VW’S Atlas three-row crossover is perfect city car for family driving
Grant Miller

Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen once said this about the federal budget: “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”  Although Senator Dirksen died in 1969, his spirit can be found alive and well in the City of Coral Gables government. 

The City Beautiful has a problem with all of its three present firehouses.  The first, located on Salzedo Street, is so decrepit that equipment is kept outside to keep it from being damaged.

Fire Station 2, located on South Dixie Highway south of Le Jeune Road, is in such a sad state of disrepair that firefighters bunk out in trailers in the parking lot.  The 1960s complex needs to be razed and rebuilt.

Fire Station 3, tucked just off the fork in the road where Old Cutler Road meets Red Road, was built in 1993, but has been plagued with mold that the City can’t seem to eradicate. 

You’d think the Coral Gables would have its hands full trying to repair or replace these structures, right? 

Nope.

The City has approved acquiring property for a fourth firehouse. This one would be located at 7000 Old Cutler Road, right on Cocoplum Circle, where Sunset Drive, Old Cutler, and Le Jeune Road meet.

The site currently has a house on it, built in 1936.  The information the City puts out about the need to acquire the property is not clear. On the one hand, the house is old and needs to be torn down.  On the other hand, the house is going to be renovated and turned into the new firehouse.  So, the house can’t be saved, but it will be saved. 

When there’s a proposal to make a significant change in a property’s use, the property owner is usually required to get the agreement of adjoining landowners or at least give them direct notice and an opportunity to be heard. 

I’ve been told by local homeowners that the City never plastered their neighborhood with notices or told them of its plans.  Apparently, when the City wants to make the change to a property’s use, the rules are different. 

Courtesy of Miami-Dade Property Appraisers Office

Anyone who has driven through Cocoplum Circle during morning and evening rush hours knows that that traffic backs up on Old Cutler, Sunset, and Le Jeune. Getting a firetruck out of there and onto the road will be dicey for a good part of the day.  Old Cutler is also lined with massive banyan trees that will make it difficult for cars to pull over to let the firetruck through. 

It would have been nice to see an architectural rendering of the City’s plans.  It proposes keeping one ladder truck there, bumping that up to two trucks later. 

Some of the logistical questions that are being ignored are whether the trucks will enter the road directly into Cocoplum Circle or they have to make a turn north or south on Old Cutler. During rush hour, that can make a difference.  Does the site, as large as it is, have the room for the trucks to turn around on the property or will traffic have to be stopped while the trucks back up into the property?  Will the firetrucks leave with sirens wailing lights flashing at all hours of the day and night and how will that affect adjoining properties? 

No one knows. 

The most disturbing thing about the process has been the price that the City is willing to pay. Appraisals put the value of the property, including the house, at $1.3 million to $3.9 million, depending on whether the property will be used as a residence or as a commercial property.  Since the property is zoned single family residential, putting up a 7-Eleven or a small office tower is out of the question. 

With that in mind, you’d think the City would be paying in the neighborhood of $1.3 million, right?

Nope. The City priced itself out of that neighborhood.  The Property Advisory Board recommended paying no more than $3 million for it. And that was too generous.  But the Mayor and City Commissioners put $4 million on the table with no good explanation.

But the costs don’t end there.  There’s no inkling of what it will cost to renovate the house and to build a garage big enough to hold two ladder trucks, not to mention paving the yard into a parking lot for the fire crew that will man the station. Building it out as a fire station could cost millions more.  There’s been no discussion of where that money will come from.

The City’s reasoning for overpaying the present owner is that it can qualify for a $1.5 million state grant and could divert $2.3 million in impact fees to cover the purchase, meaning that they’d only have to tap the General Capital Improvement for $200,000.  I guess the City figures that it can grossly overpay because it’s not real money.

The City never considered using eminent domain and letting a circuit court judge decide the price for the property.  It could have used the appraisals to set a fair price and let the owner come and fight for a higher amount.

Instead, it just kept putting stacks of hundreds on the bargaining table.  The price amounts to $1,183 a square foot, the highest price ever paid for a non-waterfront house in Coral Gables.

For the property owner, the $4 million price tag is a windfall.  He bought the house in 1978 for $80,000, meaning he’ll walk away with a profit of over $3.9 million.  He’s the only one in Coral Gables who’s getting a good deal on this. 

The lesson for Coral Gables taxpayers?  Your Mayor, Commissioners, City Manager, and Fire Chief are all little Everett Dirksens. A million here, two million there — just don’t worry about it because it’s not real money.   

