The dispute between a business owner and a group of Coral Gables residents over a service window will likely not be settled over a cup of coffee.
Residents in a North Gables neighborhood, off Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Salamanca Avenue, are opposed to the placement of a coffee service walk-up window at a new café at 1315 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
The building has housed several restaurants over time, but has remained vacant for a few years, and the latest plan calls for a Gables location of the popular downtown Miami coffee shop, Tinta y Café. Rachel Lauzurique, a resident who has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years, has been among the most vocal critics of the window.
“We don’t want to have that empty building sitting there, but I don’t want to live next to Versailles or La Carreta,” Lauzurique said.
The neighbors and the property owner, Neli Santamarina, will have a chance to present their cases to the city commission at a quasi-judicial hearing during the March 15 commission meeting at City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way.
Lauzurique and her neighbors have also expressed concern about the city’s process and how the installation and permitting for the window were allowed to go this far. She said they should have been given more notice about the plans before work on the window started.
The city’s code prohibits walk-up windows at restaurants along certain roads including Coral Way, Biltmore Way and Ponce between Southwest Eighth Street and Bird Road. But that law does not prohibit windows entirely, just windows used for walk-up service.
“This is something I think is going to set a horrible precedent,” Lauzurique said.
Santamarina said the negative reaction has completely surprised her and that she chose the location for the café because she likes the North Ponce area and wants to create a sense of community.
As she’s done at the current Tinta y Café location, 268 SW Eighth St., Santamarina wants to host community discussions, poetry readings and have other events to foster conversation among neighbors and customers.
“What’s really upsetting for me in this whole scenario is that I haven’t been given the opportunity to show what kind of neighbor I will be,” Santamarina said.
Santamarina purchased the property in 2014 and said the window is vital to her concept for the café. It is currently being installed on the Salamanca side of the building in part to avoid the code issue. The project may also include outdoor seating.
“For me the window issue is important because not only is it a business situation it’s a cultural thing,” Santamarina said.
City Attorney Craig Leen said the commission will ultimately have the final say on allowing or denying the walk-up window use and on determining whether the use will be allowed on those roads in the future.
“The commission could decide to allow a walk-up window at certain times, there’s a lot of conditions they could apply for a walk-up window,” Leen said.
Commissioner Vince Lago said he hopes the two sides can find a happy medium.
“I hope we can correct this ambiguity in the code and bring forth a project to this neighborhood that would benefit from a nice restaurant,” Lago said.