Parents Are Calling It a Victory. The Bahamian Neighborhood Calls It a Loss.
The Wawa goose has flown. At the corner of U.S. 1 and Grand Avenue, there will be no roasted chicken hoagies, no pulled pork chalupas, no Volcano Blast dragon fruit lemonade. And no gas pumps.
A controversial deal that would have provided a non-profit group of homeowners a golden egg of up to $12 million to invest in housing and perhaps build a Bahamian heritage museum in a historically Black pocket of Coral Gables is kaput.
The Wawa project was doomed after a group of residents and parents from G.W. Carver Elementary School – across the street from where the convenience store/gas station was to be built – sued the city, Bahamian Village, and Wawa, alleging that a six-pump gas station so close to the school posed a health and safety hazard. The plaintiffs, calling themselves the Gables Accountability Project (GAP), also argued that a city resolution governing what could be built on the site was faulty, in part because no public hearings were held.
“This is a major victory for the grassroots community organizing against some deep-pocketed, politically connected business interests,” declared a press release issued by the Carver Elementary Parent-Teacher Association.
Residents of the adjacent MacFarlane Homestead Historic District, a Black community trying for decades to activate the location, see the loss differently. “I’m disgusted. Disappointed. But I’m not ready to give up,” said Judy Davis, president of the Lola B. Walker Homeowners Association Foundation. “We want the money to do things for our own community. I will stick with it until I’m dead.”
The demise of the plan to put a Wawa on the 1.7-acre parcel is just the latest chapter in a saga that began in 2003 when Miami-Dade County sold the property to nearby residents for a nominal fee of $10. The idea was to create a source of funds for the neglected neighborhood. Since then, an entity known as Bahamian Village – a partnership of the homeowners and Redevco, a development company – has seen several proposals for commercial enterprises, including a Tap 42 restaurant, fall apart due to opposition from parents at Carver.
In a January hearing, a Circuit Court judge agreed with the parents, calling the city’s decision to allow the Wawa “blatantly illegal.” The judge felt that public hearings were required – even though it was a legally permitted development based on existing zoning. The city sought a stay of the litigation “in order to allow for time to explore a resolution to this matter.” But Wawa had seen enough and, in late August, terminated its lease.
Mildred Carlow is a long-time resident of the neighborhood and one of seven plaintiffs in the GAP lawsuit. Like Davis, she attended Carver when it was a segregated school. Carlow said she would like to see affordable housing or a family-friendly business on the parcel. “One thing I would like to make clear is that even though there might be some with opposing views, we all want what’s best for our neighborhood,” she said. “I’d like to have everybody sit down and have a civil conversation.”
Meanwhile, Redevco president Debra Sinkle Kolsky says she is exploring “several opportunities” for other potential tenants. But she cannot hide her frustration. “Another economic injustice has occurred to this community,” she said.