After Heated Objections to the Rezoning of Miracle Mile, A New Zoning Solution Championed by Commissioner Michael Mena Will Cap Heights at Four Stories, With A Limit of Three Stories Where Buildings Meet the Street
A zoning compromise proposal that would cap new construction on Miracle Mile at four stories, ban parking garages on the city’s main downtown street and encourage small-scale, mixed-use development may have won the backing of a majority of the five-member Coral Gables commission.
“It seems we have a consensus,” says Commissioner Michael Mena, the author of a plan that garnered majority support at a public workshop at the end of February.
If the compromise does win commission approval in votes scheduled for later this month, it would end a contentious debate that has played out over many hours in commission and community Zoom meetings, sparked heated exchanges between residents and public officials, and become a central issue in the April 13 city elections.
At stake is the future of Miracle Mile, the iconic business district that has been plagued by shop and restaurant closures, storefront vacancies and sagging pedestrian traffic that the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated.
Even some of the most vocal critics of zoning code revisions have spotted something to like in Mena’s proposal. While continuing to urge the commission to put off a final vote on Miracle Mile zoning changes until after the upcoming election, the compromise “encourages me…in its scale,” says resident Leon Kellner, a former U.S. Attorney and current board member of the Gables Neighbors Association. “They are coming down.”
Both the current zoning code, as well as the changes suggested after a review that has taken more than two years, would allow construction on the Mile of buildings up to six stories. Opponents argued that developers were poised to rush in and remake the four-block Mile into a concrete canyon that would destroy what many see as the downtown’s historic charm.
The New Plan
Mena’s proposal, discussed at a Feb. 24 city commission workshop that flew under the radar of many who have closely followed the issue, would impose a firm four-story cap, limiting buildings on the Mile to about 50 feet, and require a step back for the fourth floor that could be a boon for restaurants, for example.
“This would keep the charm and aesthetic of Miracle Mile that everyone wants to keep, and provide the possibility of rooftop dining,” says Mena. “Imagine having dinner on a terrace overlooking the Mile.”
Both Vice Mayor Vince Lago and Commissioner Pat Keon, competing to replace retiring Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli in the upcoming election, found something to like in Mena’s plan.
“Four stories-50 feet is consistent with the height of buildings on the Mile,” Keon said in a statement. “Prohibiting parking platforms or garages on the Mile keeps the face of the buildings activated with windows on the Mile making it an inviting pedestrian friendly street…. I think working collegially and civilly to develop public policy is a hallmark of good government.”
Lago described Miracle Mile as “an exceptional and iconic destination [that] should be treated as a sacred area of the city. If we work together and…a compromise is made, we can deliver on a plan that would benefit Miracle Mile, while preserving it.”
Much of the revised master zoning code has already been approved, but residents deeply concerned with limiting the height on Mile led the city commission to set aside that part of the zoning code update. After several delays, the first reading of the Miracle Mile piece is now set for March 9, with a second and final vote set for March 23.
Critics of the zoning code revisions and the process by which they were carried out have argued that a final vote should be postponed until after the election, when two new commissioners will be sworn in.
Mena disagrees. “I understand some of the frustration,” he says, assigning some of the blame on poor communications from the city early on. “Since then, we really engaged with residents, and got a lot of feedback,” Mena says. “The commission was duly elected by residents, it has been working on this for years, and if the commission is ready to make a decision, it can and it should.”