How did a historic Gables property donated for affordable housing become a gas station?

1457

What’s to be made of Coral Gables’ rush to build a six pump gas station in the MacFarlane Historic District across the street from George Washington Carver? 

A little history is in order: the property, owned by Miami-Dade County’s housing department, was given to the Lola B. Walker Homeowners Association, a 501c3 tax exempt charitable organization, nearly two decades ago in return for a promise to build affordable housing in an otherwise neglected corner of Coral Gables.

Grant Miller

What could go wrong?

Well, it turns out just about everything.  Long story short, the lot sat empty for years and the County sought to reclaim the unused property.  A settlement was eventually reached last year.

If you’ve read this far, you probably can sense the fatigue city commissioners must’ve felt when they greenlighted a 6 pump gas station involving developer Debra Sinkle Kolsky’s REDEVCO CORPORATION, and WAWA, a Philadelphia-based chain.

But lost in the debate, or lack thereof, is the lasting impact the decision will have not only on the up-and-coming Carver Elementary magnet school and adjacent Carver Middle School, but also the broader West Grove community, which has been struggling against the twin forces of government neglect and rapacious redevelopment for years.

The WAWA is to be built on a lot that abuts the McFarlane Historic District, which in 1994 was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  The area’s trademark wood-frame “shotgun” homes are a testament to the community’s origin but that authentic grassroots vibe will be harder to maintain when WAWA moves in. Not for nothing, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation added the neighborhood this year to its “11 to Save” threatened properties.  

It’s hard to pick out the worst part of this fiasco. 

Ignoring EPA guidelines?   

The EPA specifically recommends gas stations be located at least 1,000 feet from schools to protect students from toxic fumes and air pollution due to increased traffic.  Here the proposed gas station will be barely 300 feet from the busy entrance to the school used daily by hundreds of small children.

Lack of public input? 

Neither  Carver, its administrators, nor the Miami Dade School Board ever received notification about the construction of the gas station. Parents only learned of the plans through neighborhood chatter, when the project was already on a fast track to approval by the city.

At an Oct. 27 city commission meeting, Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli and Commissioners Jorge Fors, Patricia Keon and Michael Mena took turns dismissing as laughable and racially insensitive the concerns raised by 42 Carver parents — the overwhelming majority Coral Gables residents.  At one point, Mayor Valdes-Fauli, raising his eyes from his cell phone for a moment, complained about having to make paid lobbyists wait for the required public comment section of the meeting to end.

Lack of leadership at the City Beautiful?

Instead of working with the community to find a better use for the long-vacant 1.7-acre lot on the northeast corner of U.S. 1 and Grand Avenue, our elected officials are hiding behind a disingenuous argument that the city cannot dictate what is built on private property — a guffaw-inducing notion to city residents who can’t even paint the exterior of their homes without seeking approval from the board of architects.  Commissioners fail to mention that (1) it was the city that changed those zoning laws — at the developer’s request — to facilitate the gas station, and then did its utmost to avoid scrutiny of the project; and (2) this $10 Million “private property” was a gift from the County made in return for a promise to build affordable housing. 

Meanwhile, nobody knows how much the community really stands to benefit because  REDEVCO’s agreement with Lola B Walker foundation to develop what was originally public land intended for much needed affordable housing is confidential.

The question is not whether we need another gas station at that corner (we don’t-there are 3 within walking distance), but how can we demand from our elected leaders who seem dead set on ushering in a development blitz before elections next spring.


Connect To Your Customers & Grow Your Business

Click Here


14 COMMENTS

  1. Happy to see these types of articles from you and others Grant. Any abuse of the public trust, or perception thereof, must be brought to light. Give the people ALL the facts, and let them decide – not shady back-room deals. My question is: How does donated public land intended for charitable purposes, end up in “private sector” hands?

  2. This is really an atrocity and a travesty of justice. The guilt lays squarely on elected officials who have abdicated their fiduciary responsibility to work in the best interests of the people for their health, safety, and welfare.
    The electeds who have to be held responsible for this outcome have demonstrated, with no wiggle room for a scintilla of doubt, that their only allegiance is to deep pocketed special interests. The callous disregard and disrespect shown to the public is off the charts.
    Why was no notice of public hearing posted on the subject property, and mailed out to all affected property owners within a certain radius? This is required by code in my city of South Miami, and I am sure it is also required in Coral Gables. If legislative actions were taken without legally required notice, I believe that all legislative actions are null and void.
    No wonder the public is so despairing of any hope for good outcomes when electeds act with gross impunity, especially when minorities are the victims of this malfeasance. No wonder the public assumes that corruption is involved, when the appearance of corruption is evident time and time again!

