Bridge conflict continues with county threat to remove park

Featured By Linda Trischitta and David L. Snelling Thursday, April 1, 2021

The ongoing conflict between Miami-Dade County, Hialeah and Miami Lakes over whether to open the Northwest 170th Street bridge and remove a town park the county says is in the way, is in a cooling off period.

But that doesn’t mean peace is at hand. There’s still mediation to get through and, if that fails, a pending appeals court case.

Miami-Dade County Chief Operations Officer Jimmy Morales wrote to Miami Lakes Town Manager Edward Pidermann on March 17
to declare that if the town didn’t dismantle the park in 10 days, the county would “clear the subject area” and bill the town for the costs.

On March 25, Miami Lakes announced plans for a press conference and rally for the site.

The county blinked.

“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,” Annery Pulgar Alfonso, assistant county attorney, said in an email to Town Attorney Raul Gastesi.

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 on its property without a town permit.

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

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

They want to be able to enter Miami Lakes at its northern border to get to schools in the area 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 in October 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,” Gastesi, the town attorney said.

 

Miami Lakes resident Dave Oliver said he’s against opening the bridge because he predicts 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 west of I-75.

“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 [to not annex the area] came back to haunt us.”

Morales also wrote in his March 17 letter that Miami Lakes has rejected Lennar’s permit applications for road construction on the town’s 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 said in his March 24 letter that 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 pending mediation would be “illegal” and “without proper authority,” Pidermann wrote.

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 did not respond
to The Miami Laker’s request for comment regarding Pidermann’s description of its traffic study.

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 “second hand” 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 also opposed 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 North- west 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 the bridge to move traffic from 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 said more traffic will slow her down while she does errands on the west side of town.

Wix said she occasionally 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 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.”

Pidermann ended his
letter to Morales by writing, “The county cannot force the town to provide Lennar, or any other contractor, with a permit that may jeopardize the town’s safety and encroach on its exclusive right to maintain its roadways.

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