UM is geared to begin Phase I of University Village, despite opposition from the UM Neighbors Homeowners Association [UMNHOA], utilizing the original plans approved by the City of Coral Gables in 1992 and setting aside the revised 2002 plans that reflected modifications to the original proposal.
“Because of the critical need for housing, the University needs to move forward with Phase I of the originally adopted plan for University Village,” Sergio Rodriguez, vice-president of Real Estate for UM, said. “Once Phase I is under construction, the University will engage again in dialogue with the City and our neighbors relative to Phase II.”
To date, the UMNHOA has gathered about 600 signatures from residents against the construction of University Village.
However, not all residents in the area support the petition.
“As a neighbor of the proposed University Village, I find the prospect of a developed area much more appropriate than the current open space and parking lots,” Margaret Marshall, director of English Composition and resident of the proposed area, said. “Since [UMNHOA] have perpetuated misinformation, I doubt that their claim of representing over 600 homeowners accurately portrays the sentiments of the informed population of this area.”
Currently, there is a petition of students in favor of University Village with over 1500 signatures.
Phase I of the project will house approximately 510 undergraduate juniors and seniors as well as graduate and law students in a total of 162 apartments. All the apartments will have separate single bedrooms, most of which will have their own private bathroom.
Currently, on-campus housing is only available for 27 percent of the student population.
“From my perspective, the modified plan was much superior, but the need for housing cannot be held hostage to the demands of the irrational few,” Marshall said.
Regardless, the UMNHOA believes that incorporating a University Village will increase traffic, massing and density to unacceptable levels in the neighborhood.
Another one of the main concerns of the UMNHOA is that crime in the area will increase if University Village is built.
However, according to administration working with the project, the new facilities will include a security program that will increase safety on the site. Full-time managers and community assistants will reside at the complex with 24-hour security patrols.
Henry Christensen, director of Public Safety, says that crime in the area has decreased significantly since a patrolling security guard and bicycled officers have been stationed in the area around Frat Row where University Village will be built.
Marshall believes that the UMNHOA is assuming that UM students are responsible for disturbances and petty crimes in the area, even though similar occurrences happen in most metropolitan areas.
“The complaints about students are, in my albeit brief experience, completely groundless,” Marshall said. “Because someone is shouting in the middle of the night or a group of young people are congregated in the open space where the University Village will be does not necessarily mean they are students.”
“It seems to me that some of the neighbors mistake the features of modern urban living for living next to students,” Marshall said. “These neighbors will not be appeased no matter what the University proposes to do with the area and unfortunately have made the process more difficult than it has to be and ultimately the plan will be less than it might be.”
Recently, the UMNHOA has cited several articles that were printed in the Miami Hurricane as evidence to support their idea that UM students are disorderly and unmanageable. However, the primary article they have mentioned, a Feb. 12 front-page investigative report on the recent increase in disciplinary violations on campus, has continually been misconstrued and placed out of context by members of the UMNHOA at Coral Gables City Council meetings.
“The University of Miami has not been able to guarantee the safety of students or adequately control drug usage within its property,” the UMNHOA said in a correspondence statement to UM, citing the article. “The UMNHOA is greatly concerned about the University’s current and future abilities to maintain a safe and secure environment.”
However, the article in question was focused on how UM administration has made an effort to increase the accountability of students and provide violators with preventative programs that will help them make more educated decisions.
“The neighbors really have no way of knowing what college students are like on a day-to-day basis,” Jose Salgado, sophomore, said. “The article the UMNHOA is referring to supports the fact that UM is aware of the issues that students have and is tackling them in a positive manner.”
“Once strict consequences arise, students are less likely to break the rules,” Salgado said.
According to Janet Gavarette, University planner, the UMNHOA has filed a lawsuit against UM to try to stop Phase I of the 1992 plan of the project from proceeding because they “feel strongly that what was tendered ten years ago is not pertinent in today’s planning environment.”
“The University of Miami recently received a notice from an attorney representing the Homeowner’s Association,” Gavarette said. “We believe it is appropriate until the matter is resolved that we reserve further comment.”
Many students understand the need for the safe, convenient and reasonably priced housing that University Village will provide.
“Overall, students at UM have welcomed the concept of University Village and do not understand why residents of Coral Gables are trying to stall plans to build additional housing for upperclassmen on campus,” Devang Desai, third year law student and president of student government for the law school, said. “Given the current political climate and views expressed by the neighbors of Coral Gables, more students have jumped onto the University Village bandwagon to lend a helping hand to educate residents, politicians and community relation committee members as to reasons why University Village is a critical component for UM’s long range plan and its student body.”
Christopher Vasquez, a sophomore majoring in public relations and political science, says he feels like a member of the Coral Gables community.
“As University of Miami students, most of us feel that we are residents of the Coral Gables community,” Vasquez said. “Whenever my friends and I tell people that we go to the University of Miami, we always have to specify that UM is in Coral Gables as a way of recognizing that we live in a great area. When I need food, I eat at the restaurants on US-1 and in Downtown Coral Gables. When I need a haircut, I go to Miracle Mile.”
“More importantly though, many students have chosen Coral Gables to register to vote, making them legal citizens of the city,” Vasquez said.
Members of the faculty are also in support of University Village.
“As a professor here at UM, it is very clear to me that many of our students are burdened with long commutes because they cannot afford housing close to campus – many of these students also work in order to help pay the cost of their education,” Marshall said. “Affordable housing closer to campus would allow these students to take advantage of the many extracurricular educational opportunities the campus experience provides: lectures, movies, symposia, theatrical and music events, etc.”
“It is very important for younger students to live and interact with senior students who in many circumstances serve as role models,” Cie Chapel, interim assistant director of student activities and leadership programs, said.
Although Phase I of the 1992 plan is in the works, UM administration will continue to communicate with the UMNHOA throughout the process.
“We have submitted a request for a permit,” Gilbert Arias, director of Budgeting and Personnel, said. “Once we receive approval, we will move forth with the project.”
However, Arias says UM will remain in communication with the UMNHOA throughout the process.
“It’s always been our goal to be good neighbors,” Arias said. “We listen to the concerns and suggestions of our neighbors and try our best to accommodate their requests.”
For more information contact the University Village information line at 305-284-6728 or e-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To sign the petition supporting University Village, stop by the Office of Student Activities in UC 209.
Jorge Arauz can be contacted at email@example.com.