From City Hall: March Updates

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

Listened to a presentation from JOLT, which hopes to provide electric vehicle charging stations for public parking spots in Coral Gables. “We’re looking at over 150 charging points coming online in the next few years,” the city’s Director of Parking Kevin Kinney said. The city is currently in talks with multiple companies regarding the acquisition and placement of the charging stations. (Sponsored by Mayor Vince Lago)

Voted 4-0 (Commissioner Rhonda Anderson recused herself due to a personal conflict) to reject an appeal for historic designation of The Garden of Our Lord, which would save it from being destroyed by the local developer who bought the property, Sergio Pino of Century Homebuilders Group. Bonnie Bolton, who has led the charge in advocating for the garden’s designation, brought multiple experts on architecture to make her case that the Garden of Our Lord’s “worthiness of historic designation” has been “mischaracterized,” presumably by the Historic Preservation Board, which voted 6-2 to not designate the Garden.

Inside The Garden of Our Lord

Warren Adams, director of Historical Resources and Cultural Arts for the City, said the property does not meet the criteria for designation, arguing that there is “no clear evidence” that Robert Fitch, the architect who designed the James Evangelical Lutheran Church located in the same lot, designed the garden as well; and that the plants in the garden are not Biblical but only local flora.

More than 20 residents came up to comment, most in support of the designation. Those who were against it were mostly the parents of children who attend Crystal Academy, the special education school for children with autism that currently uses the property. Pino has promised to give the Academy a permanent, updated spot in his development. For more information, see our story “Bolton’s Battle” in the November 2022 issue of Coral Gables Magazine. 

Voted 5-0 to codify a ban on the social media app TikTok on City phones. (Sponsored by Mayor Lago) 

Listened to a presentation from Police Chief Ed Hudak on crime statistics and discussed how traffic calming strategies like speed tables or roundabouts may impact police and fire response times. “We have to find a balance somehow,” said Mayor Lago. Traffic calming measures on Milan Avenue are currently in the approval process. In a separate discussion, Commissioner Anderson expressed interest in permanent electronic speed warning signs, which cost approximately $5,300 to install. 

Voted 5-0 to officially prohibit the placement of any garbage bags in trash pits before 6 pm the night before scheduled pickup. Green matter can be placed in the pits at any time but only without trash bags. The city will run a “Swale Responsibly” campaign to inform residents about the new measure. (Sponsored by Mayor Lago) 

Discussed adding bike lanes and other improvements to sections of Biltmore Way, Andalusia Avenue, and Valencia Avenue. The Commission seemed to be mostly in favor of changing parking to parallel parking spots and foregoing bike lanes in the 600-700 blocks of Biltmore Way, but more data was requested before any decisions are made. (Sponsored by Commissioner Anderson) 

Recognized the service of Commissioner Michael Mena, who will not be running for re-election in the April election, especially in regard to his efforts to upgrade the park system.

Commissioner Michael Mena at Maggiore Park, unveiled in 2022

Voted 5-0 to pursue annexations of both Little Gables and High Pines/Ponce-Davis areas. Both neighborhoods are surrounded on three sides by the Gables. Advocates for annexation believe that it will increase the city’s tax base, as well as allow the city to provide superior emergency and police services, which are less than optimal from Miami-Dade County.

“A majority of residents desperately want the Little Gables to become part of Coral Gables,” said one resident. The resolution was to commence the process of collecting information. As former mayor Jim Cason said, “Let’s find out what we need to find out,” and make the decision a year or two from now, including offering residents a chance to vote on annexation.

Voted 5-0 to pursue the acquisition of a major work of art by Frank Stella for $1.25 million. Stella, now 86, is considered one of the greatest living artists in the world today, a major contributor to modernism and abstract expressionism, whose works are in every major art museum. The dollars to pay for what will presumably be a sculpture placed in Ponce Circle Park, will come entirely from the Art in Public Places fund, which is financed by a surcharge of 1.5% on all new developments in the city. The idea, said José Valdés-Fauli, who spoke on behalf of the city’s Cultural Affairs Council, is to invest in major “monumental” works rather than many smaller works scattered around the city. No taxpayer dollars will be used for the purchase. 

Resolved 5-0 to oppose new bills in Tallahassee that would limit the ability of cities to block demolition of historic properties. Commissioner Kirk Menendez said the bills (House bill 1317 and Senate bill 1346) are further examples of how the state is currently “little by little taking away our ability to function.” Commissioner Anderson called it “an important resolution to protect the fabric of our city.” The state legislature already passed a bill last year preventing the city from blocking demolitions of historic homes in flood hazard areas. 

Listened to an update on peafowl mitigation, in which the Board of County Commissioners did approve the ability to control the invasive birds as follows: If they are on private property, residents can contract with private animal control companies to remove them if they are not harmed. The city will also set aside $5,000 a year for removal from public property.

The Peacock Invasion
Peacock in full display

The City Commissioners did not think the ordinance goes far enough. “Coconut Grove is infested and they are crossing LeJeune,” said Mayor Lago. “I feel bad when residents send emails.” Commissioner Menendez expressed concern that the pea fowl will invade the downtown and ruin restaurant businesses there.