Coral Gables residents voiced their passionate concerns about recently approved developments under construction or consideration for approval during a Citizen’s Forum on Thursday, Feb. 18.
Gables Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick opened the 6 p.m. event that took place in the Country Club Ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel which was filled to capacity.
“We are not here to be anti-development or pro-development; we are here to discuss smart development,” Slesnick told the attendees.
She introduced a four-member panel that would hear comments and answer questions from the residents. The panel was comprised of Chris Zoller, president of the Miami-Dade Board of Realtors; Dorothy Thomson, past mayor of Coral Gables; Javier Betancourt, City of Coral Gables director of Economic Development, and Frank Fernandez, current director of the city’s Planning and Zoning Board.
Zoller set the tone of the forum when he opened the discussion by describing Coral Gables as “the jewel of South Florida” and that he favored “controlled growth.”
“We should use proper restraint when approving new projects. We don’t need 600 to 1,000 new parking places in Coral Gables,” he said to applause and cheers.
Fernandez mentioned that he would like to see more citizen input at the zoning meetings which are scheduled for every second Wednesday of the month. He emphasized the need for residents to participate in the process.
But, according to those present at the forum, there is a problem with the process.
Sue Kawalerski, member of the Riviera Neighbor’s Association, spoke.
“We’ve wasted our time and money,” she said. “When the city’s residents have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend their property rights, there’s something wrong with the process.”
Rip Holmes, another city resident and property owner, sounded off on a proposed change to Miracle Mile.
“Miracle Mile is not going to be like it is today,” he cautioned. “They want to do away with the small businesses and one story buildings and put up high-rises like what they did on Lincoln Road. We’ve got to stop this railroad train from going through our neighborhood.”
Coral Gables currently has 47 projects underway, approved for construction and awaiting a permit or in the approval process.
Paseo de la Riviera, a mixed-use project across from the University of Miami, which is slated to include a 249-bed hotel and 211 one- to three-bedroom residences, drew criticism.
Fernandez said that he did not vote for that project’s approval and stressed the need for citizens to become involved in the process.
“Your vote is your voice,” he said.
Betancourt said that his primary focus when reviewing a project was the citizens’ quality of life.