City Zoning
7:45 am
Thu July 18, 2013

You Can't Own An Elephant In Coral Gables (And Other Weird Laws)

Morman Ross rides an elephant on Miami Beach in 1922. Coral Gables wanted to discourage this circus-like atmosphere.
Credit Courtesy of History Miami

Coral Gables has a reputation for its very strict—and frequently unusual—city codes.

Got a favorite weird city ordinance? Mention us on Twitter @WLRN.

As recently as 2007, the entire zoning code was revamped, but to this day, there are still a few ordinances that are... well, peculiar.

While flipping through the 464-page zoning code manual, there were seven ordinances that stood out.

We asked attorney Jane Muir, who currently serves as president of the Coral Gables Bar Association, to provide background on the reasons and circumstances under which these ordinances came into place:

ORDINANCE 1: NO NIGHTCLUBS OR CREMATORIUMS

What the rule says:

Section 4-401. Uses prohibited.

The following uses shall not be permitted within the City:

A. Nightclubs as a primary use.

B. Nightclubs where alcoholic beverages exceed forty-nine (49%) percent of total quarterly gross sales receipts/revenues of a primary restaurant use pursuant to the State of Florida licensing requirements for restaurants.  See Definition of “Nightclub” in Article 8.   

C. Crematory or furnace for cremation of human bodies.

D. Electronic video entertainment centers and machines.

E. Casinos

What Muir says: “Coral Gables was one of the first planned developments in the United States. The goal of developer George Merrick was to create a family-oriented vacation destination. This was a pioneering idea and it contrasted with Miami Beach, for example, which was filled with casinos and speakeasies during the 1920’s Prohibition. Coral Gables wanted to avoid having gambling establishments and non-restaurant liquor bars and anything that was deemed to be inconsistent with the family-friendly plan of the development.”

ORDINANCE 2: THE BAN ON MEXICAN BEADED LIZARDS AND ELEPHANTS

What the rule says:

Section 4-414. Wild animals and reptiles, keeping. …

1. In the City Manager's consideration of permits for animals subject to the provisions of this section, there shall be a presumption against the issuance of a permit for any animal or reptile falling within the following classifications:  

a. Any lizard normally capable of inducing toxic effects through biting, including the Gila monster and the Mexican beaded lizard.

b. Any lizard in excess of eight (8) feet in length or of a weight in excess of twenty-five (25) pounds.

c. Any alligator, caiman, or crocodile in excess of four (4) feet in length.

d. Any ape, including the chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, gibbon, or simian.

e. Any true monkey but not including the smaller lower primates, such as lemurs, marmosets, etc., provided, however, it shall be unlawful to keep any monkey in such a place so as to be exposed to the public view.

f. All members of the flesh-eating order of Carnivore, including non-domestic dogs, cats, foxes, seals, raccoons, coatamundis, bears, civets, skunks, and related forms.

g. All horned or hoofed mammals.

h. Elephants

What Muir says: “Elephants were used for promotion during the work and development of Miami Beach. There were many roadside animal acts that catered to tourists. Some were beautiful, like the Parrot Jungle, and some were for serious study of animals, like Money Jungle, but there were undesirable acts like alligator wrestling that were not consistent with the residential goal of George Merrick.

Essentially, this [restriction] would have almost certainly been to avoid a circus atmosphere that might detract from the image of this planned community. At the time of the development, places like Atlantic City had carnival acts like organ grinders and bear baiting that were considered low class.

Imagine “Boardwalk Empire,” and you would have a good idea of what Miami Beach was like in the 1920’s when Coral Gables was being developed."

Rosie the elephant on Miami Beach in 1930.
Credit Courtesy of History Miami


ORDINANCE 3: NO PET HOARDING

What the rule says:

Section 4-416. Possession, harboring, sheltering or keeping of cats and dogs.

A. It shall be unlawful for any person to possess, harbor, shelter, or keep more than four (4) adult cats or four (4) adult dogs at any one time, except veterinary hospitals properly licensed by the City.   

B. It shall be unlawful to maintain any cat or dog so as to create a nuisance by way of noise, odor, menace to health, or otherwise.

What Muir says: “This would have been to prevent “animal hoarding” or a farm-like atmosphere. Coral Gables was designed to be a vacation resort-type of community, and they wanted to avoid having people who would permit so many animals to join their families that it might be a nuisance to their neighbors.”


ORDINANCE 4: IF YOU LIVE IN IT, IT’S NOT A GUEST HOUSE

What the rule says:

Section 5-105. Guesthouse. …

C. Only non-paying and personal guests of the occupant of the principal residence shall occupy a guesthouse.

D. Year-round occupancy shall not be permitted by the same guest.   

E. The owner of the property shall not be permitted to live in the guesthouse and rent the principal residence.

F. The guesthouse shall be located in the rear yard.

What Muir says: “The reason was to prevent rental properties. Many houses in the early days had adjacent homes, but they were meant for servants. They did not want to have crowded tenements and undesirable lower income tenants.”


