West Grove residents stage colorful protest at site of controversial Gables Trolley project

Mural's theme of "One Grove" serves as protest message

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter
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MIAMI - West Grove residents staged a protest Saturday at the site of a controversial Coral Gables Trolley Depot construction project.

Holding signs that read "Don't trolley on me" and "Coral Gables has crossed the line," demonstrators flanked both sides of Douglas Road and Frow Avenue at the site of the construction project they are trying to fight.

Another signs reads, "Miami should fire its zoning director" and "Coconut Grove wants to know: Why place a trolley maintenance center here, in the middle of a historic black community?"

Meanwhile, right across Frow Avenue, community members began work on a mural project on the wall of a neighborhood market facing the construction project.

PHOTOS: Residents stage colorful protest at Gables Trolley site

Mural organizer and West Grove resident Laurie Cook told Local 10's Christina Vazquez plans for the brightly colored mural were in the works before they learned of Astor's intention to build a trolley depot for Coral Gables at that site.

But now the mural's theme of "One Grove" is serving as a protest message.

In fact, this is one of the developments that has made this particular community fight unique for the area. In a rare move, people living in other parts of Coconut Grove are rallying in support of West Grove residents in their ongoing fight to stop construction.

This is what makes the mural's statement of "One Grove" echo with protesters staged nearby. The mural aims to reflect the neighborhood's historic Black heritage.

West Grove is known locally, and affectionately, as "Black Grove". It was founded in the 1880s by Bahamian immigrants, and continues to be home to many black-owned businesses and proud residents.

Against the background noise of construction crews busily erecting the depot's building on Saturday, passing cars honked their horns in support of the protesters.

The developer, Astor, is currently building a trolley maintenance depot in this location for the City of Coral Gables as part of a land swap agreement it has with the city.

Lawyers representing two West Grove homeowners and a church near the project site recently filed suit seeking an injunction. They claim the use is industrial, not commercial as it is currently zoned.

Lawyers also argue their clients were not notified of the project before construction began which prevented them from being able to appeal with the City of Miami.

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Astor wants to build 180 luxury condos at Coral Gables' current trolley depot site, which is located in the City Beautiful near Coral Gables High School. The city has agreed as long as the developer secured a new site close to the trolley's current route by September 2014.

Astor bought the land in the West Grove, which is in the city of Miami, just across US 1 from Coral Gables along Douglas Road.

The City of Miami told Local 10 the area is zoned commercial and a zoning administrator approved the project. They did not seek a zoning variance which would have led to a public hearing because the city's zoning officials believed a trolley depot is a commercial use.

Opponents of the project have argued that Miami 21 zoning regulations clearly prohibit this kind of build in the historic residential neighborhood.

Many people living near the site said they didn't know about the project until construction crews arrived to start clearing the land.

Astor did provide Local 10 pictures of the certified public notices delivered to area homeowners associations. Residents did not act during the appeal process leading to their current uphill battle to stop construction already underway.

Coral Gables City Attorney Craig Leen told Local 10's Christina Vazquez their intent was never to impose on another community. It was Astor's burden to locate another adequate depot site for the city's six trollies. The City of Miami was fine with them as long at it was legal and acceptable.

Mario Garcia-Serra is an attorney representing Astor Development.

"My client searched high and low to find a suitable site that was property zoned and that was in close proximity to the trolley route," said Garcia-Serra. "We couldn't find one with in the City of Coral Gables."

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