Note:  The City Commission will be taking up this purchase at its November 13, 2018 meeting, which starts at 9:00 a.m. in Chambers at 405 Biltmore Way, Coral Gables, FL 33134. Make your voice heard. Or you can call the Mayor and Commissioners at: 

Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli 305-460-5220

Vice Mayor Frank C. Quesada 305-460-5323

Commissioner Patricia Keon 305-460-5223

Commissioner Vince Lago 305-460-5323

Commissioner Michael Mena 305-460-5326

51 COMMENTS

  1. I believe the property its up for sales, don’t know the listed price but I’m sure its much less than $3mil. Something fishy here.

  2. A very incompetent decision on almost every level you can think of
    We need someone to stop this wasteful unintelligent spending
    Fire public relations et al department easily got city to accept the need which is totally almost false or maybe it is
    Some one should looked at call situation of existing fire stations to see if they are in fact over burdened (look deeply not combine fire and ambulance services
    Wrong location,traffic flow,residential noise from all alarms and siren usage,
    Waste of money on every level,location,valuation,balance to renovate,increase size of building

  3. The City of Coral Gables should do their homework as well as the residents of this neighborhood. History repeats itself, just ask the City of South Miami. The owner of the house on Cocoplum Circle sold another piece of his property to developers, located across from South Miami City Hall. Look into that.

    What the article does not mention is that the City of Coral Gables has a fire station just 20 streets away on Old Cutler. Why in the world would the “City Beautiful” put a Fire Station with outrageous noise of fire trucks in a residential neighborhood where homes are well over a million dollars? Beautiful site, I think not. Why would the City of Coral Gables Commissioners not notice the neighborhood? Obviously trying to pull a fast one. This location is no place for a firehouse. Those million dollar homes just lost their property value if this goes through not to mention losing a lot of sleep and quality of life with this eyesore in their neighborhood.

    I suggest the residents ban together, hire a zoning attorney, the best money can buy, and storm city hall.

  4. On Monday at 6:25PM, I drove from the South Dixie Highway station to the Coco Plum Circle via Riviera Dr in 3.5 minutes while going at the speed limit. This new proposed fire station is totally unnecessary.

  5. The Mayor and the Commission of Coral Gables should be held accountable for this fire station to be built in a residential neighborhood where homes are valued for millions of dollars. To think The City Beautiful, as it was once called, would even think to put a Fire Station on beautiful Cocoplum Circle,not to mention the neighborhoods were not given notice of this. Unheard of. I suggest that the neighborhoods ban together and hire the best zoning attorney downtown and bombard City Hall. There is no need to build a fire station there, what the article doesn’t mention is that there is a Coral Gables Fire Station around 119 and Old Cutler, a bit redundant don’t you think. No doubt the Fire Station on U.S. 1 will be used for more 40 story unaffordable apartments. I say it is time to put your Mayor and elected commissioners to task. To think they stated in a Herald article that they didn’t know is ludicrous. Something smells in the Coral Gables City Hall, and if the residents of this wealthy neighborhood doesn’t do anything about it, not only will their quality of life disappear from all night fire engine whistles, but their property values will decrease significantly. Who wants to purchase a home next to a Fire Station? Even if the Commission states they “won’t blow their horn” don’t believe it, the beautiful Cocoplum Circle is no place for this, an area of residential family homes.

  6. I agree with one of the commenters above that this sounds like something our city of South Miami commission would do. Some commissioners and mayors have no regard whatsoever for their fiduciary responsibility to their constituents and they treat the city’s general fund like play money. The land purchase also has the appearance of a sweetheart deal. Many thanks to Grant Miller for exposing the situation to the public. I have friends and family who live in the affected area and our Coral Gables taxpayers. They had better put their marching boots on and rally their neighbors to get into City Hall on November 13th at 9 a.m. and also to bombard they’re City Commission with calls and emails. An interested person who commented under mr. Miller’s most recent article pertaining to the legal expenses associated with South Miami mayor Philip Stoddard stated that South Miami has become a Banana Republic. The truth of the matter is that all of Dade County is a Banana Republic and has been for a very long time! Very unfortunate that’s so few elected officials have integrity and the backbone to stay strong and maintain that integrity. Some are also completely lacking in common sense. Pay attention to your city hall meetings and how your elected officials vote!

  7. This is absurd Not only is the city willing to pay a ridiculous price for a knockdown, but they are allowing to let the owner live on the property for the next to years for free. I will express my displeasure at the Nov. 13 meeting.

