This Past Month, City Commissioners Advanced the Agendas on Zoning and Art in Public Places
Art Basel may be canceled, but the city is moving forward with its part of that art extravaganza: Illuminate Coral Gables. This public-private project, spearheaded by Patrick O’Connell of BHHS/EMW and Venny Torre of Torre Construction, is expected to arrive on time in mid-January, with buildings across the downtown brightly illuminated by artists from around the country. Among the highlights presented to the commission were projections on the walls of the Coral Gables Museum, the Miracle Theatre, the Ocean Bank building (Valencia and Le Jeune) and City Hall. Also planned: A fleet of 27 brightly festooned “pedicabs” that will take awe-struck visitors in a loop around the downtown.
Villa Valencia’s Statuesque Vision
In the ongoing campaign to encourage art in public places, the commission approved Villa Valencia’s commission (pun intended) of a $502,275, seven-foot bronze sculpture by British artist Thomas Houseago. The statue, entitled “Lady,” will sit on a concrete plinth in a pocket park adjacent to Villa Valencia. It will be created in a foundry in Switzerland. “This is true, world-class,” commented Vice Mayor Vince Lago.
The 57th Avenue Saga Continues
The commission heard an update from the city’s director of sanitation, Al Zamora, on the trash pits along 57th Avenue, which non-residents have long used to dump trash. Since July, the city has convinced 27 residents to move their trash pits from side yards on 57th to their front yards. Unfortunately, “five or six” residents refused, says Zamora, plus another 78 (out of 179) Gables homes along 57th face the avenue and have no alternative.
Some help toward cleaning up the roadway came from the director of the city’s landscape services, Brook Dannemiller, who reported that 227 solitaire palms have been planted on 57th. “Instead of solitaire palms, they should be called invisible palms,” quipped Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli, since they were required by the Florida Department of Transportation (57th Avenue is a state road) to have thin, breakaway trunks and with no foliage below 8.5 feet.
The Rezoning of the Crafts District
In the original plans for Coral Gables, founding father George Merrick envisioned a craft section that centered on Ponce Circle. That never happened, thanks to the Hurricane of 1926 and the Great Depression. Today Ponce Circle is at the center of a new commercial growth spurt with the massive Plaza Coral Gables development rising on its east side. Meanwhile, the two blocks west of the circle are already commercial, with everything from the Mercedes-Benz car dealership to the City National Bank building.
It is no surprise then that the residential enclave southwest of the circle will soon be re-zoned to commercial – with the full support of residents who want to sell out and move to quieter areas in the city. They have long complained about wide, fast streets, too few trees, and being hemmed in by Le Jeune, midrise apartments, and commercial buildings.
“This [area] was not really designed for single family homes,” Ramon Trias, the city’s director of Planning and Zoning, told commissioners. Merrick’s vision, he says, was for this area – bound by Le Jeune Road, Santander Avenue, Salzedo Street and Catalonia Avenue – to be “what we would call today mixed-use.”
The potential re-zoning would have a height cap of 77 feet, however, something that concerned several commissioners. Commissioner Michael Mena wanted to keep the area closer to 45 feet (about four stories) so as not to loom over adjacent residential areas. Vice Mayor Vince Lago wanted to make sure that a height of 77 feet be granted only if the builders traded open space – i.e. public parks – for such heights.
In the first of two required hearings, the commission voted unanimously to re-zone the area commercial, but with the caveat that developers would not automatically be granted the maximum height.
The City Commission also approved:
- Legislation proposed by Commissioner Pat Keon to require neighborhood input for the naming of parks.
- The go-ahead for Merrick 250, a mixed-use complex on Bird Road just east of Coral Gables High School.
- A $20,000 concrete statue base on Alhambra just west of Le Jeune to display a sculpture by Colombian/Venezuelan artist William Barbosa, on loan for one year