By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
And that menacing barbed wire? It's angled out from the park's interior, designed to send an unambiguous message to those who approach it: Keep out.
Inside the fence, where hikers and bicyclists roamed freely for years, where sunbathers followed jungle trails to isolated beaches and fishermen tried their luck near Bear Cut bridge A inside the fence there will be no free-roaming activity of any sort, at least not by humans. For the most part, there will be no access whatsoever, and that which will be allowed is expected to be tightly regulated and constantly supervised.
The fence is but the most visible of many dramatic changes scheduled for Crandon Park, the county's largest public sanctuary. Bear Cut Preserve, the 133-acre area in the process of being fenced, is already evolving rapidly. Running south along Crandon Boulevard and east to the ocean, much of it is being returned to its former incarnation as a mangrove swamp. It's being lowered in elevation, inundated by tidal wash from newly cut channels, and planted with thousands of mangrove seedlings. This sort of ecological rehabilitation is expensive, and the county intends to protect its investment by blocking the easy access that's been available for nearly 50 years.
Outside the fenced area, the boulevard is going to be landscaped with myriad coconut palms and lush vegetation, as are picnic areas and the beach. In addition, the old carousel and beachfront cabanas at the southern end of the park will be restored. The children's petting zoo, a favorite of years gone by, is also scheduled to return. More picnic tables will appear throughout the park.
If that's the easy part, here's where it gets tough: Park planners have scrapped a proposal, approved by the Dade County Commission in 1991, to expand the Center for Environmental Education (CEE), a 25-year-old public schools program housed at Crandon that caters to inner-city children. The park's two softball fields will be dismantled and transformed into open meadows. The tennis courts, children's playground, and the recreation center at Calusa Park, across the boulevard, will be razed and replaced by another open meadow. (Calusa Park is a misnomer as it exists entirely within the boundaries of Crandon Park.) The historic Calusa Playhouse will be moved to the old zoo (now known as the Gardens at Crandon Park) and converted to a teaching facility. The former zoo's ambitiously planned transformation to a unique center for art and nature has also been tossed out. At Sundays on the Bay, the popular waterfront restaurant and bar, after its lease expires in four years, there'll be no more liquor without food, no more live music after dusk, and no dance floor to tempt those who feel the rhythm.
Most of these sweeping changes and many others unfolding today and proposed for the future are a testament to the single-mindedness of one of Miami's most venerable families -- the Mathesons -- whose success in bargaining with Dade County officials over the fate of Crandon Park is also a testament to the county's desperate desire to avoid spending more time and money on legal battles.
Those battles began eight years ago when the Matheson family sued the county in an attempt to block development of a permanent stadium to accommodate the Lipton tennis tournament. The result has been a negotiated settlement that includes the creation of a complex and detailed master plan for the park, and a tremendous amount of power over that plan for Bruce Matheson, devoted guardian of his family's treasured gift to the people of Dade County -- the nearly 1000 acres of land now known as Crandon Park.
A comprehensive master plan expected to guide the park's development for generations to come was delivered three years ago. Since then Bruce Matheson, on behalf of his family, has raised scores of "objections" to it and has been able to modify it in ways so significant -- some say so radical -- that he has made adversaries of the very people who, just a short while ago, considered him a hero.
Theodora Long, executive director of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center, which provides support to the CEE, says Matheson is petulant, dictating his own agenda and ignoring the needs of county residents: "They [county officials] have carte blanche around the tennis stadium, and the Mathesons have a noose around your neck for the rest of the park."
Valerie Cassidy, who has volunteered at the Gardens at Crandon Park since 1988, complains that Matheson's personal vision for the old zoo contradicts a special plan that was painstakingly developed and then approved by county commissioners. Metro-Dade bureaucrats, she asserts, have simply caved in to his demands. "We're just concerned that the master plan that had public input is being discarded," she says. "What's the point of doing all this for all these years, getting money and having it donated? They want you for a while, but when you don't fit into their plans, they just get rid of you."
John Festa, mayor of Key Biscayne, finds himself at odds with Matheson over the elimination of Crandon's softball fields and the planned razing of the facilities at Calusa Park, on the west side of the boulevard at Crandon's southern boundary. "The bottom line is that the county has abdicated its control of Crandon Park," he proclaims, "and we the people of Dade County are going to be the losers if we don't watch it and understand it and agree with it. Many of the things Matheson wants may be very good, many of them may not be. . . . This is a big issue; it's not Key Biscayne going against what the county does because we only want what's best for Key Biscayne."
Howard Gregg is chief of planning and research for Metro-Dade's Park and Recreation Department -- not exactly the sort of person who would qualify as a meddlesome outsider. Yet he has criticized Matheson's modifications to the master plan, as well as the exclusionary method by which those changes have been made. "I don't question Bruce Matheson's motives -- his heart, his desire to do what he believes is best for Crandon Park," Gregg says. "My concern has been that we have to be responsive to the public, and that not only includes the demand for certain kinds of recreational opportunities but also for the quality of the experience. In a culturally diverse community like Dade County, it's not as simple as saying a park should be this, this, and this."
