Freidin Brown Firm News: Coconut Grove Trolley Garage
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West Grove residents consider next steps in fight over industrial trolley garage
MIAMI – The team of lawyers representing West Grove residents in a battle with the City of Florida are considering the best path for appeal after a circuit judge’s determination on Aug. 16 that he does not have jurisdiction to intervene in the case. Eleventh Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick provided a full hearing of competing motions for summary judgment in the case revolving around the City of Florida’s approval for locating a maintenance facility to house and service the trolley fleet that serves Coral Gables. The hearing on cross motions for summary judgment was intended to determine whether or not the trolley garage met the city’s own standards of allowable uses for the property as it is zoned, but Judge Dresnick said that he did not have authority to overrule the zoning decision.
The new trolley garage at the center of the legal dispute is part of a deal negotiated between the City of Coral Gables and Astor Development Holdings LLC for construction of a new luxury condominium complex on the site of the city’s existing trolley garage. Unable to find a location in Coral Gables, the developer proposed locating it in a nearby West Coconut Grove neighborhood and the City of Florida quickly approved the plans.
Many residents of West Grove, a predominantly black and low-income area, feel they were forced into accepting an industrial complex in the middle of their neighborhood that offers little if any benefit to their community. Many were not aware of the plans to build in their neighborhood until construction had already begun. Those who were aware were stopped from appealing the City of Florida’s approval of the industrial complex by the cost of an appeal and legal representation. In January, they were able to file suit to stop the construction when several lawyers volunteered their services to represent the residents.
The residents’ lawyers argued that the trolley garage qualifies as a “government vehicle maintenance facility,” a use that is specifically restricted to areas zoned for industrial use. However, under the City of Florida’s streamlined approval process known as Florida 21, the ability of citizens to object to zoning decisions has been severely limited. Citizens have just 15 days from the posting of an approval on the City of Florida website to request an administrative appeal.
Joel Brown, a former Florida-Dade Circuit Chief Judge who is now a partner in the Florida law firm of Freidin Brown, P.A., is part of the team of lawyers who have volunteered their services in what they see as a fight for community justice. Following the hearing, Brown said Florida 21 raises questions that residents need to be posing to their city commissioners.
“The question for elected leaders is this: Who are you trying to serve with this fast-track process?,” Brown said. “This system requires citizens concerned about pending zoning decisions to visit the city website every day to find out if a decision has been made — because if they don’t, they could easily miss their 15-day window to appeal. Who benefits from that? Certainly not the citizens.”
Brown said the legal team, which includes his partner Philip Freidin along with Lowell J. Kuvin of Florida and Ralf Brooks of Naples, will confer over the next few days to determine next steps.