ORDINANCE 5: BACKYARD GYMS ONLY

What the rule says:

Section 5-109. Recreational equipment.

Non-movable recreational equipment including swing sets, jungle gyms, basketball poles, etc., are permitted to be placed, kept or maintained in any interior side or rear yard only.   

What Muir says: “They essentially pass the responsibility for maintaining the front of your house in a way that makes sure that all of the homes on the block have “curb appeal” to the residents. The board of architects considers these items to be visually unappealing, and so they will not permit them to clutter the appearance of the front of a home.”


ORDINANCE 6: IT TAKES A BOARD OF ARCHITECTS TO PICK A WALL COLOR

What the rule says:

Section 5-606. Exterior walls - material and color. …

All exterior masonry surfaces shall be stuccoed and painted except those of coral rock, stone, glass, clay brick, slump brick, pebble-faced block, pebble-faced panels, pre-cast panels, and architectural concrete. […] All exterior coloring shall be approved by the Board of Architects, if different from the Board of Architects approved palette of colors.

What Muir says: “This was designed to attract upscale developments. Through these zoning requirements, they have been able to make Coral Gables homes worth more than homes in the City of Miami.”

Coral Gables has a list of pre-approved paint colors for all homes in the city.
Credit Karelia Arauz

ORDINANCE 7: THE LONGEST LIST OF GARAGE SALE RULES WE’VE EVER SEEN

What the rule says:

Section 5-2104. Garage sale.

Garage sales shall be permitted as a temporary use on the premises of residences, duplexes and apartments subject to the following conditions and restrictions:

A. No garage sale shall be conducted until and unless a permit shall have been obtained from the License Division of the City of Coral Gables. Only the owner or lessee of the property upon which the garage sale is being conducted may obtain such permit.

B. Before such permit shall be issued, the applicant shall file with the License Division an application containing the following information:

1. Legal description and street address where such sale is to be conducted.

2. Proof of ownership or lease of property.

3. Date(s) of sale.

4. Hour(s) of sale.

5. Example of sign proposed.

C. Upon verification and compliance with the provisions of this section, and the payment of the proper fee, the License Division shall issue a permit the same day which shall designate the location of the sale and the day(s) upon which such sale(s) shall be conducted.

D. Only personal property owned by the seller and usual to a household may be sold or offered for sale by the owner or lessee of the residence, duplex or apartment as the case may be.

E. Only one (1) sign not exceeding forty (40) square inches in size may be displayed on the premises where such sale is being conducted.  Such sign shall not be erected or placed closer than five (5) feet to the front or side property line.

F. Such garage sale shall be held only between the hours of 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

G. Personal property shall be exhibited or displayed only within established setbacks.

H. No more than two (2) consecutive days shall be permitted for any garage sale.

I. No more than two (2) garage sales shall be held from the same property within any calendar year, provided however, that such garage sales shall not be held within a thirty (30) day period from each other.  

J. The garage sale permit shall be prominently displayed from the front of the building from which such sale is conducted.  Upon the request of any Code Enforcement Officer of the City of Coral Gables, the owner or lessee of the property shall exhibit such permit.

K. By making application for such Garage Sale Permit, accepting said permit and conducting such sale, the owner or lessee of the property to whom such permit is granted, authorizes any Code Enforcement Officer of the City of Coral Gables to enter upon the property for the purpose of determining that such sale is being conducted in accordance with the provisions of this section. Any violation of the application and conditions of permit shall result in immediate revocation of the permit and termination of sales.

Garage sales like this on North Greenway Drive must comply with the city's strict regulations.
Credit Karelia Arauz

What Muir says: “This is all part of the same desire to maintain an attractive atmosphere that is convenient for the residents of the city. Zoning in Coral Gables is known to be restrictive. Now, look at Miami Lakes, Pinecrest or Key Biscayne, and other developments that have adopted similar restrictions and limitations on land use that would preserve the beauty of the area and prevent unrestricted, unattractive development that would have a harmful effect on the properties.
[…] One of the reasons for the “For Sale” sign restrictions is that when the depression came, because there had been so much land speculation, they wanted to make sure that it didn’t look like everything was for sale to avoid calling attention to the loss of value. There were so many for sale signs all over Miami, that it looked like a jumble and it was visual pollution. Even though these are somewhat humorous today, the Coral Gables theme has worked. That theme and method of planned development has been used all over the United States with new developments that have similar requirements for planting, vegetation, setbacks and limitation on the kinds of things that are viewed as tacky and immoral.”