  8. How interesting and convenient that the Mayor & Commission of Coral Gables hold their monthly commission meetings at 9:00 a.m. Great time for them so they can slamdunk their hidden agenda through. Unfortunate for the Coral Gables residents who work at that time of day to pay the outrageous taxes imposed by the Mayor and Commission. Residents should DEMAND a meeting in the evening. Government in transparency, nothing less

  9. This is absurd. Not only is the city willing to pay a ridiculous sum of money for a knock down, but they are also permitting the owner to live on the property for 2 years for FREE after the city purchases it. I will be voicing my displeasure on Nov 13 at the commission meeting.

  10. This would constitute the wholesale taking of property rights from the neighborhood property owners with no redress. The payment of beyond top dollar with no negotiation smacks of blatant corruption. This is a scandal which should not be allowed.

  11. Disgraceful spending of public money without any thought of the consequences to the neighborhood and neighbors.
    Something seems amiss, since the information was not divulged to the community.

  12. This article fails to note that TWO Commissioners, both myself and Vince Lago, voted against this the first time it was discussed. I hope the article will be revised accordingly as the statement that we don’t care about spending millions because it is “not real money” could not be further from the truth. That was precisely why we voted against it and there are transcripts to prove it. And that was just to proceed to negotiate and come back to us. It is coming back on November 13th and it will require a 4/5 vote to pass because it involves the acquisition of land. In other words, if the votes go the same way, this sale will not happen at all. Those seem like extremely pertinent facts to this story. Facts are still important.

    • Thank you Commissioner for the sensible no vote and your continued opposition to this horrific plan by the City Administration. The cost is ridiculous. More than that it is a totally wrong location for a fire station. The CocoPlum Circle is one of the City landmarks and to build a fire station there, among all the stately homes, is Unbelieveable. The logistics would be a nightmare. Please continue to oppose the acquisition of this land and the use for anything other than a single family home. You and Commissioner Lago are commended for your opposition and listening to the neighbors as well as keeping this “The City Beautiful”. Hopefully the other Commissioners and Mayor will reconsider their I’ll asvised votes and this site will be denied and never considered on November 13th.

    • Commissioner Mena, Thank you for your NO vote and for your fiscal responsibility. Your views are refreshing and are appreciated by your constituents. Let’s hope that Commissioner Lago also remains a NO vote and that the others reconsider their positions.

  13. This is absolutely absurd! Not only is the city offering to pay the owner well above appraisal value for a knockdown, they are also allowing him to live in his house for FREE for 2 years after they purchase the property. I will be attending the meeting on Nov 13 to express my opposition. Absolutely unacceptable!

  14. It’s simply inappropriate to build a fire station in a fully residential neighborhood. Clearly, like others have said, Commissioners need to leave the lure of some “matching money” and repair their existing facilities. We need sensible local government we can be proud of, not some over priced thing we’ll see every time we navigate CocoPlum Circle.

  15. This is an ill-conceived plan, a totally unnecessary expenditure of public funds, and an obviously unfair process. Elected officials need to step up, be transparent and do the right thing. The mayor and commissioners need to restore their credibility before it’s too late!

  16. I am beyond shocked to hear this news! It is beyond insane . I had the privilege of living on Sunset for three years . I spent a bulk of my time walking my bike in tow with my three sons past this tiny house . We would cross there to ride our bikes down Old Cutler to Fairchild and Matheson . Often we would spend a minimum of twenty minutes trying to cross safely . How in the world fire trucks would be able to do the same is beyond me ? This is the most outrageous location for a fire station . Let’s not forget the absolute beauty of the location? I witnessed crowds, tour buses and multitudes of folks who travel to see the sheer beauty of the canals. Certainly there is plenty of land available which will function as a feasible alternative. Have they honestly exhausted remodeling the other stations ? Wake up and preserve the city beautiful for generations to come !

  17. Why has the city wasted so many precious hours of staff and Commission time to consider this absurd acquisition and re-zoning of a residential home in such a prominent location? Don’t the Property Advisory and Economic Development Boards have better and more important things to do with their time? Who paid for the three appraisals on the site? I used to be so proud to call Coral Gables my home! This was a ridiculous and ill thought-out idea from the get-go.

  18. To think that the city would opt to build a new fire station as opposed to repairing the old dilapidated fire stations that are currently in place is a disturbing thought. The fact that they chose to not advise the current residents of their plans or allow them to take a vote to approve/ deny such a plan shows such a disregard for the current residents. Shame on them!

  19. Why would they ever spend money on a fourth fire house and allow the conditions of the other stations to remain the same. Corrupt government is an understatement. But what will people do about this??? Will anyone show up and raise their voice to try argue the obvious, unlikely. Good luck City Beautiful.

