There has been a recent outpouring of protest against a proposal by Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation Department to build a boat warehouse in Matheson Hammock Park.
The proposed warehouse would be five stories tall and house 360 boats in the park, which is located down Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables. The project has been approved by Miami-Dade County and is being supported by Miami resident Marc Buoniconti and developers Aqua Marine Partners.
Currently, there are more than 250 boats stored there.
The park is a popular destination for locals and is a favorite spot for kite boarders. It is home to the restaurant Red Fish Grill, a marina and a snack bar.
“It’s one of the oldest, most natural historic parks in Dade County,” said Deallo T. Johnson, a park manager at Matheson Hammock. “It’s good for the community that people can come and enjoy themselves.”
Coral Gables resident Doris Kuehnl has been visiting Matheson for 20 years.
“The park hasn’t changed much,” she said. “It has always been an idyllic place. I’d hate for it to get spoiled.”
Many Coral Gables residents and environmentalists are protesting the potential project because of its effects on the mangroves located within the park.
“Mangroves are a buffer against hurricane storm surges for the area directly inland of them,” said Terri Hood, the assistant director of UM’s undergraduate ecosystem science and policy program. “They also protect from erosion from regular storm waves and serve as a nursery for fish.”
However, senior Ryan McMinds feels that the location of the warehouse will also play an important factor in how much impact its construction will have. The project’s developers have yet to state exactly where the warehouse will be built.
“Direct damage to the ecosystem would be minimal if they put over the parking lot,” said McMinds, who is majoring in marine science and biology. “If they are cutting out the mangroves or mud slats, that would be a big deal.”
The warehouse would also increase traffic to an area that is already congested, Hood said. Matheson Hammock receives approximately 1,000 visitors every weekend. This booms to 23,000 visitors every weekend during the summer months.
Another problem, according to Hood, is that the park is going to be “poster child for sea level rise” in the future. The park is currently often flooded during high tide, and this will continue to worsen in the future. Any destruction of the mangroves will further aggravate the problem.
“I’ve been in a situation where my husband and I went to the restaurant and we get there fine but then a few hours later when the tide come up, we had to drive through salt water to get home,” she said. “My husband had to replace a part in his engine because of it.”
An online petition was launched by local residents on the website saveourmathesonhammock.com to oppose the construction of the warehouse.
Despite all the objections, Coral Gables has yet to approve any such project and the developer, Aqua Marine Partners, has not even filed a formal application with the city, said Craig Leen, attorney for Coral Gables. The city has the final say in whether the warehouse is built or not.
Once the application is filed, it must be approved by the city’s board of architects, historic preservation board, and planning and zoning board before it will be presented to Coral Gables’ commissioners.
So far, the group in charge of the saveourmathesonhammock.com has gone before the Coral Gables Development Review Committee (DRC) to protest the issue, Leen said. However, the DRC is only responsible for telling applicants what boards must approve their proposal prior to it being presented to the commission.
Until a formal public hearing is held to discuss the project, city officials are not allowed to discuss the details of the proposal, according to Frank Quesada, a Coral Gables commissioner.
During this public hearing, citizens will be allowed to comment on the issue and commissioners will vote whether to allow the construction to proceed or not.
According to Leen, it could take several months before the project is brought before the commission.