The development team behind a contentious project in Coral Gables is planning another big project on South Dixie Highway right next to the Metrorail.
NP International is planning a mixed-use project called Gables Station that will include a hotel, commercial space, housing and about two acres of park space. The developer is asking to build up to 160 feet, which is 60 feet higher than the current height limit.
The request to build higher for a mixed-use project sounds similar to NP International’s Paseo de la Riviera project but the developers insist this project is different. But like Paseo de la Riviera, height was a major issue when commissioners gave initial approval to the Gables Station plan last month.
Gables Station will include three buildings all roughly shaped like an H. They will house a combined 460 residential units and will also have arcades running along the building with plantings between them and the curb on US-1. The building closest to Grand Avenue will include an extended stay hotel with 66 units and some ground-level retail. The other two structures will include parking garages.
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The developer of Gables Station wants to be able to build up to 160 feet, which is 60 feet higher than the current height limit.
The developers also increased outreach to neighboring businesses and, unlike the often divisive discussions over the Paseo project, which led to a lawsuit against the city, the residents in the nearby historically black MacFarlane Homestead District seem to support the project.
“The height of the hotel and its proximity to the Metrorail is not a problem for us. Our main concern is good paying jobs for the community and the integration of the historical component of the project in our area,” Edwina Prime, president of the Lola B. Walker Homeowners Association, said at a recent commission meeting.
The developers want to include in the project some of the history of the African and Bahamian settlers who helped George Merrick build the city by including art and displays that highlight some of those settlers. They also intend to have pocket parks, fountains, trees and other amenities on the development’s green space.
“As people bike and jog through that major corridor, we should be the most beautiful section of that corridor,” project architect Jorge Hernandez said at the June 14 meeting.
Commissioners were somewhat divided on the development when they gave initial approval to the plan last month. They seemed to unanimously support the idea of the project and building something noteworthy on top of what is now a parking lot, but they balked at raising the height limit.
“I do not want to see Coral Gables have a 16-story building on US-1 just for the sake of development,” said Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick, who voted against the project.
In their preliminary approval, commissioners approved the height increase but urged the developer to reduce the height, even if it wasn’t staff’s recommendation of 120 feet.
“I will not support this on second reading if you do not find a way. I’m not asking you to reduce floors, but I need you to lower the height,” Commissioner Vince Lago said.
I do not want to see Coral Gables have a 16-story building on US-1 just for the sake of development.
Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick
Commissioner Patricia Keon said that as more people move closer to the city’s commercial and industrial areas and desire to commute on foot and on bicycles, Gables leaders have to change their views on development.
“If we want to change this dependence on automobiles, we need to begin to develop in a better way,” Keon said at the meeting.
Since the June meeting, the developer has worked to address some of the commission’s and staff’s conditions of approval such as providing parking for nearby businesses on Ponce de Leon Boulevard and providing a trolley for the project but not necessarily reducing the height of the project, said Ramon Trias, the city’s planning director.
“I think that the project is not going to be substantially different than what was proposed,” Trias said.
Hernandez agreed with Trias and said that the height is necessary to make the project habitable by placing the residential units above the Metrorail.
“You want to remove habitable spaces as far from the rail as you can,” Hernandez said.
The commission will take a second vote on the project at its next regular meeting. Commissioners will vote on amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan map, the zoning code and the zoning map along with creating a planned area development and a mixed-use site plan. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. July 26 at Coral Gables City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way.