Setback threatens to delay construction projects

Another roadblock has been laid in the ongoing construction and renovation projects scheduled to break ground on the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus.

At the City of Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board meeting on Jan. 10, an application of 25 proposed amendments to the University of Miami Campus Area Development (UMCAD) master plan was unanimously, although reluctantly, denied.

The UMCAD plan, first adopted in 1991, has since been amended eight times. Only major amendments, or those that change more than 20 percent of the original master plan, require public hearings. The University last appeared before the board in 2004, seeking approval for the University Village amendment.

President Donna E. Shalala addressed the Board at the start of the meeting, explaining that the city has taken no action on UM’s applications since 2004.

“I came to plead for common sense,” she said.

Shalala also stressed that the goal of the administration is to build a world-class university, and that UM is building to get better, not bigger. She added that new facilities are needed in order to recruit more great students and faculty.

“I only see these changes as making the university greater, which helps us move up on the charts,” said Rita Julien, executive-at-large external on the Student Government executive committee.

A presentation to the board explained each amendment in depth, using computer-drawn architectural plans supplemented with photos. By providing such an in-depth overview, the university hoped to address the concerns of the board and the Coral Gables residents.

“The board seemed supportive of our application but had more questions they wanted answered,” said Sarah Artecona, assistant vice president of media and community relations. “The university felt after three years they wanted the application moved to the full commission for their decision.”

Those questions focused on the lack of an adequate traffic study conducted by UM. The university must provide a new traffic study every time they are to build 200,000 square feet and the board expressed hesitation in approving the application until a more recent study is conducted. Traffic studies typically take eight weeks to complete.

Proposed amendments include increased residential housing, additional parking garages, the renovation of the University Center and approval for construction of the new Robert and Judi Prokop Newman Alumni Center.

Artecona said that construction and renovations on campus will not increase the student population, but will seek to improve the infrastructure and support the students and faculty. She added that an increased number of parking spaces and on-campus residents will lead to a reduction in traffic.

During public discussion, the floor was open to comment. Nitin Aggarwal, a senior and student member on the Board of Trustees, spoke in favor of both the Alumni Center and more on-campus housing.

“To have the atmosphere, the cultural [diversity] and academic atmosphere on our campus, we need more students on campus,” Aggarwal said.

University administrators, faculty, donors, alumni and students attended the meeting, which took place at the City Hall commission chambers.

“It was important for the board to see that this isn’t just administration saying we need to make our school better,” said Krizia Giambanco, an SG Senator and Category 5 vice chair. “This is the students saying we want to make our school better, please help us.”

Although the board voted to deny the UMCAD amendments application, the item will be forwarded to the City Commission and is scheduled to be reviewed Jan. 23.

“Ultimately, the university will be heard by the full commission,” Artecona said, “That’s all we have asked for.”

Attempts by The Miami Hurricane to contact University Planner Janet Gavarrete and City of Coral Gables Planning Director Eric Riel, Jr. were unsuccessful.

Megan Ondrizek may be contacted at