  3. This is an outrage and an affront to the original intention..housing

    Most important is flouting the law! How dare they plan gas stations across from a school!!!!. Responsible government officials need to stop this horrible plan immediately!.

  4. Great work, Grant Miller!
    Shades of “Old Smokey”!
    Deja vu . And how about the Coral Gables trolley warehouse foisted on same neighborhood? Remember that case? More deja vu.
    Miami- Dade County, run like a banana republic.
    Mayor Levine Cava recognized the corruption, and putting an end to it was one of the planks in her platform. She has a Herculean job ahead of her.
    May God bless her and give her the strength to deal with it!

  5. This induced me to respond: “Meanwhile, nobody knows how much the community really stands to benefit because REDEVCO’s agreement with Lola B Walker foundation to develop what was originally public land intended for much needed affordable housing is confidential.” If the Lola B. Walker is a non-profit under the 501c3 as noted at the beginning of the article, then how can a deal regarding that charity’s finances be confidential? The organization’s Form 990 is available to the public or by public request. Of course, that is just part of what is so terribly wrong about this entire enterprise. Can this project be stopped now?

  6. Yes how can we demand from the current commission & their warped legal department that helped orchestrate this in secrecy to stop this ASAP? Certainly before anything moves forward & before elections next spring. A non profit should never work in secrecy — this documents need to be obtained to see what is going on. Is that illegal? And speaking of illegality, if there is a rule on no school being able to be without 1000 feet of a pump, is that not enough reason to allow for an investigation and throw this out completely? (Along with all the other things that went on). If it was given for affordable housing, then it should be used for affordable housing. This is wrong at every level. It must be stopped in court if that is what it takes!

  7. Yes, Donna! The phoney claim of confidentiality calls for a legal challenge. So shameful!
    I have sent this information to a well known attorney who specializes in these matters of injustice.
    Nosferatu and cronies need to correct their wrongdoings immediately!

  8. Great work, Grant Miller!
    Shades of “Old Smokey”!
    Deja vu .
    And how about the Coral Gables trolley warehouse foisted on same neighborhood? Remember that case? More deja vu.
    Miami- Dade County, run like a banana republic.
    Mayor Levine Cava recognized the corruption, and putting an end to it was one of the planks in her platform. She has a Herculean job ahead of her.
    May God bless her and give her the strength to deal with it!

  9. Complaints and requests for an investigation should be sent to the Commission on Ethics, The Inspector General, and the Attorney General . We should all call these agencies and forward Grant’s article to them. Someone in one of those agencies may pay attention if there are several complaints.
    There are clearly several violations involved. For starters, lack of transparency and accountability from government , lack of notice to the public, violation of deed restrictions. I am speculating. I am not an atty. . By the way, the municipal attys. legal opinions have to be examined. What we do know is that the terms and intention of the donation have been violated and no one knows what means were used to accomplish this.

  10. One wonders how we continue to be bombarded with borderline unethical/illegal decisions taken by the people we put into office, as we continue to attempt to hold them accountable. My now-deceased father would say “you can’t fight City Hall” – we sure can try though.

    • “Borderline unethical/illegal decisions”? When there is legislation regarding a gas pump’s distance from a school, and when the land was “donated” for purposes of affordable housing, I would say this goes beyond “borderline.” Maybe we need to appeal to our new Mayor Levine Cava and “fight” the heck out of City Hall.

  11. Comments appear to be focused on the legality of a gas station being built near a school. Has anyone driven on SW 67th. avenue and turned on Coral Way going west ? Coral Terrace Elementary is at 6801 SW 24 Street , right next door to a Chevron Gas station and convenience store. The traffic school zone actually ends at the NW edge of the driveway to the station. Oh, BTW one block later is one of the first WAWA’s in Miami. Pollution is certainly an issue with gas stations but the main point is that the Lola B. Walker foundation was given this land for a specific purpose, affordable housing. It reminds me of our former congresswoman who was the President of UM. She was entrusted with the preservation of 88 acres of endangered pine rockland that was donated to UM. She sold it to developers for a Walmart and other commercial businesses. Pollution in the West Grove caused by “Old Smokey” was spread by the city of Miami throughout other areas of the Grove and also Douglas Park on SW 37th Ave. off Bird road as they buried ashes from the incinerator. The city also converted the old smokey bldg. into what became, in 1983 the Fire Dept’s training center for fire and rescue. Very high levels of arsenic are still there in the soil and surrounding areas more than a mile away.
    Perhaps someone should request an audit of the Walker foundations books to see what they intend to do with the sale money that will benefit residents of the grove. But don’t expect any of our government officials to do it.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here