It’s rich vs. super rich in Florida boat battle

Miami HeraldFebruary 13, 2012 

Here’s something to make the one percent boiling mad: Try putting a big warehouse for regular rich folks’ boats in their backyard.

And if that backyard also happens to be a much-loved, historic and ecologically sensitive park?

Sit back and watch the sparks fly.

A plan by Miami-Dade County and famed former Miami Dolphin Nick Buoniconti and his son Marc to erect an $18 million, five-story dry-stack building for 360 powerboats in Matheson Hammock Park’s marina has run into a veritable buzzsaw of opposition from its Coral Gables neighbors, including multi-millionaire HMO entrepreneur Miguel “Mike” Fernandez and his Gables Estates neighbor, Miami Heat President Pat Riley.

Fernandez — who paid $21 million for a house on a point of land overlooking the tranquil bayfront park and tore it down to build a massive mega-mansion — is bankrolling an opposition campaign that has the incensed Buonicontis, whose partnership won a competitive bid to build and manage the boathouse for the county, up against the ropes.

Complaining that he would hear noise generated by the operation and see the building’s roofline from his house, which sits 4,000 feet across an inlet from the park, Fernandez has hired a PR. firm, two prominent zoning attorneys, a traffic engineer and a noise expert to fight it. He also created a web site with a video ripping the plan that has generated 4,000 anti-boathouse petitions. Last week, Fernandez and several allies filed suit against the county.

Elected officials in Coral Gables, which has zoning jurisdiction over the county park because it lies inside city boundaries, have been deluged with hundreds of angry letters and emails, including an impassioned plea from Riley, who wrote to Coral Gables Commissioner Ralph Cabrera that he felt “like someone kicked me in the gut’’ when he found out about the plan.

At a meeting last week in neighboring Pinecrest, where the village council is weighing a resolution opposing the boathouse, several people vowed to lie down in front of the bulldozers should the project be approved, a tactic previously employed by some Pinecrest residents opposed to a new sidewalk. The vehemence has surprised even some veteran Gables politicians accustomed to fierce planning scraps. Fernandez says he’s just trying to protect a valuable public asset from out-of-scale, out-of-place development.

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