules. In August, the city settled its suit with Astor after the developer agreed to build a new trolley garage in Coral Gables.
Initially, Astor had proposed building the garage on the first floor of its proposed condo tower, but that ran into issues and was ruled out. Hence, the effort to move the garage to the fire station. Astor has agreed to pay $3.9 million for the land, and $1 million in permit fees, said City Attorney Craig Leen.
“We understand that some of you may not agree with this, or maybe you do,’’ Leen said. “Truth is, we have to find a place for our trolley facility or honestly we can’t have one.”
Residents can submit comments by Dec. 16 to the Public Works Department, 2800 SW 72nd Ave., Miami, 33155.