Coral Gables commission gives Allen Morris another chance for Ponce Circle project

Latest proposal calls for 12-story, 80-unit building south of Miracle Mile

Allen and Spencer Morris, a rendering of the Ponce Park Residences, Mayor Vince Lago and Commissioner Rhonda Anderson (Oppenheim Architecture, Alan Morris, City of Coral Gables)
Allen and Spencer Morris, a rendering of the Ponce Park Residences, Mayor Vince Lago and Commissioner Rhonda Anderson (Oppenheim Architecture, Alan Morris, City of Coral Gables)

The Allen Morris Company has another chance to amend its plans for a controversial development near The Plaza megaproject in Coral Gables.

The city commission voted to postpone a decision on two ordinances that would allow a change in the property’s zoning to commercial high-rise, as well as to vacate a public alleyway that separates the assemblage. Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago, a commercial broker, and commissioner Rhonda Anderson were the sole “no” votes on the continuance at Monday’s meeting.

The developer’s chairman and CEO, Allen Morris, said he plans to return to the commission later this year.

The meeting drew a number of residents and neighbors who oppose the height increase, as well as some who alleged the design of Ponce Park Residences does not fit into the city’s guidelines for Mediterranean design. Others were concerned with the traffic it could generate.

A rendering of the Ponce Park Residences (Oppenheim Architecture)

A rendering of the Ponce Park Residences (Oppenheim Architecture)

In the latest version, the Coral Gables-based developer proposed a 149-foot-tall, or roughly 12-story, 80-unit luxury condo building with ground-floor retail. The assemblage is at 3000 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, 216 and 224 Catalonia Avenue, 203 University Drive and 225 Malaga Avenue. The site is south of Miracle Mile, near the southwest corner of Ponce Circle Park.

The Allen Morris Company, led by Morris and his son, Spencer Morris, has appeared before the city’s planning and zoning board four times, as well as before the historic preservation board and the board of architects. At a June 8 meeting, the planning and zoning board recommended denial of the proposed comprehensive plan map amendment and denial of the mixed-use site plan, but it recommended approval of the proposed alley vacation, transfer of development rights and tentative plat. At a meeting in July, the same board recommended against the proposed change of land use.

The properties are currently zoned for a development height of 50 feet. At Monday’s meeting, the commission was generally against granting such a significant increase in allowable height. Lago said he was willing to be flexible, but not willing to break. “We have a zoning code,” he said.

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The latest plans replace Allen Morris’ previous proposal for a 179-foot, 16-story building with 161 apartments. The developer said that the residents preferred a smaller building with luxury condos. Oppenheim Architecture is designing the plans.

Maria Cruz, a Coral Gables resident, was one of a handful of people who argued against the premise that the proposed project is not as large as The Plaza, a massive development that’s under construction on the west side of Ponce Circle. Agave Holdings is the developer of that project.

“When these properties were bought, the zoning was low-rise. They knew it was low-rise. They paid the price for low-rise,” Cruz said. “As of right they have 50 feet. Not 150, not 200. We all know the Plaza was a mistake… So saying that this is smaller than the Plaza is an insult.”

Jennifer Davis, who lives near the site, said during the meeting that the neighborhood has been “struggling” with an increase in traffic since she moved there in 2013, and that the city has to uphold its zoning code.

“The residents have to show up time and time again, begging their elected officials to stick to the zoning code, to deny the upzoning,” said attorney David Winker, who represents a group of nearby residents. “Allen Morris had every opportunity to amend this. This process would be much different if they sit down and actually listen to us, listen to the concern of residents.”

Morris told The Real Deal that he is willing to discuss lowering the proposed height while keeping the project economically viable. He plans to return to the commission in the coming weeks and “resolve the concerns of the commissioners and many of the neighbors.”

The project would also include a public park, and Morris said the developer would make a $1 million contribution to redesign the intersection at the direction of the city.

“We could build an office building or a retail building of 187,000 square feet with 800 parking spaces, but that would create a lot of traffic,” Morris said. “We want to accommodate the neighbors. I feel like we can find common ground.”