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.