Coral Gables

Seven-decade tradition ends in Gables; commissioner Bill Kerdyk terms out

Coral Gables Vice-Mayor Bill Kerdyk meets with Coral Gables Community Foundation executive director Mary Snow at his favorite coffee shop, Einstein Bros Bagels, on Friday, April 10.
Coral Gables Vice-Mayor Bill Kerdyk meets with Coral Gables Community Foundation executive director Mary Snow at his favorite coffee shop, Einstein Bros Bagels, on Friday, April 10.

If anyone knows anything about Coral Gables Commissioner Bill Kerdyk Jr., it’s that at 6:45 a.m. he has his dose of vanilla hazelnut coffee — every day, at the same time, at the same place.

“With cream and a little bit of sugar,” Kerdyk said, as he put on his sunglasses and left Einstein Bros. Bagels on Miracle Mile, hugging locals on his way out.

“I have a bit of a sweet tooth.”

On Tuesday, Election Day in Coral Gables, the longtime commissioner will term out after 20 years of service. He, his father and his uncle have sat on the Gables commission for 70 years, a record. When the results of Tuesday’s election come in, it will be the first time that a Kerdyk won’t be on the commission in a long, long time.

“Sooner or later you have to step out of the arena. My youngest daughter goes away to college next summer and I don’t want to be an absentee father. I need to step away to look at the bigger picture, and sometimes you have to step away in order to move forward,” said Kerdyk, 55, who with his wife Lynn has raised three children in the Gables. “I’m leaving with a heavy heart. How can you not leave with a heavy heart after growing up talking Coral Gables politics with my dad at the dinner table?”

Kerdyk’s father, William Kerdyk Sr., served as commissioner from 1967 to 1995. Kerdyk’s uncle, Frank Kerdyk, served from 1957 until 1961. Kerdyk Jr., a graduate of Gables High and Florida International University, was elected in 1995.

The three Kerdyks have been instrumental in molding Coral Gables, often voting to protect the city’s strict zoning laws and historic preservation over development. Kerdyk Jr. is president and CEO of Gables-based Kerdyk Real Estate.

In the late ’60s, Kerdyk Sr., who died in 2007, voted “no” to turning Cocoplum — a gated community of high-end, single-family homes on the Gables Waterway — into a golf course and condominium complex. The initial vote was 4-1, with Kerdyk dissenting.

“The other commissioners received so much pressure that they switched their votes to match my dad’s,” Kerdyk Jr. said. The final vote was 5-0.

In the early ’70s, he voted “no” to knocking over the iconic Biltmore Hotel to build condominiums. At the time, the now-landmark hotel, built in 1926, was desolate. The vote was 3-2.

In the ’80s, Kerdyk Sr. and the commission enacted the historic preservation ordinance to safeguard the city’s inventory of homes and buildings from the 1920s. Later, the city’s Historic Preservation Board was born.

Frank Kerdyk fought against building the first-high rise in Coral Gables — the David Williams Condominiums on Biltmore Way. At the time, there were no buildings that exceeded six stories; the developer wanted to build 12.

Come 1961, the commission allowed the 12-story building, with Kerdyk dissenting in a 3-2 vote. A new commission came in and tried to overturn the measure, leading to a four-year court battle.

“The fact is that we’ve always been very conservative in as far as voting goes,” Kerdyk said. “We believe there is a direct correlation and that over-development ties into the quality of life for our residents. It started with my uncle, followed by my dad and that’s how I voted my whole tenure.”

Kerdyk’s most recent vote speaks to that.

On April 2, Kerdyk voted “no” to Coral Gables’ biggest project ever — the Mediterranean Village Project, a $500 million plan developed by Agave Ponce LLC that would include a high-end hotel, 300,000 feet of office space, restaurants, retail establishments and a gym. It’s also slated to include 214 condo units and 15 townhouses.

“I wish my final vote was a yes and not a no, but you have to vote your conscience up there on the dais. That’s how I feel. I’m concerned that there is too much intensity in the project and the overall structural impact it might bring to our residential community.”

Among Kerdyk’s accomplishments:

▪ Founded the city’s Parknership Program and raised almost $2 million, which went toward buying or restoring parks, fountains, bridges and the Alhambra Water Tower.

▪ Initiated the Million Orchid Project in 2014, a $25,000 city-funded project to reintroduce 250,000 native orchids into the city's tree canopy.

▪ Developed the Ponce de Leon Median Project, with a landscaped median extending from Miracle Mile to Southwest Eighth Street.

The city’s trolleys, which transport approximately 1.1 million passengers a year, also came into fruition during Kerdyk’s time. Kerdyk said his vision was for the transportation system to “serve as the vital link that connects passengers to work, home and leisure activities while reducing traffic and demands on the parking system.”

Marlene Kerdyk, Kerdyk’s mother, has lived through three politicians — her husband, son and brother-in-law. She says she believes it was her son’s time to go.

“Before making his decision, he kept worrying that he was letting the people of Coral Gables down,” she said. “But I said ‘no.’ He decided that it was his time. I don’t know if there will be anyone that could match the love and passion my son and my husband had, but there are are many good candidates and generations change.”

Commissioner Frank Quesada, who interned for Kerdyk from 2002-03 and who later served four years with him on the commission, said he’ll miss his former mentor. He’s running Tuesday for reelection against Enrique Lopez.

“Anytime I disagree with Bill on the dais, his neck would turn red, he would think for a few seconds and then speak his mind,” Quesada said jokingly. “But seriously. I’ll miss his steady voice. Bill questioned anything we ever did. I’ll miss his forward thinking and unique ideas. I guess the biggest positive is that we can now speak to him and talk to him outside of commission meetings, pick his brain and really use his guidance and his leadership.”

Andy Murai, who has known Kerdyk for 30 years and was mentored by Kerdyk Sr. when he was on the city’s Code Enforcement Board, said: “It’s a sad day for Coral Gables, after so many years there will not be a Kerdyk on the dais.”

Gables attorney Dean Colson grew up with Kerdyk, calling him a “straight shooter.”

“He’ll always tell you what he can do and what he can’t do,” said Colson, 63. “I’ve always been impressed by his willingness to serve on the commission. It takes a lot of time to be a good commissioner. It’s an unusual sacrifice.”

Talking about sacrifice, before going to Einstein’s, the vice mayor rolls out of bed at 5 a.m. to hit the gym.

On Monday, he ran a mile, and exercised his upper and lower body.

“Three sets of six,” he said of his routine, which starts off his weekdays. From the gym, he drives his car to Einstein’s in his sweats to grab his cup of coffee. He then goes to his office to “prepare for the day.”

“That’s when it’s quiet,” he said. “Then I go home and take a shower. Then I meet with people. And sometimes — sometimes — I go back for a refill.”

When asked if that would change come Election Day, Kerdyk said: “I’ll be there. Nothing will change, except that I won’t be vice mayor.”

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