Thursday, December 24, 2015

Will Mayor Gimenez "gift" Matheson Hammock Park's future to wealthy campaign contributors in Hammock Lakes? ... by gimleteye

I know it is Christmas Eve and I should find something uplifting for our readers enjoying a few days off from the daily Miami grind, but what I do to enjoy early morning hours away from the daily Miami grind is go to "one of the few remaining open spaces in the county that offers easy access and largely unspoiled natural habitat": Matheson Hammock Park. The wooded paths are one of the very last public places in Miami-Dade to view the oolite limestone formation, of ancient coral reefs, demonstrating the porous rock type that makes building sea walls against sea level rise an impossibility.

I've been walking my dogs at Matheson Hammock Park for more than fifteen years and writing about Florida's fragile environment even longer. When I began, the park was scarcely maintained, and although it was covered in kudzu then, it was a faded and glorious relic of a time when fresh water from the Everglades coursed through the coastal ridge to nearby Biscayne Bay. No one cared who walked their dogs or where they parked.

That began to change when some very wealthy and loud residents on the north side of the park started agitating for more control of who could access the park and by what streets. A guard house was erected, that makes absolutely no sense, and still the same homeowners are complaining about the public -- dog owners!, birders!, people trying to find a quiet place in a semblance of nature! Gradually, the parks department began investing more human resources in scraping down the kudzu, encouraging native flora, and in a way this began to worry me because there is no "improvement" of public spaces in Miami that doesn't come with some economic benefit to private interests.

Now the County is planning an "upgrade" at Matheson Hammock Park. Grant Miller, publisher of Community Newspapers, writes:
Miami-Dade County is planning an update and upgrade for this jewel of a park, which dates to 1930. The county’s stated goals are to protect and enhance the park’s natural and historical resources, anticipate sea level rise, and increase overall accessibility. That’s commendable. But, this being Miami, a handful of wealthy homeowners are pushing a plan essentially to annex and privatize the western part of Matheson Hammock. If successful, the homeowners in Hammock Lakes would have a signature public park mostly to themselves.
Send some good cheer this Christmas to County Commissioner Xavier Suarez and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez: tell them to keep their hands off Matheson Hammock Park and any further restrictions to access.

Stop the Matheson Hammock Park land grab
Grant Miller,
Community Newspapers/ Publisher

Matheson Hammock Park’s 630 acres comprise one of the few remaining open spaces in the county that offer easy access and largely unspoiled natural habitat.

Miami-Dade County is planning an update and upgrade for this jewel of a park, which dates to 1930. The county’s stated goals are to protect and enhance the park’s natural and historical resources, anticipate sea level rise, and increase overall accessibility. That’s commendable.

But, this being Miami, a handful of wealthy homeowners are pushing a plan essentially to annex and privatize the western part of Matheson Hammock. If successful, the homeowners in Hammock Lakes would have a signature public park mostly to themselves.

This west area of Matheson Hammock usually is referred to as either “the Matheson nursery” or as “the dog park.” The county has used a portion as a nursery for decades. Generations of dog owners — and hikers, bikers, bird watchers and picnickers — have enjoyed the park’s fields and wooded trails.

Therein lies the problem with the residents of Hammock Lakes, where teardowns start at $4 million and many homes top $12 million. They don’t want outsiders using School House Road off Kendall Drive to access West Matheson Park, which is in the City of Coral Gables but is owned and operated by the county.

Never mind that the park’s access road is a public street. Never mind that all vehicles must stop at a private guardhouse with a real guard and video cameras. Never mind there usually is at least one Coral Gables police cruiser nearby — and the fact that this public park predates this neighborhood.

These homeowners want the county to keep out all vehicles from driving past their homes, by closing the north and west entrances accessed via the public road and private guardhouse. All vehicles would have to park along Old Cutler Road. That’s a burden for park visitors from the north who would have to endure more of trafficchoked Old Cutler, and then fight over parking.

Worse, everyone must then hike a third of a mile along a wooded trail. What about the elderly, physically challenged? They will have to tough it out — or stay home. Also, it’s a birdwatching trail, and dogs and birds don’t go together. Most galling, we taxpayers would pay to install landscape “buffers” for the lucky homeowners abutting the park. Talk about hitting the jackpot.

The county has two basic options for West Matheson — do a minimal facelift, or a complete makeover. Most current park visitors prefer a minimalist approach.

If you insist on a full gussy-up, then make West Matheson more like the eastern portion by installing picnic shelters and bathrooms. While you are at it, put in baseball and soccer/football fields, like Tropical Park. Easily 10 soccer fields, two baseball fields, one lacrosse field and two volleyball courts. There would still be room for dogs.

In no event, however, should we deny direct vehicle access to West Matheson. In no event should we close the north and west entrances.

We need to tell Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez to state clearly and unequivocally that they oppose this land grab and will keep West Matheson accessible by vehicles.

Mayor Gimenez’s staff is responsible for drafting the proposals. Commissioner Suarez will be the point person for approving or denying those plans when they come to a vote at the county.

Contact Mayor Gimenez at or 305- 375-5071; Commissioner Suarez at or 305- 375-5680.


Geniusofdespair said...

I went to Bok tower yesterday, one of the highest points in Florida if not the highest, thinking I should buy here. Waterfront! I feel your pain. I walked through this landscaped space and yearned for our messy natural trails. As bad as South Florida gets it is a paradise compared to here: Central Florida - the i4 corridor.

Rich people. Not easy to oppose.