  20. Thank you Commissioner Mena for the sensible no vote and your continued opposition to this horrific plan by the City Administration. The cost is ridiculous. More than that it is a totally wrong location for a fire station. The CocoPlum Circle is one of the City landmarks and to build a fire station there, among all the stately homes, is Unbelieveable. The logistics would be a nightmare. Please continue to oppose the acquisition of this land and the use for anything other than a single family home. You and Commissioner Lago are commended for your opposition and listening to the neighbors as well as keeping this “The City Beautiful”. Hopefully the other Commissioners and Mayor will reconsider their I’ll asvised votes and this site will be denied and never considered on November 13th.

  21. If they actually go through with this, the new firehouse should forever be enshrined as as a monument to government stupidity and incompetence! That’s the best case, a worse case would be that this is simply corruption and theft by government officials! (Or am I the only one who smells a $2 million dollar rat when government officials quietly funnel millions of dollars in excess payment to a friend?). These events should be investigated by an anti-corruption division of the State of Florida and/or the FBI.

  22. Please rethink this issue. Repair the existing stations. They are in good locations. The locations on Coco Plum circle is a very bad location. It is in the middle of a lovely residential area, in the middle of a heavy traffic area. The fire trucks will aggregate already bad congestion. You are also way off base with the money you are spending for the property. Go back and start over. The whole proposal is wrong

  23. I read that State Rep Nick Duran brought $1+ million to help this deal. That’s shady. When teachers need to be paid more and our transportation projects are waiting for a budget, this is what the state representative focuses on? SHAME!

  24. Keeping this proposal hush hush to the residents in Coral Gables and surrounding neighborhood for this preposterous plan is wrong!
    Who wants to live in a beautiful area with sirens going off at all hours of the day and night let alone the back up of traffic every time a truck needs to pull in and out of the station. The taxpayers money should be spent on fixing the dilapidated fire stations!

  25. A lot of concerns – poor use of funds as payment significantly exceeds the value of property; funds could be used to improve the currents stations; and is this the best location in this congested area?

  26. This is disgraceful and a waste of taxpayers money. I can’t believe they would consider putting a fire station on a historic site in such a beautiful neighborhood-especially when there are other starions so close. Use the money to fix those stations!.

  27. I listened to the meeting on October 9th when the preliminary vote was taken on this item. Not all the commissioners supported the item, and there were insufficient votes in favor of it to pass it for the second vote. The City Attorney announced during the meeting that at least 4 of the 5 commissioners and mayor must support it. If you wish to convey your desires to the mayor and commissioners, you can also submit an E-Comment on the November 13th Meeting Agenda or send an email. Before commenting, educate yourself regarding the reason for the second location. Due to existing traffic in the area, a closer location is needed is improve response times for paramedics. Improving response times can save lives. Seconds count when someone has a heart attack, stroke, a major injury, or is drowning (which will often trigger a heart attack). The price for this location is unreasonable, but the purpose for an additional location is altruistic.

  28. …………….

    Wow.
    Another residential “city beautiful” neighborhood on the list for major rezoning and commercialization with the all too familiar disregard for innumerable residents who will lose whatever rights to the peaceful use/enjoyment of their homes and properties they moved into Coral Gables for.
    While the necessity for life-safety services is ever-increasing, every effort to maintain, repair and renovate existing facilities should remain the utmost priority of city leaders.
    Another massive project recently completed on Salzedo between Minorca and Navarre has changed that neighborhood forever, dwarfed small homes and apartments in the area and established a new precedent for the construction of similar behemoths anywhere in the city.

    “As part of an ongoing effort to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Coral Gables.”

    “Principles only mean something if you stand by then when they’re inconvenient.”
    ~ A notable quote from the movie, “The Contender”.

  29. Affected property owners in the area need to come together to enjoin the city from ruining one of coral gables’ premier residential communities. This can not stand!!

  30. As a long time resident of Coral Gables I am thoroughly disgusted with the manner this has been handled. I used to be proud of where I live as it truly was the City Beautiful. Now there are so many wasteful spending projects. I’m thrilled that someone found $4 million dollars to overpay to purchase this land( even though its assessed for far below that). Why not use those funds to fix the three existing fire stations? I’m sure there would be left over money! This proposed location is totally inappropriate. The congestion that already exists at the Cocoplum Circle would only be worsened by fire trucks entering and exiting this station. This is a prominent residential neighborhood. NOT a place for a fire station! The Circle and entrance to OldCutler Rd have traditionally been a scenic tourist stop as people take photos along the canopy of OldCutler and the Coral Gables Waterway. This is a serious waste of funds that could be better spent elsewhere.

