Paseo should be given a chance

Architect’s vision of Paseo de la Riviera from U.S. 1
Architect’s vision of Paseo de la Riviera from U.S. 1

Development in Coral Gables has often been unwelcome and, when allowed, highly scrutinized.

The City Beautiful wields its stringent zoning laws to guarantee that the Mediterranean-themed vision of founder George Merrick is preserved.

But like many other Miami-Dade communities — Midtown, Little Haiti, Little Havana, Buena Vista East and Brickell — Coral Gables is being pushed into a new reality by higher-density “new urbanism” projects knocking at its door.

The current battle is over the Paseo de la Riviera project, located on South Dixie Highway at the site of the Holiday Inn across from the University of Miami. The developer and many residents who live in the Riviera neighborhood behind it agree on one thing: The project will transform the area. But they vehemently disagree as to whether it will be for better or for worse.

The plan to build up to 142-feet on the edge of a residential neighborhood has divided residents. Some, though not all, believe Paseo will reshape the South Gables and its tight-knit neighborhoods, opening the door for other high-rise developments and intrusive traffic that will roll like a landslide onto tree-lined residential streets. Plus, there are questions over how the density will affect homeowners’ quality of life.

However, Brent Reynolds, of NP International, says the project will benefit the area because it would be strategically placed in a transportation hub across the street from UM, Metrorail, a trolley stop, bike paths, as well as on the block of a future pedestrian bridge.

The idea is to bring connectivity to the area, improve and better integrate Jaycee Park and promote an overall sense of community.

Both sides will make their case Thursday in front of the Coral Gables Commission during the issue’s first reading.

Members of the Riviera Neighborhood Association made a good case to the Editorial Board, but the central question is, If not this project, then what? Development will happen on that site, residents must realize.

The truth is that aging strip on U.S. 1, a busy corridor that is in no way virgin, vacant land, needs an overhaul. Paseo would expand into a $172-million, 2.7-acre, mixed-use project. It would bring up to 20,000 square feet of commercial space, 800 to 900 parking spaces, a 10-story, 252-room hotel and an eight-story, 224-unit residential tower.

The project would feature shops and restaurants on the ground floor and a pedestrian passage, dubbed the Paseo, connecting to the adjoining neighborhood. The multifaceted building has levels with different heights. As the project stands, the section that would face the neighborhood is slated to be about five stories tall. If given full approval, the project would open by fall 2017.

Members of the association explained to the Board why they’ll fight it. They made good points that the commission should consider. Here are some of their voices:

Tucker Gibbs: “We want the city to slow down and create a plan for the U.S. 1 corridor, not just approve a major project now, then come up with a plan.”

Sue Kawalerski: “We are not against progress, but it has to take into consideration the single-family homes behind it.” Let’s hope the developer continues to listen.

Henry Pinera: “I didn’t move into this neighborhood looking for new urbanism. This is a direct risk to the kind of life I tried to build for my family.’’ Understood.

The developer appears to be bending over backwards to appease critics, and he told the Editorial Board that he’s willing to keep at it. We give the developer credit for extending a hand, the perfect opening for reaching consensus.

This story has been updated.