Coral Gables delays vote on controversial Paseo de la Riviera

A neighborhood association collected more than 1,000 signatures against the project

Dec.December 09, 2015 12:00 PM

The controversial Paseo de la Riviera project in Coral Gables could be in jeopardy.

Late Tuesday night, the Coral Gables City Commission unanimously decided to delay a final vote on the $172 million mixed-use hotel, residential and retail development until Friday, pending the developer’s willingness to further reduce the height of one of the proposed buildings.

City commissioners were unfazed by Paseo developer Brent Reynolds’ assertions that continued delays and additional height reductions would kill the project.

“At this point if Mr. Reynolds doesn’t believe he can do this project under the conditions we are setting forth and he chooses to walk away that’s a business risk he takes,” said Commissioner Patricia Keon. “Otherwise we will continue to talk but you know what, we, I as a commissioner will not be held hostage by what your business plan is or any of this. We will do what is in the best interest of this community. I won’t be held hostage by a neighborhood group. I won’t be held hostage by a developer.”

Reynolds is proposing a 10-story hotel, a 13-story apartment building and parking garage with more than 800 spaces. In addition, the project incorporates 14,853 square feet of ground floor retail and 4,364 square feet of residential space.

Paseo, which would replace a 155-room Holiday Inn located on U.S.1 near the University of Miami, reached the city commission without a recommendation from the planning and zoning board as a result of a September vote that ended in a 3-3 tie. When the city commission gave the project preliminary approval in October, Reynolds agreed to shave the apartment tower’s height from 156 feet to 133 feet.

However, it wasn’t enough for Keon and some of her colleagues, who requested Reynolds consider capping the building at 112 feet. Instead, the Paseo team suggested a residential building that would go from 122 feet on the side facing U.S.1 down to 46 feet on the side facing Madruga Avenue.

A large contingent of Coral Gables residents spoke out against the project because they fear it will create traffic congestion and open the door for more high-density, high-rise developments in the “City Beautiful.” The Riviera Neighborhood Association, a group representing homeowners near the proposed development, submitted a petition with more than 1,000 signatures against Paseo.

“I don’t think the traffic count has been done correctly,” said resident Jose Rene Infante. “I am against this project because it will change the character of the neighborhood. I think this project will really impact our way of life negatively.”

“If you put your finger on the pulse of Coral Gables, you will find most of the people do not want to change their quality of life or see it get worse,” added Gordon Sokoloff. “I think the city has to buck the trend of overbuilding you are seeing in other communities.”

Jeffrey Bass, attorney for Paseo developer Brent Reynolds, tried to discredit the opposition by noting that 140 names on the petition were duplicates and dozens more were names of people who were actually in favor of the project. Bass said his client is building a project that is less intrusive than what Reynolds can build on the site with the current zoning.

“This project is the right project at the right place, and the time is now,” Bass said. “We have been in this pipeline for a very long time. We have made this project better during that time.”

Not so, said Tucker Gibbs, the Riviera Neighborhood Association’s lawyer. “This is about protecting the Coral Gables quality of life,” Gibbs said. “This application is fraught with issues that warrant its denial.”

However, some Coral Gables residents spoke in favor of Paseo. Albert Roy Lyons, a Coral Gables homeowner who said he lived 400 feet from the proposed project and was for it, warned city commissioners that denying Paseo could lead to a strip mall being developed on the Holiday Inn site.

“I haven’t heard too many people talk today about alternatives,” Lyons said. With current zoning, “the developer doesn’t have to go through this process to build another strip mall or a Home Depot store.”

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