Living in Coral Gables can be likened to having an obsessive-compulsive roommate. For over half a century, residents couldn’t park their pickup trucks in their driveways overnight. Want to repaint the exterior of your house? The town has an official list of allowable paint colors. Not just recommended or popular, they are the small universe of shades that have been approved by a conceit of architects. And don’t even ask about the rules for guest houses or garage sales. The town had rules and, in Coral Gables, rules were meant to be followed!
Why this annoying attention to detail? Because when George Merrick founded Coral Gables, his primary objective was to make it the anti-Miami Beach. Back in the 1920’s the Beach had a well-deserved reputation for licentiousness. There were bars and casinos and nightclubs, not to mention beaches where women of questionable morals dared to show off their ankles beneath woolen full-body bathing suits.
Merrick designed Miracle Mile to be the heart of the Gables. The commercial district was to be kept in a Mediterranean Revival style with easy on-street parking. Today the ambiance is as coolly and effortlessly elegant as that on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills or Worth Avenue in Palm Beach.
But all of that that is about to change.
The Coral Gables City Commission is about to change its zoning code to allow development on Miracle Mile of up to seven stories with no on-site parking. There’s even a plan for a hotel on the Mile with nary a parking space on site. Oh, there’ll be parking valets who will scurry off to retrieve the guests’ cars from garages and lots off-site. Of course, there are only limited number of off-site spaces near Miracle Mile, so expect parking to get even worse.
Once the first intense development comes to the Mile, there will be pressure from other developers to allow them to amalgamate quaint storefronts to build ever larger projects, all without the expense of putting up a multistory parking garage.
If you want to see an area in Coral Gables that lacks both grace and charm look no farther than the north side of Alhambra Circle just to the west of Ponce De Leon Boulevard. There’s a canyon wall of flat, reflective glass.
No charm. No cool. No style.
That’s what Miracle Mile will be in a decade if the Commission goes forward with its current plans. You may ask how things got this far without an outcry from the Gables citizenry.
The answer was simple.
The developers and the power structure of the City didn’t want the citizens to know. Coral Gables knows how to track its citizens when it wants to. Try paint your house the wrong shade and you’ll find yourself swarmed by code enforcement officers armed with both sneering looks and paint swatch books.
But here, the City posted notice of meeting about the Miracle Mile changes four clicks deep on its website. You had to know where to look to find the information. And those people who didn’t know were never meant to know. It was akin to someone whispering information into the maw of a hurricane.
The folks in Coral Gables are rightly upset. And the City should do the right thing. And that means starting over. City Hall has an email address for just about every city household. It should send them notice of real meetings and look for actual input. It should advertise. It should even — ***gasp*** — post notices in neighborhoods as far south as Kings Bay and all the way up to Douglas Road.
The real stakeholders in Coral Gables aren’t those few with their names on deeds for property in the commercial district. The real stakeholders are the residents and citizens and voters in Coral Gables. It seems that the Mayor and City Commission have forgotten that.
Start over, Coral Gables, because everyone in town has a stake in keeping The City Beautiful a beautiful city.