Boat access is a right not a privilege

Grant Miller

Hometown hero Marc Buoniconti had the good fortune to be approved by Miami-Dade County to build a long-overdue boat storage facility at Matheson Hammock Park. After more than 12 years of due diligence to research and see the project through to completion, Buoniconti and partner Andy Sturner are enduring slings and arrows aimed at them from rabid environmentalists and one deep-pocketed disturbed neighbor.

In an emotional drama pitting extremely affluent home owners with yachts on wet slips off Biscayne Bay against their lesser privileged water sports loving neighbors (who must settle for a marina to store their boat because Coral Gables won’t permit parking it at their inland residence), the battle of the wet slippers vs. the drydockers is on.

The central protagonists in this story are both accomplished men. Miami was introduced to Buoniconti under tragic circumstances in 1985 when the son of Miami Dolphins “perfect season” linebacker Nick Buoniconti was paralyzed in a spinal cord injury during a college football game for The Citadel. A Miami boy since the age of three when, in 1969, his dad was traded from the Boston Patriots to the Dolphins, Buoniconti grew up on a canal in Pinecrest and dove, swam, boated and fished his way through adolescence like so many of us. Today he is president of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, a University of Miami-based, not-for-profit organization that has raised more than $360 million to date toward a cure for spinal cord injury.

It seems health care industry mogul Mike Fernandez has 70 million reasons to fight the boat storage facility, according to Buoniconti. Apparently Fernandez got shut down by the Gables Estates Homeowners Association when he submitted plans for a 45-foot-high mansion for his $70 million residence, but was forced to cap it at 35 feet. Has he taken his wrath from the proposed house height rejection or “building envy” out on the county-approved boat storage facility project across the water?

Noticing the traffic jams along Old Cutler Road where boaters were attempting to launch their vessels, Buoniconti decided to do some more research. Observing the disorganized stacks at Haulover and Grove Key, the congestion on the Miami River and the multi-year waits for a dry dock slip, it occurred to Buoniconti that an ADA compliant marina at Matheson Hammock Park in Coral Gables was the only solution, and a potentially promising business venture.

After investing 12 years in presentations to mayors, commissioners, affected neighbors, and spending years on environmental impact studies, manatee studies, traffic and land value studies, and over a year negotiating lease details with the county, Buoniconti and Sturner beat out four other proposals and won the county bid with their $17 million facility proposal. The fact that they were not requesting any variances for building on the site helped them score the win. Their plan suggests an improvement to the ecology by keeping oil, gas and bilge water spills contained indoors.

Now I’m not a boater and, frankly, I wish I could sit around all day and worry about the increased decibel levels of sound off my bayfront back yard or the .19 acres of mangrove mitigation required in the commercial boat storage, fuel dock and restaurant area of a 630-acre park. Most of us only get to drive by the land around Old Cutler and wonder at the beauty that lies behind the huge camouflaging Live Oak trees, ficus and Royal Palms that mask the view to the water where the multimillionaires eventually took over; I mean, settled down.

The questions here are simple ones of access and equality. Demystifying the well-financed smear campaign of one displeased affected party who has capitalized on the disenfranchised environmentalist camp to build his case, when all area residents have a right to public park resources.

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8 Comments for “Boat access is a right not a privilege”

  1. Erik

    Contrary to your story, those opposed to this plan are not just gazillionaires living on the water in Cutler Ridge. There are plenty of middle class folks that could only dream of living near Matheson Hammockk (like me). Now, I'll gladly admit to being a "rabid environmentalist"; it's a label that more people in South Florida could use. What we object to is not the fact that some rich people's sight lines will be degraded while sitting on their bayside verandas. My objection relates to the fact that Matheson Hammock is one of the few green areas that haven't been plowed under for strip malls and tract housing in South Florida. A plan – ANY plan – that calls for development of this scale smack in the middle of a prized open space is going to be opposed by me. I grew up visiting Matheson Hammock, playing in the water at the lagoon, poking around in the mangroves, looking at algae in the bay. These kinds of experiences are what is at stake here. Your shortsighted and biased attempt to frame this issue as a little guy boat owner vs millionaire debate misses the real point entirely.

  2. #savematheson Mr. Miller, I find it ironic that you didn't mention the fact that the City of Pinecrest disapproved of this development when you are writing this story for a Pinecrest community newspaper. Did you attend the hearing? Making this a one-percenter issue is incredibly misinformed. Over 7,000 petition signers can't all be rich people living off Cutler road, can they?

