Residents who bitterly fought a trolley garage in their historic black neighborhood in Coconut Grove are racing the clock to buy the building from the developer and turn it into a business that they say serves the neighborhood.
“The more we get in there, the more we inspire investment,” said Jihad Rashid, president and CEO of the Coconut Grove Collaborative, who is hoping to negotiate a deal. “Everybody wants the same thing, don’t they?”
The garage in the 3300 block of Douglas Road sparked controversy in early 2013 when neighbors learned the city of Coral Gables had cut a deal with a developer to build the garage there for the city’s popular trolleys. In exchange, Coral Gables agreed to hand over land on Le Jeune Road, where the garage now sits, to Astor Development for a luxury, mixed-use condominium tower near the tony Village of Merrick Park.
Helped by a team of pro bono lawyers and University of Miami law professor Anthony Alfieri, West Grove residents sued the city of Miami, arguing they had not received proper notice before construction began. A judge sided with the developer, but then Coral Gables sued, arguing Astor had violated its contract by not adhering to Miami’s zoning rules.
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In the meantime, resident Clarice Cooper, who lives across from the garage, complained the project violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which requires neighborhood surveys when federal transportation money is used. Federal officials sided with Cooper, citing both the cities of Coral Gables and Miami as well as the county for violating the landmark law.
Although Astor completed the project, Coral Gables never moved the trolleys there, leaving the building vacant.
In August, Coral Gables settled its dispute with Astor when the company agreed to build a new trolley garage in Coral Gables. That left West Grove residents to hammer out a deal with Astor, which was finalized this month, said attorney Phil Freidin on Wednesday. Freidin represented the residents pro bono.
Included in the settlement were terms to make the new building more tolerable to neighbors: no gas stations, no fast food drive-throughs or, if voters approve them in November, marijuana parlors for the next five years.
“They didn’t want the trolleys there and there are not going to be trolleys there, so that’s a smashing victory,” Freidin said. “It was ready to go, so this result is really semi-miraculous.”
Astor officials could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Residents are hoping to buy the building or negotiate a tenant over the next three months, when their option to buy expires, Rashid said.
“What we want to do is make it easy to get the right kind of activity in there and fill the void that causes other problems,” he said, referring to the empty storefronts along Grand Avenue.