Miami-Dade County postpones removal of Miami Lakes park at Northwest 170th Street

Government By Linda Trischitta and David L. Snelling Thursday, March 25, 2021

Miami-Dade County’s plan to remove a Miami Lakes pocket park and barriers to a bridge on March 27 if the town didn’t take them down was put on hold Thursday.

The park -- at Northwest 170th Street on the east side of the bridge which spans Interstate 75 toward Hialeah -- was built in 2019 after the town discovered contractors working near its property without a permit.

The parties will attend a previously scheduled mediation session in April.

The county agreed not to act until the outcome of that meeting is known, Miami Lakes Town Manager Edward Pidermann said.  A county spokesperson couldn’t be reached for comment about its change in plans.

Assistant County Attorney Annery Pulgar Alfonso wrote to town attorney Raul Gastesi Thursday afternoon: "As we discussed, my client has agreed to withhold sending out crews to remove the obstructions on NW 170th street until after the [April 15th] mediation and your client has agreed to cancel any press conferences on the matter. "

The town had announced a press conference and rally for Friday afternoon on its side of the bridge, but those events were postponed, Pidermann said.

The county and Hialeah want to open the bridge to serve traffic from new housing developments in northwestern Hialeah and allow vehicles to flow east and west above I-75 between Hialeah and Miami Lakes.

Hialeah residents living in new gated communities built on the west side of I-75 have just one road, Northwest 97th Avenue, which travels south and north.

They want to be able to enter Miami Lakes at its northern border to access schools in town and ease commutes to the Palmetto Expressway.

The town’s lawsuit against the county, Lennar Homes, LLC and Downrite Engineering & Development Corp. to stop bridge and road construction was dismissed in county circuit court on Oct. 15, 2020.

The town has until April 26 to file its motion in the Third District Court of Appeals that would seek to overturn the county court’s decision.  

Mediation between the town, Hialeah and the county is scheduled for April 15th in Coral Gables.

"If no settlement is reached, then the town will continue with its appeal," Town Attorney Raul Gastesi said. 

Miami Lakes resident Dave Oliver said he's against opening the bridge because he predicted the town will experience more traffic.

Oliver said he was among a group of residents in the early 2000s who urged the town to annex the area.

"I spoke out in favor of it, to land bank the land, so we wouldn't have to deal with gridlock in the future," Oliver said. "I guess the decision [not to annex the area] came back to haunt us."

The county-town conflict escalated after Miami-Dade County Chief Operations Officer Jimmy Morales wrote in a March 17 letter to Pidermann that the town has rejected Lennar’s permit applications for road construction on its side of the bridge.

Morales called the pocket park “an unauthorized closing of Northwest 170th Street by the town” and “an obstruction to the county’s exercise of its exclusive jurisdiction.”

Pidermann wrote back on March 24 and said construction of the bridge could not be completed for two reasons: There is an automatic stay while a court appeal is ongoing and Lennar’s public works permit application had been rejected.

Any actions by the county to open the town’s side of the bridge during the court appeals process and ongoing mediation would be “illegal” and “without proper authority,” Pidermann said.

Pidermann also wrote that Lennar failed to provide information in a traffic study about the safety of the bridge and new road across it, as well as its description of two road extensions “under State Road 826 that are not currently being considered by the Florida Department of Transportation” or how they may help mitigate the negative impact of traffic upon town roads.

The developer also didn’t provide a drainage report, Pidermann wrote.

Lennar's response to Pidermann’s description of its traffic study was not immediately available.

Sen. Rene Garcia, Miami-Dade County commissioner for District 13 which includes the town, also wrote to Morales on March 24.

Garcia said he was “surprised” to learn "secondhand" of Morales’ efforts, and that county’s steps to open the bridge may be “premature” and “a waste of taxpayer resources” while the town’s court appeal has not yet been heard.

The timing of Morales’ letter was “curious,” Garcia wrote, and he advised the county to reconsider its plans and allow the legal process to take its course.

Other longtime residents are also opposed to opening the bridge.

Neill Robinson, who has lived in Miami Lakes for over 30 years, said the new byway would bring more traffic close to his back yard, near Northwest 87th Avenue and Northwest 146th Street, in the Lake Elizabeth neighborhood.

"It's a real concern for residents because we moved here for the quality of life but realized there's some development since we moved to Miami Lakes," he said. 

Robinson said he hopes the town and the county can find another solution besides opening up the bridge to move traffic on Hialeah's side of the interstate.

"I hope something can be done," he said. "I hope they don't open it up."

Dottie Wix lives in Celebration Point, east of Northwest 67th Avenue, and that more traffic will slow her down while doing errands on the west side of town.

Wix said sometimes she drops off a friend who lives on Northwest 170th Street in Palm Springs North, and it takes her a long time to back out of the driveway because of the bumper-to-bumper traffic.

"I think it's horrible if they open up the bridge," she said. "And it's ridiculous that they want the town to take down the park."

The escalating conflict was first reported Thursday by The Miami Herald.

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