City staff recommends 350-student limit at Somerset Academy

The Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board will consider anew the amended application of Somerset Academy of Coral Gables to expand to 436 students, factoring in new recommendations by city staff to cap enrollment at 350 to further mitigate the traffic impact.

The public hearing will be held at the commission chambers of City Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 30 from 6-9 p.m.

While Somerset’s revised application scaled back its expansion request from 735 students to 436, the city in its recommendations in response applied a traffic impact safety factor of 20 percent to lower the proposed cap to 350 to reduce car spillage into neighborhood streets.

City staff also reapproved the requests for change in land use of the city’s future land use map and now approved the conditional use request, having previously opposed it due to the proposed size.

Paul Zamek, president of the Somerset Gables Parents Association, noted that Somerset, in its revised application requesting 436 students, had already applied the city traffic engineer’s methodology and recommendation for a maximum of 29-car queue. So the new city recommendation adds an additional layer of protection for the neighborhood with a reduced queue of around 25, he said.

“Somerset Gables has been working tirelessly with the city, parents and neighbors over the past few months. These recommendations of approval by the city are a milestone for Somerset Academy,” he said. “It all comes down to traffic and they asked us to contain all the impact onsite, and it order to do that they believe at 350 it will not impact the surrounding neighborhood.”

But the Biltmore Neighborhood Association remains opposed and maintains that any expansion should be on par with other neighborhood schools such as Granada Day School and St. Philip’s Episcopal School, which are capped at under 200, said association president Carlos Carta. And with the school’s 90 parking spots, he noted that, beyond the daily impact, for every special event such as a grandparents day or teacher conferences, Somerset will overflow.

“I’m still extremely disappointed. This is going to be the largest, most densely populated school in a 2.6-acre lot in a residential neighborhood. We’re hoping the city reconsiders and keeps the school at 200… That is what we’ve said makes sense from a residential impact perspective. Anything larger really creates tremendous strain on the neighborhood,” Mr. Carta said.

“Our traffic planner is in full review of the city’s recommendations and the application and we’re looking forward to this conversation…I’d be shocked if they (Planning and Zoning) vote on it that day. I hope the do a more thorough review of this,” he said.

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