Miracle Mile New Zoning Code: “We Can’t Get it Wrong”

Residents Probe the New Zoning Code for the Downtown

A final city commission vote on the controversial rewrite of the city’s zoning code may come as soon as this month. But debate over changes that could trigger six-story buildings on Miracle Mile rages on. 

Another virtual powwow on proposed revisions to the 1,000-page document seems likely after a January 14 community meeting, when more than 250 residents Zoomed in. Many expressed fear that developers were poised to change the historic character of the downtown four-block business district. “Height is my chief concern,” said resident Juan Carlos Diaz-Padron. “What will the code end up producing?”

The goal of the rewrite is to simplify and streamline the decades-old zoning code, say city officials. The idea is to attract office space and residences in two- and three-story additions to existing buildings on the Mile and revive sagging businesses. The code would cap the height of any new hotels or office buildings at 70 feet while offering the option of remote parking.

Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, the urban planner and Gables resident hired as a consultant on the rewrite, said revisions to the code are aimed at creating a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use downtown where “empty nesters, first- and second-time buyers, [and] smaller households” live above thriving retail outlets in buildings no taller than four stories.

“I regret there is a general perception… that this is a drastic enlargement of buildings on the Mile,” Plater-Zyberk said. She said her aim was to preserve “the small-town scale you all love.” Planning and zoning director Ramon Trias, in a presentation that opened the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, acknowledged the city had more convincing to do.

Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli has described Miracle Mile as “sick,” pockmarked with empty storefronts and in desperate need of pedestrian traffic. The $25 million Streetscape project completed in 2018 that promised to lure people to the downtown failed to produce a pedestrian bonanza. 

“The city bungled the ren-ovation,” said Karelia Martinez Carbonell, president of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables. “They made it worse.” She suggests the best way to rejuvenate the Mile is to promote it as a historic heritage site and find unique shops that want to be a part of that. “Nostalgia is an economic asset,” she says.

Trias rejects suggestions that the proposed changes could transform the Mile into a “concrete canyon” of high-rises. The existing zoning code actually already allows buildings up to six stories and 70 feet. The new code, by allowing remote parking, is designed to encourage smaller developments by not requiring parking garages in buildings. The worry is that this could make it easier (less expensive) to build large.

Diaz-Padron, who is in the insurance business, advocates more community meetings on the new zoning code before a final vote. “Miracle Mile has been our Main Street for nearly 100 years, and we can’t get it wrong,” he says. Vice Mayor Vince Lago has called for a second virtual community meeting before the rewrite vote.