Nonexistent parking at 109 Tower problematic for residents, neighbors

Clinton Walker/The Beacon

Nicole Montero/Asst. News Director

nicole.montero@fiusm.com

Back in August 2014, the city of Sweetwater and the University celebrated the opening of 109 Tower, a 15-story apartment building across the street from PG5. But, almost six months later, city residents and tenants of the tower are unhappy with the living arrangements and parking conditions that the apartments had to offer.

At a planning and zoning board meeting in 2012, residents of the area brought up concerns that reducing the number of parking spaces of the tower from 224 to zero would cause parking problems for adjacent condominiums and housing, according to the meeting minutes.

The residents’ concerns turned out to be true.

“This [building] has zero parking and, frankly, to me that’s insane,” said Guillermo Cuadra, chief of staff of the city of Sweetwater. “It has created a whole host of problems and, even though at the time FIU and the previous administration here supported it, now we have to deal with the problem.”

According to city police, they started getting calls from neighbors that the Tower’s residents were parking their cars on the streets of the city, sometimes blocking driveways.

“It’s just upsetting,” said Maria Luisa Jimenez, a homeowner near the apartment building. “Sometimes I have to leave quickly because I’m late and I go out and find that my driveway is blocked and I can’t get out. It’s unfair to me and my kids.”

Jimenez, 36, an immigrant from Nicaragua, has three kids in elementary school. She wakes up every morning at 5 a.m. to make sure that her driveway isn’t blocked and that she could get her children to school on time.

According to the Miami Herald, three condominium associations appealed to the city commission to revoke the parking variance that had been approved for the building. The appeals were dismissed for failing to specifically explain how the decision would become a problem and how the neighboring condos would be affected.

Mayor Jose M. Diaz, who was the president of the commission in 2012, said that waiving the parking requirements probably wasn’t worth it, according to the article.

“The previous administration just convinced the commissioners that it was a good idea,” Cuadra said.

The city was able to provide the parking variance by making an agreement, forcing over 400 leaseholders to park across the street in PG5. The agreement allowed the residents of the tower to park on campus with a decal and provided free transportation in the city trolley and the FIU CATS Shuttle.

But, for 109 Tower residents and frequent visitors, this wasn’t enough.

“I’m always there and my car has been towed twice,” said Alexandra Blanco, a sophomore biology major. “They have the 30-minute parking spots and sometimes we’re unloading groceries there and they’ll call the tow truck before the time is even up. My best friend’s car got towed after just 17 minutes.”

Anthony Ghanem, a student at the College of Law, supports this claim.

“One time I left my car down there for about 40 minutes and, when I went back inside, they said I had left it for over 15 minutes of the allotted time,” he said. “My thing is that doesn’t it take the tow truck at least 10 minutes to get down there? My car has already been towed four times and it was $140 to pick it up each time.”

For him, this was an extreme amount.

“This is a college building, with college students living there,” he said. “The cost of the tow is a little expensive for the average college student. People complain about getting FIU tickets but getting towed is so much worse… Why make students go through this entire hassle for so much money because of the level of incompetence in infrastructure?”

109 Tower has 25 parking spaces, which are mostly used by staff and building managers.

“We have made everyone aware that parking is prohibited here at 109TOWER,” said building management through a post via Facebook. “We have resident and employee vehicles blocked in due to parked vehicles in non-parking areas. Please move your vehicle immediately to avoid being towed…”

According to Cuadra, the city has just empowered a task force to help deal with the parking situations of the tower tenants and the upset city residents, including a pedestrian bridge to go over Eighth Street.

“It was a known fact amongst all FIU students promoting 109 that there would be a bridge on top of the street so that we could walk during rush hour,” Blanco said. “There is no bridge. It’s just an extreme inconvenience.”

For Cuadra, this whole thing was just a poorly planned situation.

“I tell our team here all the time that no matter what they’re gonna do, make sure that you plan,” he said. “After you plan the work, then you work the plan. This was just a situation that was poorly planned… And, if it was planned, it was almost premeditated for those problems to be there… So, now, it’s something we’re trying to cure.”

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