Anonymous said...

That area is supposed to be "managed" by the County's environmentally endangered lands program. Is it? Or is it natural? Or is it "messy" because of neglect? What kind of improvements are planned? It's a hidden treasure of open public space that should be enhanced and improved with greater not less accessibility for the public (and dogs,too) How about a real dog park with a fenced area? How about signs for historic and natural area interpretive signs? How about a "natural" playground that teaches kids about how to play in nature? How about parks programming with tours that talk about that oolitic limestone, connecting our past under the sea to our future also under the sea? Use this controversy to bridge to a better future for this area.

Philip Stoddard said...

It's a lovely place. I'm a birder myself, but you've never seen such happy dogs and dog owners as in this little spur of a park. Dogs swim in a pond to retrieve tennis balls, and bound through the high grass off leash if the park guys aren't around. People and pets I've seen there are relaxed and joyous. We need to keep the access open to all well-mannered folk, two-legged or four.

youbetcha' said...

Are they going after the Girl scouts too? Camp Mahachee is located at 9950 Old Cutler Road. The west side of Old Cutler by Matheson Hammock west.

Too many children? They may climb the wall and go into the adjoining properties, rather into the surrounding parks.....

I have a revelation for the surrounding property owners:

If you buy next to an airport, you get plane noise; If you buy next to a marina, you get boat engine noise; If you buy next to a school, you get traffic and kids; and duh, if you buy next to a park, you get green space, trees, wild life and yeah, you get the people who pay taxes to visit "your view" (and your assumed private space?) which was there when you bought your house.

Matheson Hammock Neighbors! Get an alarm system that works, a security guard company that actually patrols, a good fencing company and great native landscaper! That park land belongs to the public and we have been paying it as have our parents before us long before you cared.

I understand your frustration with Fairchild Gardens... Their events have outgrown their space. That is an issue for the county, they allowed it and now that they need to monitor and make the gardens downsize to fit into their footprint. However, keep in mind, that gardens wasn't a surprise to the community surrounding it either. You bought into those particular blocks and area for the benefit and the status of being there next the county's prime park and garden area!

Anonymous said...

What is the correlation between campaign donations to the givers of the Park-Politicians from the Park receivers-Neighbors and in what amounts?

I suspect it will be appalling to see how cheap it is to 'have your way' with our politicians.

Anonymous said...

People should protect our parks. If Gimenez is pandering to a few rich people to keep the public out of a public park he should be recalled.

Antoinette B. Fischer said...

It's the county's responsibility to uphold all of the terms and conditions of the Matheson charter which bequeathed the property to the county for use by the public. If Mayor Gimenez entertains the idea of restricting public access, there will be some serious backlash.
7,500 people signed the online petition to save Matheson Hammock from a high density, and high intensity of use boat storage facility. Those 7,500 voters will again make their will be known, if need be. I know who the "Save our Matheson Hammock" website creators/patrons are, and will notify them, if there is a need. I was one of the activists who worked against the boathouse,and I'll get to work on this and spread the word, (if this plan is not dropped like a hot potato)along with others who will care about the entire Matheson Park and Preserve as long as there are people living here.
I attended the presentation at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, at which the county presented possible plans for upgrades of both properties.
They took written comments and suggestions from the public and there was consensus that the people want only minimal "improvements".One of THOSE IMPROVEMENTS IS TO EXPAND AND IMPROVE THE PARKING FOR THE PRESERVE.The room was very nearly full, and I recognized many "movers and shakers" from the area that received notice of the presentation. Mr. Bruce Matheson was present, and demonstrated his ongoing concern.
Bloggers, you are doing a great public service by keeping us all updated on this issue and so much more. Keep up the good work!
Comment moderation has been enabled. All

Horace G. Feliu said...

As a native of Coral Gables I grew up swimming, fishing and hiking in and around Matheson Hammock. It was a wonderful time before the mansions and gated communities. I remember crabs crossing Old Cutler and the shear joy of exploring our natural beauty.
We taxpayers have to pay close attention and be ready to ward off those that want our treasure for selfish reasons.

Marie D.. Valenti said...

Our County administration has made it very clear that they want to give away, privatize, and cooperate with developers and wealthy land owners. Matheson Hammock is a jewel, many happy memories of the lagoon swim , the grill, and the treasure hunting in the marshes. The County Parks Dept. was one of the hardest hit in the current Mayors budget and they have to fight for their existence. They fared a bit better this year due to the upcoming election. Parks have turned into commercial business's to produce revenue; look at Tropical, Amelia Earhart, and Crandon as examples. Fairchild has become a traffic and parking problem due to the commercialism so it's not fair to say neighbors knew it was there when they bought in the area. What is now occuring has no relationship to the original intent of David Fairchild. The Charles Deering Estate on old Cutler depends on commercial revenue, same as Vizcaya Villa. Let's try to stop this taking of our open, green spaces and speak up,we love Matheson just as it is.

Anonymous said...

First of all, there has never been any kudzu infestations in Matheson Hammock. The vine in question is called skunk vine, or sewer vine, because of it's obnoxious odor. Secondly, dogs are only allowed in designated dog parks, so everyone walking their dogs in Matheson Hammock are doing so illegally. Perhaps the county should officially designate the open grassy areas of the old county nursery as a dog park, or open that area as a campground for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, where they can learn about nature in the adjacent hammock. I don't think ball fields of any kind belong back there because then you create a noise problem and a parking problem. Whatever happens, if the wealthy neighbors don't like it, they can move.