To the Editor:
It is most disappointing that you would not only print the referenced article, since it was so biased and one-sided, but that you would do so without first contacting the Hammock Lakes Homeowners Association to verify your claims.
The Hammock Lakes and Banyan Drive neighborhoods are the only neighborhoods that abut West Matheson Park (the portion of Matheson Hammock Park west of Old Cutler Road). The central portion of this park was once a pristine wetland. Over time this area was filled by Miami-Dade County as a nursery and then as a dumpsite after Hurricane Andrew.
In 1995 our neighborhoods were approached by the Miami-Dade County Parks Department expressing the desire to create a master plan for both the east and west parks. Since then the Parks’ staff has held numerous meetings with our neighborhoods as well as at least three advertised public presentations of the proposed master plan.
The primary objective expressed by the Parks Department for the West Matheson portion was to restore the area to its 1930s condition and to create bike and hiking trails and bathrooms so more of the public could enjoy the park.
In every meeting the Parks’ staff insisted that the access to West Matheson from School House Road would be closed to private vehicles and the parking lot on Old Cutler would be improved and handicapped access provided into the park. The reason given for accessing West Matheson from Old Cutler was that, because of its highly sensitive environmental designation, parking was never to be allowed inside West Matheson only in the existing parking lot on Old Cutler.
It should be noted that the vehicular gate from School House Road was locked and never accessible to the public at all until 2007 when then district commissioner Carlos Gimenez demanded the gate be opened against the wishes of the Parks Department. This ill-advised action was precipitated by dog owners who wanted to drive into the park and let their dogs run off-leash. The reason given for this lobbying effort was that there were handicapped people who had no other means to access the park other than by driving in from School House Road. At no time was it disclosed to the commissioner that the real motive for gaining vehicular access was for dog owners to be able to drive in to the park and claim it for themselves.
In your editorial you state that the park predates our neighborhood implying that we instituted a roving patrol and guardhouse to discourage people from driving through our neighborhood to the park. However, you fail to mention that vehicular access to the park from School House Road was never allowed until eight years ago while our county managed Roving Patrol has been in place for 20 years and our guardhouse has been in the approval process for the past 15 years.
Initiating these services had nothing to do with intimidating dog owners or people wishing to drive through our neighborhood. It is a fact that dogs are not permitted-off leash in Miami-Dade County parks. At present, dogs are not allowed even on leash in East and West Matheson Hammock Park. In meetings with the Parks Department over a 20-year period, the Hammock Lakes neighborhood has never objected to any uses proposed for West Matheson, including allowing dogs.
We have always expressed the desire to see the property improved with trails so it can be enjoyed by more of the public. Actually, it was our suggestion that the master plan include a fenced area where dogs can legally be allowed off-leash.
In summation, the true facts are as follows:
1. The objective of the Parks Department is to restore the park to its 1930s condition with the addition of bike paths, hiking trails and bathrooms;
2. Parking for access to West Matheson on Old Cutler will be improved and will avoid environmental damage from unregulated parking within the park itself;
3. Accommodations will be made for handicapped persons to easily access the park through the nature trail from Old Cutler, and
4. We support setting aside a fenced area within the park in which dogs will be allowed off-leash.
To verify the foregoing, please contact the Planning Division at Miami-Dade Parks Department.
Bill Ogden, Vice President
Hammock Lakes I & II
Homeowners Association, Inc.