From City Hall: February Recap

At its two meetings in February, the Coral Gables City Commission:

Discussed ongoing sidewalks projects, including those at University Drive, Blue Road, and Venetia Terrace, most of which are waiting on county approval. Currently, the city has approximately three miles of sidewalk replacement pending which will cost about $3.4 million. The total amount of missing sidewalks within city limits comes to approximately 79 miles, which would cost over $26 million to add.

The commission agreed to discuss “the future of sidewalks” at a separate sunshine meeting. 

Voted 5-0 to authorize an amendment to Coral Gables Museum’s mission statement that will refocus its commitment to visual artwork. At least two concerned citizens spoke up. “This request continues to move away from the original founding purpose of [the museum] being an educational and cultural institution,” one citizen said.

Museum Executive Director Elvis Fuentes said artwork exhibits further the museum’s mission and help acquire accreditation, which will lead to federal funding.

Listened to an update on The Biltmore Way and Flagler Section projects, which have been in the works since 2019. Six possibilities were presented to redesign the section of Biltmore Way between Anderson Road and Hernando Street and three possibilities to redesign the Flagler Section.

The Commission agreed to wait on narrowing down the options for both projects until budgets for each plan had been presented and enough resident input had been solicited through sunshine meetings and/or public ballots. (Sponsored by Commissioner Anderson)

Voted 5-0 to enforce a $500 daily fine for contractors and construction companies who abandon construction signage and barricades along rights of way in the city for longer than 24 hours. (Sponsored by Mayor Lago)

Voted 5-0 to enforce additional penalties for those who use bicycles, motorized scooters, or skateboards on unauthorized sidewalks. Currently, the fine is $35. After the first offense, the amount will be raised to $100, and any subsequent violations will result in $200 fines. (Sponsored by Commissioner Anderson)

Voted 5-0 to waive the competitive process in the procurement code so that the Coral Gables police department can acquire a Tesla for a pilot program that will test the cost-effectiveness of electric vehicles in the field. (Sponsored by Mayor Lago)

Rejected an appeal by the owner of a house at 1258 Obispo Ave. who wanted to demolish his historic 1945 home. The Historic Preservation Board previously voted 9-0 to deny request for demolition because loss of the building “would affect the architectural integrity” of the Obispo Avenue Historic District, said Warren Adams, the city’s director of historical resources and cultural arts.

From City Hall in March
House located at 1258 Obispo Avenue.

The vote was 4-1 to deny demolition, with only Mayor Lago voting in favor. Lago felt the ruling was unfair because it would cost the homeowner more to restore the home than replace it. Adams said the homeowner had been fully informed of the historic restrictions when he purchased the home.

Voted 5-0 to recommit the Commission’s support to the Phillips Park project. Proposed renovations include:
– Expanding the playground
– Removing one tennis court and the dugouts
– Resurfacing and adding new equipment for both basketball and tennis courts
– Replacing the current building with new offices and indoor restrooms
– Adding landscaping, a water play area, shade structures, artificial turf for the field, two new pickleball courts, a lighting and CCTV camera system, and wider walkways

Another community meeting will be held in May to discuss the final design. (Sponsored by Commissioner Menendez)

Listened to a summary of the dramatic increase in efficiency by the city’s development department in reviewing construction permits now that the system is electronic. In all of 2022, some 30,128 permits were reviewed. In just January of this year, 25,183 permits were reviewed. Compared to January of 2022 (when 9,035 permits were reviewed) that represents an increase of 178 percent.

“Let’s stop the noise and misinformation and listen to the facts,” said Mayor Lago, who defended the new system against unsubstantiated accusations by local bloggers.

Listened to a proposal by Mayor Lago to install “two tools” in every city park: a defibrillator that can be used to restore heartbeat in the event of a heart attack, and a camera to act as a deterrent to both crime and illegal dumping. Lago requested a cost analysis from the city manager. “It’s not going to be cheap, but it will be worth it,” he said.

Discussed the city’s annual grants to cultural arts organizations, which amount to just over $190,000. Some 33 organizations receive grants, a third of which are based in Coral Gables. The commission reiterated its commitment to funding outside organizations so long as the events — estimated to generate some $23 million in expenditures by visitors — are staged in the Gables.

Mayor Lago wanted to increase the scrutiny of how the funds are spent, while Commissioner Kirk Menendez wanted to make sure that smaller organizations — including schools — had equal access to the grant dollars. The commission asked the cultural arts staff to return with further codicils that offer discounted or free tickets to residents.