Gables chamber members to attend zoning workshop
By Suzy Valentine
Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce representatives are to attend a city workshop in two weeks to learn about the impact of zoning changes.
The Oct. 6 session will be an opportunity for the chamber's new government and business committee to investigate the effect of reforms.
It's part of an initiative identified by a feasibility study presented to the chamber's board in late July to make the body more proactive.
"Advocacy is one of the initiatives," said Lettie Bien, the chamber's president and CEO. "One of the things the study revealed was a feeling within the business community that it doesn't have a voice before the commission equivalent to that among the residents."
National Community Development Services of Atlanta interviewed 81 business leaders, 16 of them from outside the Gables, to learn what they'd like from the chamber.
"It read like a list of the community's who's who with the usual suspects, such as the Miami Business Forum," said Ms. Bien. "The research company interviewed participants for 45 minutes to an hour in confidence."
One implication of the zoning code rewrite is a downgrading from commercial to commercial limited in the city.
That translates to increased powers for Coral Gables to change the status of businesses.
"In that case, we'd need to know whether there could be a taking without compensation," Ms. Bien said. "For us, it raises the question: Does this minimize the rights of business owners?"
The workshop should clarify the changes. Commissioners may ask questions at the session, which the public may attend as non-participants.
"We'll have a mission thereafter," said Ms. Bien, "and we could take the city up on its offer of a separate audience with the chamber."
The business and government affairs committee is headed by Neil Linden, an attorney with Adorno & Yoss.
Another city development for the committee to track is Mayor Don Slesnick's plans to introduce a general-obligation bond for the city. Ms. Bien said members would like to know how much he intends to raise and for what purpose.
Growth of the business community is to be a further focus for the chamber, following the study's findings.
"There is a desire to engage in more active economic development," said Ms. Bien. "The Beacon Council has been doing a fine job, but we'll probably partner with them more aggressively to gain more advantages for the city and to work in a more productive way. Their efforts are focused differently to ours - they have the powers to create enterprise zones and the like, which we don't have in this city."
The initiative could bring with it a new role, she said.
"We're looking at having someone dedicated to economic development."
In the meantime, Ms. Bien said she hopes to formalize the chamber's objectives by the end of next month.
"I'm pulling together a re-energized strategic plan," she said. "It should be ready soon - in say, 30 to 45 days."