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The City Commission Passes the New Zoning Code. Mostly.

In a special evening session, the Coral Gables City Commission on Tuesday, Feb. 9, passed the bulk of the new zoning code that it has been working on for three years. The new code, designed by renowned city planner (and former UM School of Architecture Dean) Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, is intended to simplify the old code and encourage small scale development.

Only Vice Mayor Vince Lago voted against the new code, which passed four-to-one. Lago did vote in favor of an up-zoning of the Crafts District, a three-square block area bound by Le Jeune Road, Santander Avenue, Salzedo Street and Catalonia Avenue. Residents there have long been in favor of becoming a mixed-use area for multi-family, retail and commercial properties, in line with city founder George Merrick’s vision for the area.

What did not pass was the rezoning of Miracle Mile, which has drawn vociferous opposition from some residents who see it as the pathway to overbuilding. That vote has been deferred until the first commission meeting in March. Earlier in the day about 50 protesters assembled outside of City Hall, with most speakers echoing the concern of Gables preservation activist Karelia Carbonell, who said that, if passed, “the flood gates will open” for large developments on the Mile.

One reason that the Miracle Mile vote was delayed was to better educate the public on the zoning changes, which are in fact designed to encourage small scale buildings, three to four stories in height. Currently, any developer who assembles enough property can build seven stories high, so long as there is parking within the building. The new zoning would permit smaller developments by allowing them to use off-site parking. The fear is that this will make larger projects cheaper and hence more likely, although the new code also requires setbacks to prevent a Brickell “canyon effect.”

Many of citizens who called into the city commission meeting via Zoom to oppose the zoning changes were candidates for city commission seats in April, including Rhonda Anderson, Rip Holmes, Tania Cruz-Gimenez and Javier Baños, who used the platform to position themselves as anti-development. One candidate, Mayra Joli, screamed so relentlessly at the commissioners during her two minutes of allotted time that Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli muted her and declared, “You should have your blood pressure checked.”

One voice of reason throughout the meeting was that of Commissioner Michael Mena, who calmly encouraged residents to address substantive issues in the new zoning code, rather than merely ranting against it. “Those saying leave it as it is [are wrong]. We need to reduce the height limit to four stories,” he said, again citing the current code which allows a developer to assemble a block of properties and build a massive structure with floors of parking facing – and deadening – the street.