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

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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.


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