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Coral Gables sets pickup truck referendum language

Coral Gables commissioners finalized the language for a November ballot question on whether to keep the city’s longstanding ban on the overnight parking of pickup trucks on residential streets and driveways.

Last month, at the urging of Mayor Jim Cason, commissioners voted 3-2 on a resolution to place the decision before voters as a referendum.

Thursday morning, at a special meeting at City Hall, the language was made official in another 3-2 vote. When voters hit polls in November to cast their votes for president, Gables residents will see this question:

The city has an existing ordinance that prohibits pickup trucks being parked outside of garages in residential areas for aesthetic purposes. Shall this ordinance be amended to allow one pickup truck for non-commercial use to be parked outside on private property for each residence, if such truck has a fully covered bed and has no more than four wheels?

Commissioners Maria Anderson and Frank Quesada voted against the rewritten ballot question, largely because they disagreed with mandating that the pickup truck beds must be covered.

For trucks that lack a cover, the cost to install a professional cover that would meet the city’s requirements could reach up to $3,000.

“We’re talking about a referendum that is pure. Do we allow personal use trucks or do we not? Is a horse a horse?” Anderson argued.

Vice-mayor William Kerdyk, Jr. countered that he felt the Planning and Zoning Board’s recommendation for a cover be followed.

“If the electorate says let’s have pickup trucks so be it,” he said. “But I feel part of that equation should be similar to what the planning board said.”

Commissioners Ralph Cabrera and Kerdyk, and Cason, ultimately voted for the ballot question language, after the five-member commission discussed the cover or uncover issue, what qualifies as visible cargo, and whether to scrap the single-vehicle-per-residence rule.

If voters opt to scrap the ordinance, several conditions would apply.

• The vehicle would have to be parked on the private property and not in the swale, sidewalk or right-of-way. The Planning and Zoning Board’s previous recommendation that pickup trucks would have to be backed in so that only the front end faces the street was stricken from the requirements. Commissioners said that rule would be too difficult for staff to enforce because some driveways are semi-circular.

• The bed of the vehicle would have to be fully covered with a bed or cab cover that completely encloses all open body areas, open truck beds, open load areas, or open compartments. These beds shall not be constructed of canvas or similar pliable materials, nor of wood. The commission voted 4-1 on accepting the language to include the word “wood” as one of the forbidden materials, since some industrious users could fashion their own makeshift cover using plywood and paint to match the color of the vehicle. Anderson voted against the language in the article.

• The vehicle could have no commercial markings or advertising, and no commercial equipment or appendage attached to the exterior.

• The vehicle could have no more than four wheels and is unmodified — meaning a truck has not been altered from its original standardized factory-built form. Trailer hitches, bike racks and manufacturer installed rooftop racks are not considered modifications.

Resident Ani Victoriano, who had collected some 2,000 signatures to fight the ordinance and to allow pickup trucks, had urged the council to make this decision last month and not turn it into a referendum item. She was similarly upset that the language on the referendum will still require the potentially expensive addition of covers.

“It’s interesting Mr. Kerdyk said he wants it ‘simple.’ You call that simple? This should have been an up and down vote whether to allow covers. It’s still a pickup truck. But that’s our government in action. These covers are $2,500 to $3,000. We’ll remember that in April,” she said.

By placing the referendum on the November ballot and piggybacking on the presidential race the city saves a considerable amount of money. The referendum cost will be $19,679 in the general election. Had the item been a standalone election it would have cost $125,000 city manager Pat Salerno said.

In other business Thursday, Cason and Kerdyk celebrated the successful return of Fourth of July fireworks at the Biltmore Hotel by praising staff. Crowds were estimated between 27,000 and 30,000.

The popular event was scrapped after 2006 due to cost and other factors. But with the addition of corporate sponsors, Wednesday’s event included a performance of patriotic tunes as well as Hollywood music from Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Lion King by the Greater Miami Symphonic Band, along with a 20-minute fireworks display over the Biltmore golf course where families gathered picnic-style.

Some participants complained about poorly lit exits, traffic jams and slow trolley service leaving the event, however. The city had trolleys shuttling visitors to parking garages in downtown.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.