Paseo de la Riviera, a controversial project that aims to redefine the U.S.1 corridor, won initial approval on Thursday from the Coral Gables City Commission, as dozens of residents packed a special meeting.
With a vote of 4-1, commissioners gave conditional approval to the $172 million mixed-use hotel, residential and retail development, allowing the project to move forward for a second hearing. Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick was the lone dissenter.
Coral Gables Vice Mayor Frank Quesada and Commissioner Vince Lago said they felt it was important that the developer sit down with the residents before a second hearing to vote on the project. Quesada said while he liked the “look and design” of the project, like some residents, he did not like the size and scale.
“They’ve worked some, and we need to make them work some more,” Quesada said. “If it stays at this current scale, my vote at second hearing will be a ‘no’.”
The all-day meeting included two hours of public comment by more than 50 residents, who made passionate arguments for and against the development.
At issue is the height and size of the project, which would include a 10-story hotel and a 13-story apartment building and parking garage with more than 800 spaces. The project would replace a 155-room Holiday Inn that is already on the property, and, if approved, also would have 14,853 square feet of ground floor retail and 4,364 square feet of residential space.
A split vote at a planning and zoning meeting last month meant the project was sent to the city commission without recommendation. City staff told officials on Thursday that they have recommended that the height of the both hotel and apartment building not exceed 120 feet. After meetings with officials from developer NP International, including some changes offered Wednesday night, the developer lowered the height of the apartment building from its initial proposal of 156 feet to 133 feet. The proposed height of the hotel is 146 feet. Both would require changing the city’s existing zoning code.
Many residents used the existing Holiday Inn to support and oppose the Paseo project.
“We have this corridor that is replete with eyesores and the existing structure, the Holiday Inn, is one of them,” said local attorney Heidi Roth. “This structure would allow us to change that.”
Jeffrey Bass, the attorney for the developer, and Henry Pinera, a board member of the Riviera Neighborhood Association which has opposed the development, presented competing maps of neighbors for and against the development.
During the special meeting, Bass said that the developer has done everything asked and “a whole lot more,” adding that the project’s supporters have been “accosted in their homes by opponents.”
“This building is not blocking anybody’s view of the ocean, of a national historic monument or some other very significant thing to look at it. The only thing it blocks a view of is the Gables One Tower,” said Bass, who cross-examined one resident who opposed the project by asking her if she could see the development from her house.
So many people attended the hearing that chairs were set up in the hallway outside city chambers for the overflow crowd.
Members of the Riviera Neighborhood Association passed out blue foam hats to protest the project. Among their supporters: former Ladies Professional Golf Association golfer Tracy Kerdyk, a lifelong Coral Gables resident.
“I’m not saying ‘don’t building something there’ — just keep it under the current zoning codes,” said Kerdyk, who is now a Realtor.
“This project is so big they’ve been describing it for an hour and a half,” Riviera Neighborhood Association attorney Tucker Gibbs quipped to city officials at one point during the hearing. “And you still don’t get it.”