CNJ216 (First) Assignment

CNJ216 Fall 2010 (First) Assignment: Campus Story

In one of the most anticipated City Council meetings of the year, the University of Miami will attempt to persuade skeptical City Commissioners and residents of Coral Gables at City Hall this week to accept a new development agreement with the university, which could delay the controversial construction of an internal road across its property by at least seven years.

President Donna Shalala and Vice-President of Student Affairs Patricia Whitely, along with two members of the board of trustees and two athletic coaches, will propose the university’s latest ‘Development Agreement Summary’ just after 10:30 a.m. Tuesday morning to Coral Gable’s five City Commissioners, three of whom will be up for re-election in April. Student Body President Christina Farmer will speak as well, appealing to city leaders to amend ordinances passed in 2006 relating to future development at the University.

Four years ago, the City Council approved the construction of several new buildings on the Coral Gables campus, including a new student center and science building, on the condition that the University complete a $2.5 million internal road before the conclusion of 2010. Coral Gables residents, citing high traffic volume within the vicinity of the university, requested the road, which, according to the current blueprint, would cut through the John C. Gifford Arboretum, an environmental preserve located in the upper corner of campus. Phase 1 of construction was originally scheduled to begin last May. However, overwhelming resistance from students, faculty, alumni, and local environmentalist groups, opposed to the projected removal of up to 20% of campus tree preserve, led university officials to freeze the project indefinitely last summer. Since then, they have been working tirelessly to create an alternative plan for the much-opposed project, which would re-route the road without interfering with other desired development on the property.

If accepted by the City Council this week, the new contract, which was unanimously approved 6-0 by the Planning and Zoning Board last month, would extend the duration of development agreement between Coral Gables and the University of Miami from 2010 to 2017, enabling the university to move forward with other projects, while buying it more time to modify its formal plan for both the road and the future of the Arboretum. In exchange, residents would benefit from numerous community initiatives, including a Coral Gables lecture series, free concerts, and free tickets to athletic events. Despite complaints from neighbors, unwilling to endure possibly another seven years of traffic, the university has a high chance of earning the support of at least the three commissioners who are up for re-election- as long as it is able to equate such support with the support of its large voter base.

“This is a big deal,” emphasized Gilbert Arias, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, in an appeal to the Student Government Senate at its weekly meeting last Wednesday, asking for the attendance of as many students as possible Tuesday morning. “Some important people will be presenting, and we need your help.” Anticipating a standing-room-only crowd, Arias went on to request that students serve as ‘seat holders,’ arriving earlier to reserve places for administrators unable to make it to City Hall on time. In exchange for their services, students who opt to arrive as much as two hours before the scheduled hearing would be rewarded with gift cards to both the Rathskeller and to Starbucks.

All students, however, regardless of whether or not they wish to take advantage of the offer, are encouraged to attend this important forum. Tuesday’s meeting is open to the public and will be held in the Commission Chambers of City Hall, located at 405 Biltmore Way in Coral Gables. The official agenda can be pre-viewed online, at http://www.coralgables.com.

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