Coral Gables

Huge Mediterranean Village project approved after three years in Coral Gables pipeline

Coral Gables Vice Mayor Frank Quesada asks developers a question on Wednesday during the special meeting.
Coral Gables Vice Mayor Frank Quesada asks developers a question on Wednesday during the special meeting. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

After nearly eight hours of discussion, the Coral Gables commission on Wednesday approved the city’s biggest development project ever—the Mediterranean Village.

Commissioners passed the mixed-use project— which has been in the pipeline more than three years— on second reading at a special meeting. It was initially approved in April with the condition that developers go back and make some changes.

The massive $500 million plan developed by Agave Ponce LLC will include a high-end hotel, office space, restaurants, retail establishments and a gym. It’s also slated to include 214 condo units and 15 townhouses.

City officials pushed to have developers scrap the originally proposed cinema, daycare and a residential tower, reduce the size to about 1.1 million square feet, and redesign the hotel so the entrance is on Galiano Street, not on Ponce de Leon Boulevard, shifting major traffic. They also voted to lower the heights of many buildings, lower the mass of the project, and make some passageways more pedestrian friendly by removing paths for vehicular traffic.

The refined plan is 109,798 square feet less than the original proposal. The floor area ratio (the square footage of the building divided by the square footage of the lot) has been reduced from 4.375 to 4.0.

Although the city had asked developers in April to reduce the main building’s height from 218 feet of habitable space to 190 (meeting the city’s code), on Wednesday the commission ultimately decided to make an exception, and allow 218 feet.

The extra 28 feet will make room for a two-story, high-end restaurant with outdoor seating and a view of Coral Gables. A restriction keeps the space from being used for anything else.

The separate vote for allowing the building to exceed the city’s height cap was 3-2, with Commissioners Vince Lago and Jeanett Slesnick voting no.

“Over the last 90 years there hasn’t been any building with habitable square footage above 190 feet,” Lago told the Miami Herald. “I feel that it’s important that we maintain those traditions which have helped preserve the character of our city, in turn maintaining property values at some of the highest levels in Dade County.”

Slesnick said she believes the decision will break “tradition and precedent” in the community.

“Once this precedent is set, other developers will come and ask for the same,” she said. “There are more than 18 high-rise projects in the pipeline. If one developer gets 17, 18 or 19 floors, then the others will line up and ask for the same. What a shame it would be to have this on a [90th] birthday year, to have something that breaks the zoning code.”

City Attorney Craig Leen quickly stepped in.

“This does not set the legal precedent,” he said. “It’s only allowing it for this property, that it would only be appropriate at this one location.”

Commissioner Patricia Keon said she supported the height exception because the zoning code calls for a cap of 190 feet of habitable space, used by people. There is no height cap on architectural design.

“The issue is, is it usable space or not usable space? The alternative is that it would just be open, which becomes a habitat for pigeons and birds, and an opportunity for people to go up there and hang out, which is a problem we have in the garages downtown,” Keon said.

“If they want to put a high-end restaurant up there, I think its a good thing for our city. It brings very high-end elements into our downtown that don’t exist currently. ... They [the developers] did reduce the square footage, reduce the height of many other parts of the project, took out cinema and made it a much more open and walkable project. It’s more accessible and will be a beautiful public space.”

The mixed-use venture will rise on the former Old Spanish Village site on Ponce Circle, just a few blocks south of Miracle Mile.

The Mediterranean Village project was an integral part of the political platforms of those running for city commission back in April. Some candidates thought the immense project would be an asset to Coral Gables, while others argued it would have a negative impact on the neighborhood and residential life.

Now that the project has passed, the city will have to hire four more police officers at an annual cost of $372,156, according to a memo from the police department to the city manager’s office.

The fire department will also need to hire six firefighters and a life safety fire inspector, promote three firefighters to lieutenants, and buy a fully serviceable and staffed firetruck that would need to be inspected.

The city will also need to add a minimum of six intersections with an emergency vehicle preemption system with about 22 emergency vehicle installations — a total of $800,580, according to a memo from the fire department to the city manager’s office.

About $37 million in neighborhood improvements, street upgrades, subsidizing trolleys, and landscape connection improvements will be contributed to the city by the developer: $1.3 million upfront to buy four trolleys; $626,000 to be contributed every year for 25 years for maintenance.

After the final vote Wednesday, developers all shook hands, patted each other on the back and hugged.

Afterward, Hector Fernandez, the CEO of developer Agave Holdings, told the Miami Herald that that no project construction would begin for nine months.

“Construction paperwork will take about six months, plus three months to apply for a building permit. Then once we’re on the site, it will take about three years to build,” Fernandez said.

He added: “I’m glad we never lost hope in this long journey. We had more than 250 private and public meetings throughout the years — with neighbors and staff, and among each other. We knew the project was so strong that there was no way that it wouldn’t go through.”