After nearly two hours of discussion Tuesday morning, the City Commission of Coral Gables approved the University of Miami’s request to alter the plans of the internal road to be built through the northern part of campus so that it does not run through the Gifford Arboretum.
The City Hall hosted a public hearing on Tuesday regarding the construction of the road through the arboretum areas. The decision is not yet finalized and is subject to change before final approval. In the current plan, the proposed road would connect the two parking lots adjacent to the arboretum, connecting the northeast side of campus to the northwest by road. UM’s request for the road, however, entails the pavement being laid around the arboretum as opposed to through it, preserving it in its entirety.
The proposal for the road first arose in 2007 due to a large amount of complaints from nearby residents about traffic and was subsequently postponed.
City of Coral Gables Planning Director Ramon Trias spoke to the commission about UM’s proposed redesign of the construction project, which would include not building through the arboretum.
“The [primary] condition is the improvements around Campo Sano … The ones that enhance the aesthetics around the campus,” Trias said. “The University has committed to fund $1 million in public projects for the neighborhood [should its request for the internal road be fulfilled].”
One of the potential resolutions includes UM’s funding of $1 million worth of public works projects to benefit the neighborhood. Another would see an expansion of the arboretum.
Maria Cruz, a representative of the residents around UM who are concerned about student traffic in their neighborhood, questioned why it took so long for “the neighbors” to get what they want and deserve.
“[In 2007], we felt that we needed the internal road to alleviate the traffic in our area. We fought it and fought; we finally got the city to give us an agreement that it would be built,” Cruz said. “Somehow, the university found ways to postpone, extend … to not have to complete it. And this is where we are today. It should have been completed years ago … It’s very hard to walk on San Amaro and look at cars parked there, where you felt that the area should be open.”
Stephen Pearson, the director of the arboretum, explained how crucial the area is to the community.
“We have programs throughout the school year; every single one of these programs are free and open to the public,” he said. “We fought very hard to reciprocate to the community and to educate the community.”
Commissioner Vince Lago agreed with Pearson that the garden is a mainstay of the community; he lives on San Amaro Drive and sees the arboretum every day.
On Wednesday night, Pearson and approximately 50 people gathered in the arboretum to observe Arbor Day as part of Earth Week and to celebrate the Coral Gables campus’s designation as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. The designation honors universities that effectively manage trees and engage students in doing so. The jazz ensemble from the Frost School of Music, the Zack Zebley Trio, performed at the event. At the event, Pearson, who has been director for four years, said he knows many residents who are in favor of expanding the arboretum rather than constricting it.
The video of the public hearing at the commission meeting will be available on the City of Coral Gables website on Thursday or Friday.
William Riggin contributed to this report.