The Oak Trees Are Dead and Gone, but the Controversy Over the Wawa Store Lives On
In April, two mature live oaks along Grand Avenue – across the street from G.W. Carver Elementary School and in the way of the planned entrance and exit to a coming Wawa convenience store – were chopped down, sparking a flurry of outrage on social media. “Deeply disturbing,” wrote one Gables resident on the Nextdoor app.
Numerous citizens had asked Coral Gables city officials to help save the oaks. The problem: The trees came under the jurisdiction of Miami-Dade County, since Grand Avenue is a county road.
Despite concerns that the trees were illegally cut down, the removal was properly permitted by Miami-Dade County, according to Tere Florin, a spokesperson for the Department of Regulatory & Economic Resources. Bahamian Village, the partnership heading the Wawa project, was cited – not for felling the trees, however, but for failing to install protective barriers around two trees remaining on the right of way, Florin said.
In an effort to assuage residents, Wawa offered to plant two 20-foot oak trees in a nearby park and contribute $17,000 for additional trees in the city. Coral Gables agreed to accept the offer, according to City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos.
Meanwhile, a civil lawsuit aiming to block the Wawa project got its first hearing April 16 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The lawsuit, which names the city as defendant, was filed by the Gables Accountability Project, made up of six parents of Carver students, and alleges Wawa poses a danger to the students’ health and safety. Judge Michael Hanzman ordered the plaintiff ’s attorney to expand the suit, adding Wawa and the developer as defendants. “Don’t they need to be here and have a right to be heard?” asked the judge. He added, “This sounds like a very interesting case, and I’ll be engaged in this case.” Hanzman said he would revisit the matter in 30 days.
Bahamian Village LLC, a partnership between the Lola B. Walker Homeowners Foundation and Redevco, has leased the 1.3-acre site to Wawa in return for monthly payments that could be used to rehab wood frame houses in the predominantly Black neighborhood – the only part of Coral Gables listed in the National Register of Historic Places – as well as to fund other community needs such as scholarships.
Some Carver parents opposed to the project say they fear that the gas pumps will pollute the air and that the traffic entering and exiting on Grand Avenue will endanger the children who attend the school.
Parents have also complained that the City of Coral Gables granted permission to build the convenience store/gas station without a proper hearing. The city did hold pubic hearings, according to an email from City Attorney Ramos, “at every juncture where they were required (rezoning many years ago, site plan approval more recently). The site plan modifications (from a restaurant to a convenience store) did not require a public hearing.”
And, Ramos added, the site is zoned commercial, meaning that had the site not been approved (in September 2014) by the city commission as a Planned Area Development, the project would not have had to come before the commission at all.