The city of Miami believes it has an agreement in place to purchase a controversial trolley garage that three years ago ignited a civil rights dispute in West Coconut Grove.
Just don’t tell the owner that.
City commissioners are scheduled to vote Thursday on a proposed agreement with seller Astor Trolley to purchase the 21,658-square-foot Douglas Road property for $3,060,000. The plan, according to City Manager Daniel Alfonso, is to purchase the facility using parks impact fees, which would restrict its use to recreational purposes.
But Commissioner Ken Russell, who represents Coconut Grove, said the funding source isn’t set in stone and the community will have a say in how the building is used if it’s bought.
“What it will be used for is the big question from here,” Russell said. “The neighborhood is all waiting to see which way this goes. As soon as we take control of the building, we’ll have a community meeting within the building.”
As soon as we take control of the building, we’ll have a community meeting within the building.
Commissioner Ken Russell
Henry Torres, the founder of Astor Companies, which owns the building through its subsidiary, said in an interview that he’s comfortable selling the building at the value set by the city’s appraisers even though he’d listed the property at $3.8 million. However, Torres said there remains a condition of sale that has him and the city at an impasse.
“I think we’ll get there but I don’t think it’s going to happen for this meeting,” said Torres, who declined to elaborate on the outstanding issue.
The building, currently sitting empty, was initially built to house and maintain trolleys servicing Coral Gables. Astor built the facility as part of a land swap with the city that moved the Gables’ industrial facility out of sight and netted the developer the former maintenance site near the Village of Merrick Park.
But the deal fell apart after West Grove neighbors sued the city of Miami, arguing they had not received proper notice before construction began. One resident also complained the project violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires neighborhood surveys when federal transportation money is used.
Federal officials agreed and cited Coral Gables and Miami as well as the county for failing to study whether race played a role in the location of the warehouse or whether its operation would have an adverse impact on the West Grove. Then, Coral Gables changed heart, sued the developer, and a settlement with Coral Gables moved trolley storage facilities to a new location, leaving the Grove warehouse empty.
Russell, who pushed to buy the building, said he hadn’t heard about any balking from Torres. But during a meeting Tuesday, he heard some skepticism about whether the city should buy the building for $3 million now or wait for the price to drop.
“They effectively can’t use their property,” Commissioner Keon Hardemon said. “In a year it will be a fire sale.”