  31. Coral Gables residents, I have just had the misfortune of seeing the rendering…yes, there is already a rendering, of this new potential site. The beautiful 136 tress that the city keeps talking about that is currently on the site will be reduced (based on rendering) to +/-19…oh and did I mention the public restrooms? This is an outrage to the City Beautiful. I wonder why the need for another park when a beautiful one was just built directly across the street?

  32. This is so wrong for so many reasons. How can they even consider using taxpayers money for this? …and in such a beautiful neighborhood. I hope people will couce their concerns at the Nov 13 meeting!

  33. So I drive by the property and see that the City has already scheduled a hearing before the zoning board to rezone the property. The hearing is November 14 at 6:00 pm. Wait…that is a week from Wednesday. The residents have never received any notice about the plan to purchase the property and they do this by posting two small signs? THEY DO NOT EVEN OWN THE LAND AND THE COMMISSION HASN’T EVEN DONE A FIRST READING AND VOTED ON PURCHASE!!!!! The last vote that allowed the City manager to negotiate the over priced purchase (well above appraisals and even a $1 million more than their own budget committee approved) had two commissioners vote against this. To purchase it requires 4/5 vote. The two no votes hopefully will stand with the neighbors and the residents of Coral Gables and defeat this outrageous ill advised and reckless overspending project objected to by the neighbors and will definitely cause a major reduction of home prices. COME TO COMMISSION MEETING 11/13 at 9:00 am and the Zoning Meeting 11/14 at 6:00 pm.

  34. As a long time resident of Coral Gables I am thoroughly disgusted with the manner this has been handled. I used to be proud of where I live as it truly was the City Beautiful. Now there are so many wasteful spending projects. I’m thrilled that someone found $4 million dollars to overpay to purchase this land( even though its assessed for far below that). Why not use those funds to fix the three existing fire stations? I’m sure there would be left over money! This proposed location is totally inappropriate. The congestion that already exists at the Cocoplum Circle would only be worsened by fire trucks entering and exiting this station. This is a prominent residential neighborhood. NOT a place for a fire station! The Circle and entrance to OldCutler Rd have traditionally been a scenic tourist stop as people take photos along the canopy of OldCutler and the Coral Gables Waterway. This is a serious waste of funds that could be better spent elsewhere.

  35. I read the post about the zoning hearing and Again they are rushing this project through with no or inadequate notice to residents. This is not the way City government should work. Add the rush to the over payment and Bad idea to put a fire station and park at this location and it makes you wonder what is going on.

  36. As a long time resident of Coral Gables I am thoroughly disgusted with the manner this has been handled. I used to be proud of where I live as it truly was the City Beautiful. Now there are so many wasteful spending projects. I’m thrilled that someone found $4 million dollars to overpay to purchase this land( even though its assessed for far below that). Why not use those funds to fix the three existing fire stations? I’m sure there would be left over money! This proposed location is totally inappropriate. The congestion that already exists at the Cocoplum Circle would only be worsened by fire trucks entering and exiting this station. This is a prominent residential neighborhood. NOT a place for a fire station! The Circle and entrance to OldCutler Rd have traditionally been a scenic tourist stop as people take photos along the canopy of OldCutler and the Coral Gables Waterway. This is a serious waste of funds that could be better spent elsewhere. I don’t even want to admit I live in Coral Gables anymore. I am disgusted and embarrassed that such a thing could happen!!

  37. I want to thank Comissioners Mena and Lago for their support AGAINST this absurd proposal. They have stated to continue to vote no. Anyone reading this needs to attend the meeting on Nov 13 at 9am at Coral Bables City Hall.

  38. How irresponsible of the City to even consider over-spending to this degree. I see one person benefiting and a huge potential for many others to suffer. This will cause more harm then good, and there seems to be many more reasonable options. Our commissioners have a chance to do the right thing, I certainly hope they will.

  39. Here is my plea to the commissioners to do the right thing. Fix the stations we already have, and keep our residential community the way it is. The whole concept looks really really bad. We are awake now, and see what was being planned. It’s not too late to do the right thing for the residents of this community and all the subsequent property owners.

  40. Thank you to Mena and Lago for seeing this for what it is and voting NO! I pray the other commissioners will do the same. Commissioners will vote again on Tuesday Nov 13th at the 9am meeting. Join us in telling the other commissioners to VOTE NO

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