As Coral Gables crafts a master plan for development along the stretch of U.S. 1 that runs through the city, one group has taken a determined stance on the plan: Keep things the same.
Members of the Riviera Neighborhood Association made up the majority of the crowd at a neighborhood meeting Monday night led by the design firm Perkins + Will.
The association has been active since late 2015 when members organized to oppose the Paseo de la Riviera project. The large mixed-use development includes an apartment building and hotel, along with commercial and open space and is planned for the Holiday Inn site at 1350 S. Dixie Hwy. Members of the group also sued the city and developer, NP International, over the project in early 2016 and argued that it was out of character for the neighborhood.
At the neighborhood meeting, held at that Holiday Inn, association members said they don’t want the city to modify the current zoning and land use along the corridor.
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“I bought into Coral Gables because I thought zoning and property rights were going to be protected,” said Henry Piñera, a member of the neighborhood association.
The meeting was designed to have attendees respond to photos and give feedback on different intersections and properties along the 2.5 miles of the highway inside the city’s boundaries. The firm then set out maps of the corridor and had people write what they wanted to see where. A similar process was used last year during community planning meetings for the city’s transportation master plan.
Many of the messages came from association members who wrote about their opposition to changes and their concerns about development.
“The residents of the adjacent neighborhood — the Riviera neighborhood — want the city to abide by the current zoning codes and land-use designations ONLY. We will not accept and adamantly oppose any ‘overlays’ such as ‘mixed-use’ or transit-oriented development,” one message read.
The firm has not recommended or proposed plans for new overlay districts or any changes to the land-use map or zoning codes for the area. Monday’s meeting was the first of three similar meetings at locations along the corridor, from Douglas Road to Red Road.
Many members described the exercises at the meeting as something designed for “third graders.” They said they wanted to have more time for public comments and questions and questioned how strictly the developers would be required to follow the master plan.
“Is this an exercise in futility?” asked Sue Kawalerski, vice president of the neighborhood association. “Our vested interest is quality of life. [A developer’s] vested interest is money.”
Some members of the association also asked why the city would select Perkins + Will to study the master plan as the company has worked on projects for the University of Miami including the recently completed Lennar Foundation Medical Center. They questioned whether the firm could objectively study the university section of the corridor given the company’s previous work with the school.
Cesar Garcia-Pons, with Perkins + Will, led Monday’s meeting and said those projects were worked on by representatives from the firm’s Atlanta office and that there was no conflict of interest.
Residents also had issues with the formation of an advisory board that includes Brent Reynolds of the development team building the Paseo project, Mark Trowbridge of the city’s chamber of commerce and Janet Gavarrete, the University of Miami’s associate vice president of campus planning. The 11-member board has slots for five residents and they want more representation.
Staff members said the advisory board will not have any voting power and any decision on the eventual master plan would go before the City Commission.
Garcia-Pons said the message from the association was clear. He said a larger public meeting was already in the works and will happen in the next few months. He said that the firm’s goal is to hear from as many people along the corridor as possible.
“We’re trying to craft a conversation. This meeting is a look at what’s there. The next set of meetings is what it could be,” Garcia-Pons said.