Barricade Feature

If Barbara North Burton could keep time in a bottle, the evening of March 11, 1989, would rank right up there with Dom Perignon. On that gorgeous Saturday night it seemed the whole Village of Miami Shores turned out to rally behind her dream - a plan to erect permanent barricades on dozens of village streets. At dusk residents massed in Memorial Park, off Northeast Second Avenue, to wash down hors d'oeuvres with wine, then caravaned ten blocks east, where rows of candlelit tables awaited them in front of Burton's spacious manor. Chefs from a newly opened Red Lobster restaurant fried up fresh fish and chips, while kids frolicked with the eatery's towering crustacean mascot. The line for grub snaked around the block. After dinner the throng headed north, curving past Miami Shores Country Club for the final leg of the epicurean relay: homemade desserts. Candidates for village council spoke briefly to the crowd, then a disc jockey was trotted out to spin Fifties records for those who could still move.

"That night was faaaabulous," Burton recalls, animating her normally businesslike tone. "Everyone was outside. We had 2000 people on my front lawn and folks dancing in the streets. It was like we turned the clock back twenty years." Seated in her Biscayne Boulevard law office, the attorney hovers over a map, retracing the revelers' path with press-on nails the color of pale cherries. For Burton, a driving force behind the campaign to seal off village streets, the bash marked a political watershed. "I remember going out to some of those neighborhoods the first time around, and people were so apathetic about street closures I wanted to cry. I think the street party proved that we'd won them over." A month after the fete, voters passed a referendum to fund the barricades by hiking property taxes for the next five years. The measure, approved by a hearty 58 to 41 percent margin, is expected to raise up to $700,000 for barrier installation and maintenance by 1994.

But just two-and-a-half years later, as the village council limps toward granting final approval to the closure plan's second phase, the only parties being discussed are the sort associated with lawsuits. And the barriers intended to restore the Shores's halcyon days instead have driven a wedge through this well-trimmed North Dade community of 10,000. "People are digging their heels in on this one," warns Bryan Smith, an anti-barricade activist whose family moved to the Shores 46 years ago. "Feelings are running real deep. You hear talk of class-action suits, civil disobedience, even secession. This thing's going to get uglier before it gets settled. We're looking at the granddaddy of all barricade fights."

Granddaddy indeed. While many of Dade's municipalities are just beginning to wrestle with the barricade issue, the Shores's squabble over street closures stretches back more than a decade. The debate began in earnest in 1982, when a clutch of citizens living east of Biscayne Boulevard presented council members with a petition requesting that their street be closed. Though that petition was rejected, complaints mounted about cut-through traffic from nearby I-95 and criminals cruising the streets off Biscayne. Worried citizens continued to lobby for barricades. By 1987, when councilmen staged a villagewide crime symposium at nearby Barry University, concern had reached critical mass. Then-Mayor Spero Canton put Burton in charge of a task force to generate solutions. The group quickly made street closures its top priority.

Burton set to work canvassing different areas for input. She and Canton, a smooth-talking former TV reporter, invited crime experts such as Fort Lauderdale Police Capt. Paul Urschalitz to extol the virtues of barricades - or "environmental design devices" as proponents refer to them - for the local populace. The task force mailed out slick flyers that featured photos of children cavorting in the street and others snugly bundled in bed; all safe, the kid-scrawled captions assured, because of barricades.

The most vocal opponent of the plan was James Condit, a crusty retired rear admiral and former Miami Shores mayor. He argued that taxing citizens more than half a million dollars to pay for the barricades was a fiscally irresponsible ploy, engineered by elitists bent on privatizing their streets while others suffered increased traffic and decreased mobility. "You should have seen the way these jokers pushed this thing through, all the propaganda," says Condit, spitting out his words like nails. "They told you barricades were going to save your life, when all they've done is turn this damn town into a crossword puzzle."

But the ragtag resistance posed by Condit and his followers proved no match for the barricades' savvy boosters. After a seemingly endless series of combative meetings, modifications, and votes, the council bestowed final approval for Phase I in the fall of 1989. By the end of that year, temporary barriers had been installed in 65 locations, mostly on the perimeter of the 2.5-square-mile town. With a few notable exceptions, Condit among them, the first phase was well-received. What has reawakened the beast of civic strife is a proposed second wave that includes a dozen barricades lining North Miami Avenue. Residents living on the village's western fringe fear this array will effectively cut them off from the rest of the Shores. Those east of the busy artery are equally vehement in demanding that the protective blockades go up. The unofficial spokesmen for each side are intelligent, reasonable men. They are also dead set against compromise.

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