Gables gives initial OK to UM expansion plan
By Risa Polansky
Coral Gables commissioners extended a hypothetical peace pipe to University of Miami officials Tuesday, adopting an amended development plan that would add about 800,000 square feet of space to the campus over 25 years.
"This is probably the biggest project Coral Gables will see, at least in my lifetime," said Commissioner Rafael "Ralph" Cabrera Jr.
City officials objected to earlier visions of the campus because of concerns over residential encroachment, traffic congestion and public-safety issues. More than two years of talks between the city and the school ended badly several months ago. Gables' planning and zoning board voted down an amended plan in January.
Among project concepts approved Tuesday:
NA 70,000-square-foot alumni center.
NAn expanded university center.
NA 108,000-square-foot student activity center.
NAlmost 500,000 square feet of on-campus housing.
The university will have a net increase of 800,000 square feet with new construction and the demolition of older ones such as Charles A. Gauthier Hall, the school's writing center, and the dance studio/theater arts building, said university planner Janet Gavarrete.
The city commission unanimously accepted the development plan's 22 amendments Tuesday after the removal of a few controversial items — construction of two new parking garages and reduction of campus setbacks along Ponce de Leon Boulevard. Safety and traffic concerns surrounding the projects sparked resistance by neighbors and city officials.
Many of the approved amendments came with the caveat that the university must conduct traffic studies in surrounding residential areas and fund all mitigation of issues encountered during the analysis.
A main thrust of the plan, one intended to bring relief to neighbors fed up with university-related congestion, is an internal roadway designed to direct shuttles, delivery trucks and other traffic through the campus, linking its north and south ends.
City staff has demanded completion by December 2012.
University CFO Joe Natoli said the bulk of the project funding will come from "basically a bond deal" to come up in "the next couple of months."
No one has added up the total cost of all the projects, he said, because many are planned for the long term and could take up to 25 years to complete.
The project amendments will return to the commission for a second reading and public hearing March 27. Should they receive approval, plan proposals would proceed through building permit and board of architect reviews.
Ms. Gavarrete said the concept behind the development is "the desire and the need to raise our university ranking."