Catholic girls school Carrollton must wait a bit longer to find out whether it can build a boys’ campus at Coconut Grove’s historic Villa Woodbine, a popular wedding venue.
The decision to approve or deny the request by Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart at 3747 Main Hwy. to expand to Villa Woodbine at 2167 S. Bayshore Dr. was deferred Friday. Members of Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board opted to give Carrollton representatives more time to answer questions and meet with neighbors of the historic building. The matter is now slated for review in December.
The boys campus would be about two miles from its sister campus.
“I know how hard it is to maintain these historic buildings,” said board member Denise Galvez Turros. “I like these plans, but we need more time to think about it,”
Carrollton’s plans “were obviously well thought out,” said Bill Hansen of Bill Hansen Luxury Catering and Event Production, which has had exclusive rights to use Villa Woodbine for the last several years. “They have their merit. The big issue is the traffic that will be generated if the school is approved. That is the issue.”
The private Catholic school has a purchase agreement with the property’s current owner, listed as Coconut Grove Park Holdings. The company’s registered vice president, John O. Scurtis, is the father of Cynthia Scurtis, the ex-wife of legendary baseball player Alex Rodriguez. The school has agreed to purchase the property should its plans to build a campus at Villa Woodbine win city approval.
Scurtis did not attend the meeting. His attorneys said he was out of the country.
Friday’s two-and-a-half hour meeting brought comment from about a dozen residents, both proponents and opponents. Many raised concerns about traffic.
Carrollton is seeking permission to build a new two-story Mediterranean Revival-style building, in accordance with the villa’s current style, to house classrooms and administrative offices surrounding a courtyard with a play area. Plans call for an additional one-story auditorium and swimming pool. Two adjacent houses that are not historic would be demolished.
The original exterior would be refurbished and most of the interior retain intact, according to the staff analysis, to be used as a teacher’s lounge and for records storage. Bedrooms would be converted to offices.
A six-foot tall coral gate and entrance would secure the campus and limit views onto the property from the street.
Carrollton needs a certificate of approval and certificate of appropriateness before its request moves to planning and zoning.
Representatives for the school said its plans to expand were eight to 10 years in the making. The boys school would be able to accommodate 336 students. The current venue allows a maximum occupancy of 230 people.
Architect Richard J. Heisenbottle, who frequently works on historic restorations, is named as the project architect.
The original villa, designed by famed architect Walter C. De Garmo, was completed in the 1920s. De Garmo also designed the Woman’s Club of Coconut Grove and Miami’s City Hall.
Before the meeting began, Warren J. Adams, Miami’s historic preservation officer, said he had received 12 emails or letters of objection to the plans and another 12 emails or letters in support of the project.
At the meeting, several Grove residents and neighbors of Villa Woodbine voiced their opposition during the discussion, which lasted more than two hours. Some complained that they were not provided with enough information.
One property owner asked the board to deny the certificates. “I did not receive a notice until August 29. I don’t think enough information has been provided to this commission,” he said.
Others worried about access to the property if the school acquires the land. Another Grove resident said, “If we change this to private hands, there will be a fee to pay for a property that can be accessed by anybody.”
Traffic was the most commonly shared concern. Ellie Haddock said, “I go down that street every day. It takes me 15 minutes to get from 22nd Avenue to Seminole Street. I’m scared to death of what another school will do. Why are we talking about appropriateness now if we haven’t even deemed it a good project for that site?”
One resident and father of two Carrollton graduates said many students will likely come from outside the Grove, from neighborhoods such as Pinecrest and the Gables. “You’ll be creating 15 miles of traffic,” he said.
Board members inquired about the environmental impact of removing 117 trees, including 54 red sandalwoods, 23 fruit trees and a strangler fig growing on top of a low coral wall.
Supporters included Miami historian Paul George. “The institution is a guardian of historic preservation.” Like other supporters, he wore a button with Carollton’s logo.
Board members unanimously agreed that they needed additional information before voting.
Hansen now has exclusive access to host events at the venue, including wedding receptions booked into 2020. He lived at Villa Woodbine from 1983 to 1988 with his wife and son before moving to Weston.
“We have been blessed to have shared the property with many couples. It is what it is. It would have been nice to have bought the property in 1988 if I had had the foresight and the means. We created so many fond memories for couples,” he said.
He did not say whether he supported or opposed Carrollton’s plans: “I have been there 36 years now. It’s been a long run. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever happens is God’s plan.”
Should Carrollton’s plans come to fruition, he would still like to rent the historic building for celebrations. “That would be a discussion that I would have with Carrollton if and when they were to buy the property,” said Hansen.
Carrollton’s representatives must submit additional information and respond to questions submitted by board members by mid-November. Board members will then have less than a month to make their decision before the next meeting.