Over the next few weeks, plans to build University Village, a new student residential village community planned for the San Amaro Drive area of campus, will seek final approval from the City of Coral Gables, amid objections from residents of the surrounding community.
“The University is trying to build upon a vision that we believe will change the student experience,” said Dr. Pat Whitely, Vice President for Student Affairs. “We are working full-time on this project because we feel so passionately about it for our students.”
Currently, on-campus housing is available for 26 percent of the entire student population.
University Village will be able to accommodate 1,091 undergraduate juniors and seniors, graduates and law students in 398 apartments and provide 1,058 on-site parking spaces.
Each apartment will have one, two or four bedrooms with a private bath for each resident and will include a fully furnished living and dining room, kitchen, washer and dryer.
Other amenities may include a pool, a fitness room, study areas and computers.
UM expects partial occupancy of University Village in fall 2004 with full occupancy in fall 2005, pending final approval.
According to administration involved with the project, the current plans for University Village are proposed modifications to the original plans that were approved in 1992 by the City of Coral Gables Commission as part of the University Master Campus Area Development Plan [UMCAD]. The 1992 plan was halted as a result of the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew.
Presently, two different plans are being submitted for approval by the city.
Recently, residents of Coral Gables who live around the area of the proposed construction and are opposed to University Village have united and formed the UM Neighbors Homeowner’s Association.
They have started petitions and sent out newsletters in hopes of gaining increased support from the surrounding community.
“It should not be assumed that any vested development rights are immune to modification,” Raymon Ruiz, secretary of the UM Homeowners Association, said. “All it takes is political will.”
“It is our firm belief that the University Village will go against President Shalala’s new vision of uniting the student body,” said Barbara Fronczak, President of the UM Neighbors Homeowners Association. “The proposed area is not even on campus and will be divided by a major thoroughfare.”
According to members of the UM Homeowners Association, their primary issues are increased traffic and street closures in the area; the size mass and location of the parking garages; residential density and proximity to the surrounding neighborhood; and security, noise and pedestrian safety concerns.
“At the present time a very dangerous situation exists with student pedestrian traffic crossing San Amaro because they’re not following the crosswalks and cars are speeding through the area at very high speeds,” Fronczak said. “I don’t understand why UM wants to add 1100 students to this dangerous condition.”
Fronczak also mentioned that the recent attacks in the area have put fear into the neighborhood, and many neighbors are worried about the safety of women and children in the area.
“We have to keep in mind that there are families in the area that have kids who they may not want to be exposed to unruly college students,” said Andrea Wagner, third-year law student. “I know I am personally annoyed and offended by some of the drunken college students who live in my apartment complex.”
University Village planners say that many things are being done to accommodate the concerned neighbors, including holding regular community meetings and establishing an information telephone line and website to help keep neighbors informed of developments with the project.
“It’s always been our goal to be good neighbors,” said Gilbert Arias, director of budgeting and personnel for Student Affairs. “We listen to concerns and suggestions and try our best to accommodate the requests of the surrounding community.”
“I feel like there’s a lot of misinformation out there in terms of the details of the project and the nature of the students that will be living in the area,” Steve Priepke, student leader, said. “The rules and regulations at UM are strictly enforced and the individuals that will be eligible to live in the University Village will be mature and serious about their work.”
Full-time managers and community assistants will reside at the village and residents must follow the residence halls policies and procedures of the University.
Those who support construction of University Village say that the additional housing will be beneficial to the academic welfare and convenience of a large part of the student body that currently is ineligible to live on campus.
“Many law students support the proposed plan because of the convenience it will provide,” Alexis Martinez, ambassador for the Law School said. “Housing and parking are big issues, especially with students who are from out of town. I believe that the additional housing will attract many more students to the law school.”
“I’ve taken classes at USC and they had a similar idea of a community village that worked well,” senior Eric Daley said. “A lot of the things that President Shalala is doing will really help improve the quality of student life on campus.”
“The new housing will make Mahoney and Pearson available to more undergraduate residents and will open up more on-campus parking spaces,” junior Kim Kiser said.
Some students disagree with the plans for a variety of reasons.
“As an institution of higher learning, the University’s primary focus should be on academics,” sophomore Alexandra Colbert said. “I’m an art student and don’t feel that my needs are being acknowledged by the administration.”
“Sorority houses should be built in the proposed area because sororities comprise a large percentage of the student body and are highly involved with issues of student life, community service and leadership opportunities,” sophomore Alex Cardenas said. “It seems only fair that sororities be given the same luxuries as the fraternities.”
Organizers of University Village encourage students to voice their opinions to the City of Coral Gables regarding University Village.
“A special edition of Ibis News will go out in the next several days to students who live in Coral Gables to give them an update and ask them to support the project by emailing the City Clerk,” said Sarah Nesbitt Artecona, assistant vice-president of Media Relations. “These e-mails are an important part of documenting our student body’s support and will help the University move the plan forward.”
“It is important that you let the city officials know why this project is important to you,” Arias said. “What happens in the next six weeks is crucial to making this project a reality.”
“We always encourage people to state their views and protect their rights as citizens,” Ruiz said. “It’s always a good idea to communicate with all the parties involved because it always leaves open the possibility for an agreement to be reached.”
For more information on University Village, visit www.miami.edu/universityvillage.
To express your opinion of the proposed plans for University Village, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jorge Arauz can be contacted at email@example.com