    You are patently wrong about this: we environmentalists are not rabid and we are not disenfranchised. We have great power.

    You are, however, right about this: "all area residents have a right to public park resources" … yes, including regular folk who enjoy the park as pedestrians, cyclists, inshore angles, swimmers and so on. We do not have an issue with the Buonicontis or development. We just don't want MORE development in Matheson Hammock.

  3. Denise

    Oh please! What about people who want to enjoy Matheson Hammock with their kids without having this low cost entertainment option destroyed by the increased traffic, noise and environmental impact? What about those of us that want the "right to public park resources" that aren't overrun with people? You paint a completely biased picture of the people who are against the boat warehouse. This is a horrible piece and you should be ashamed!

  4. Kevin

    What a ridiculously inaccurate article.
    Trying to play the 'environmentalist" card and the "big,bad millionaire" card at the same time are you? You conveniently forgot to mention the thousands of people fighting against this warehouse who are neither environmentalists nor millionaires. I am a middle class boat captain who is not in any way considered an 'environmentalist' who opposes this ill-conceived project in a passive, municipal park that was designed primarily for non-boaters.
    You are mistaken. Boat access in and of itself is a right. But boat access in a Public Park such as Matheson Hammock is most definitely a privilege.

    Put me down as a second displeased affected party.

  5. Elaine Morden

    Hey Grant ,If you take out the Mangroves,you take away the Nursery's for all the fish the boater's want to catch!With the run-off increase you will be able to view the Algae blooms up close and personal,and the smell will not entice Diners.But if you really expect the public to feel sorry for the people with enough wealth to live in the Gables,and own a boat that they can launch at Matheson Hammock,you must be kidding.So all us "Rabid Environmentalist"Think that a State Park was created so that all people could enjoy the best Nature has to offer.You think that we should ruin a Park for the financial gain of a corp.?Maybe you should investigate a little further Maybe talk to the Biscayne Waterkeeper and actually have some facts about impact of the construction.You have many facts about Marc ,but none about the actual building or the outcome on the Park itself.I was born and raised in Pincrest,and let me tell you Marc IS NOT MY HOMETOWN HERO,he is a short-sighted man trying to make a lot of money at others expense! When you said that most of us can only drive down old Cutler and never enjoying the view,Liar,you can drive,walk,cycle to the Park and Boat, Kayak,Canoe,Swim but first you must get out of the car!!!!You article is biased and untrue please get the facts before you champion someone with no community or environmental concern.

  6. Lynn M.

    I grew up in Pinecrest and live in the Gables. The fact is you can keep your boat at your home,even in Coral Gables, as long as it is behind the front elevation of your home as per city code. This fact was also misrepresented by The Miami Herald as well. I have kept my boat at home for over 18 years.

    The real point is about responsible development . This project just doesn't fit the area. Then you have the precedent of one being built how about 5 more- Crandon, Homestead, Haulover, and all other county owned parks?? I sure hope not.

  7. ARTURO MARTINEZ

    You jumped on Mr. B. boat and missed the opinion of hundreds of middle class boat users like me,NO WAY,this is not a millionaire against another but a greedy millonaire against the citizens of DADE COUNTY,what a disgrace to write about an issue foreign to you.Mathesson facilities are being oversused now and the proposed facility would be a disfavor to the present thousands of users and a favor to a millionaire.WE< THE PEOPLE ARE AGAINST THE PROPOSAL.

  8. Afernan222

    Wow. How could you possibly have so missed the point of Gables citizens' opposition to this massive storage facility in our park?

    How could you have completely ignored those of us who use the park? Those of us who canoe the surrounding waters, those of us who sail. Those THOUSANDS of us who regularly bike the trails, or enjoy the tranquility of the beach with our kids. Those of us who bird watch or simply enjoy walking the park.
    How could you ignore us — the thousands, if not tens of thousands who enjoy the park regularly, but either do not have the "mega-mansions" on the water, or are wanting to rape and pillage our public lands for the private profit of a few already rich reckless opportunists! Who will convey our concerns?
    Forget the manatees living and feeding in these already overcrowded waterways, the protected mangroves and, yes, the sightline and tranquility of our park. But how about US! Those of us who want to continue to enjoy the park regularly and want to be able to do so without the destruction brought on by this horrific, for-private profit massive storage facility.

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