CORAL GABLES’ ZONING CODE REVISIONS: Public Workshop and Community Outlook

The 5-0 vote to hold the workshop, proposed by VIce Mayor Vince Lago, came a week after around 280 people watched a virtual special commission meeting on the zoning-code update. Several attendees complained they didn’t know about the undertaking, in the works for two years. Some claimed the city intentionally kept the zoning-code revisions “under wraps,” as one critic put it — something city officials strongly deny.

City officials documented nearly 25 public meetings and hearings on the zoning-code revisions, most of which are uncontroversial, but residents complained they were not notified of the effort. As a result, commissioners on Monday also unanimously backed a proposal by commissioner Jorge Fors to notify residents of all city public hearings by email through the city’s e-News service.

Questions from residents prompt delay in Gables zoning vote | Miami Herald

Many Coral Gables’ meetings slip under the radar for the average resident. The only reason that most meetings are often called “public” is because they are legally required to be spen to the public, even when the community is not invited to the meetings.

The Mayor has been highly critical of citizens complaining it was their fault if they didn’t know about the zoning code changes because they could have participated in 25 pubic meeting. The Mayor’s words were quite harsh and he questioned the motives of the critics in an undiplomatic tone. The demand for a new public workshop is, in part, a reaction to the Mayor’s annoying comments.

In the case of the 25 named public meeting held to discuss, review and revise the zoning code, with the advice of a consulting company, many of them were small invited technical working groups in which major revisions were discussed and agreed upon. The average resident interested in the outlook for Miracle Mile, the Crafts section and North Ponce, therefore, has to follow numerous meetings, the formal Commission meetings and working groups, without sufficient explanation, guidance and interpretation.

But the 25 prior “public meeting” can be described as:

(1) small technical gatherings,

(2) a limited groups of Coral Gables government staff and outsiders,

(3) advisory committees made of specially-selected highly-motived interest groups of architects, builders and lawyers, but not “average” citizens,

4) employ of highly technical and obtuse specialized language only understood by practiced specialists in zoning codes and direct users of the code such as architects, builders and attorneys. The City itself had to contract a consulting firm to help make the zoning code modifications.

(5) meetings held at odd hours of the day inconvenient to most residents. Also, the average citizens cannot sit through the largely stodgy, long technical sessions of the Commission and read, understand and analyze the significance of complex legalistic legislative documents on the spot.

Even Commissioners themselves evidenced some remaining questions and doubts about the purpose and contents of changes in the zoning code. Similarly, the Commissioners did not attend the many small technical decision making meetings, let alone the wider community.

And what can anyone say about the more than 500 pages of the zoning code!

The Commission and Management should be prepared to explain and interpret the likely impact of their decisions and the changes in the zoning code on future construction and development on Miracle Mile, the Crafts section, and North Ponce for community livability, the environment, transportation, access, size of structures, density and commerce.

In other words, how will the areas evolve and look like in the future and how will current residents in the areas and the wider community be affected?

About Stephen E. McGaughey
Resident of the City of Coral Gables

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