When Astor Development needed to build a garage for the Coral Gables trolley, it was unclear where to put it. Historically, it would have been destined for the city's industrial triangle, but now that place is better suited for high-rise condos than exhaust-streaming pollution factories. So the developers devised a plan: Tack together several small, cheap plots along Douglas Road, which abuts some of South Florida's oldest homes and families.
What followed was a complicated legal battle. Residents of the West Grove said they weren't given the opportunity to air grievances about the garage or even given notice it was being built so that they could appeal. Now the back-and-forth about the controversial maintenance facility might be coming to an end: Developers and the City of Coral Gables are scrambling for a solution after the Federal Transit Administration said building a trolley garage in the West Grove violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Basically, the Coral Gables trolley does not run through the West Grove. But because that area has cheap land, the historic black neighborhood gets to house the more unsightly aspects of the transportation system. The feds' decree: That's pretty racist.
This is the plan that attorneys for the City of Coral Gables and the developers proposed to Coconut Grove's village counsel last week: Build a new garage in Coral Gables and slowly transition to using it. How slowly? If the pro bono team representing West Grove residents agrees to the compromise, the garage on Douglas Road could remain there for up to two years.
Although the plan seems like it could work, the steering committee that represents the West Grove residents says no way. Committee chair Linda Williams says it's important that the community decide what the garage is used for once it's vacated. But she is also concerned the plan isn't binding enough to get the city and developers out of there at all.
"We will not commit to letting them use the garage for two more years, because then we'll never get them out," she says. "There will be delays, and even trying to fine them won't work -- these people have deep pockets, so they'll just pay the fine."
Another steering committee meeting will be held next week in hopes of fine-tuning the plan.
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