Even Artemas Richardson, the nationally respected landscape architect who created the master plan, is threatening to disavow it now that Matheson has succeeded in drastically revising it. He wants his name removed from the document.
Despite increasingly strident opposition to his singular influence over Crandon Park's future, Bruce Matheson is steadfast in his conviction that he knows what is best for the park and the public. "Everybody would like to have exactly what they want," he says, "but we are working with sixteen different special-interest groups and we think we will come up with the best possible agreement [with the county] that will benefit Crandon Park. There are probably people who fail to look at the big picture -- to maintain the integrity of the whole park for all future generations."
The whole park, as Matheson refers to it, stretches from the northern tip of Key Biscayne two miles south to the village's city limits, from the Atlantic to Biscayne Bay, and consists of more components than most people realize: the marina, boat ramps, moorings, and dive shop adjacent to Sundays on the Bay; the Links at Key Biscayne golf course, driving range, clubhouse, pro shop, tennis courts, and restaurant; the sprawling tennis center and its associated facilities; various storage and maintenance yards; Calusa Park and its tennis courts, playground, recreation center, and historic theater; a county fire station; the Gardens, Center for Environmental Education, cabanas, carousel, concession booths, and picnic areas of the park's eastern half; three significant archaeological sites; three ecological preserves comprising some 450 acres; and of course the world-famous beach itself.
Though multifaceted, Crandon's integrity as a park was challenged on October 27, 1987, when county work crews began ripping out a swath of palms, gumbo-limbos, and other trees growing in Crandon Boulevard's median. The demolition was part of a planned overpass designed to accommodate pedestrian traffic to and from the two-year-old Lipton tournament. "There had been nothing in the papers," recalls Betty Sime, a long-time Key Biscayne activist and current councilwoman. "The county said, 'Oh yeah, we told you all about it,' but we never saw a picture. They didn't say they were cutting down two acres of the most gorgeous trees."
After a hastily convened protest by Key Biscayne residents, who literally blocked the bulldozers, the overpass idea was jettisoned. But controversy over the tennis center and the Lipton tournament was far from over. The next year debate centered on the tournament promoters' hopes for a new stadium with up to 12,000 seats. Opponents of the county's efforts to build such a structure in the park pointed to the decades-old deed that conveyed the property to Dade County. Contained in that deed was a restriction prohibiting commercialization of the park. The deed's author was Hugh M. Matheson, Bruce's grandfather.
Since the early 1900s, the Matheson family had owned the majority of the key's 2270 acres, most of them in cultivation as a vast coconut plantation. In 1940, Dade County Commissioner Charles Crandon approached Hugh Matheson with the idea of donating some of the family's land for a park. "I explained the proposition to them in this manner: The county would undertake to build an excellent causeway to the key if they would agree to donate the two northern miles of their land to the county for providing a free park to the public," Crandon wrote in a memoir he called Country Bumpkin. "After much pro and con discussion, the Matheson family agreed to give these two miles at the north end of the key to the county. They recognized that it would make the remaining land they owned immensely valuable once the causeway was built and in use, which is exactly what happened."
The family deeded 975 acres to the county with the proviso that the land forever be used for "public park purposes only." The opening of the new park, which was named in honor of the commissioner, coincided with the completion of the Rickenbacker Causeway in 1947. Thousands of visitors now swarmed onto an island whose previous guests had been restricted to the Tuttles, the Deerings, and other members of Miami's social elite. "The Matheson family wasn't overly excited about the development of Key Biscayne," Bruce Matheson says today. "As a matter of fact, they stopped the road at the end of Crandon Park and it wasn't developed further until 1951." Despite their misgivings, the Mathesons' coconut palms soon gave way to streets and stores and homes and hotels.
Crandon Park itself also underwent significant changes. The county added the zoo, the carousel, cabanas, the marina, and a variety of sports fields, including a modern running track that became the site of a popular ABC television program called Superstars. All this attention, Matheson says, shifted the emphasis away from the park's unique natural resources and toward sports-oriented recreation.
In Matheson's view, the park has become a hodgepodge of confusing development. The east side has the beaches and picnic areas and untamed expanses of mangrove, while the bay side contains "country club" facilities such as the golf course and marina. Activities at other regional parks are more commonly tied to their natural resources exclusively (the Oleta River State Recreation Area is an example), but Crandon is unusual because it contains ball fields, tennis courts, and other facilities typical of a neighborhood park. Matheson also alleges that the county has been a bad steward and has allowed the cabanas, zoo grounds, and other amenities to deteriorate.
The planned development of a tennis stadium for the Lipton tournament spurred the Mathesons' personal involvement anew. From 1988 to 1991, the family filed three separate lawsuits intended to derail the project, regain control of the tennis center site, and possibly to recapture the entire park. Undaunted by the threat, the county signed a $15.9 million construction contract to build the stadium. By the time a circuit court judge ordered a halt to construction in May 1992, Metro had already spent five million dollars, and stood to lose millions more in special state tax dollars it had won for the project. Although the county mounted a successful appeal and resumed work on the project, the possibility of another stoppage loomed large.
Subsequently county officials organized a clandestine meeting in Boston during Thanksgiving week of 1992. Harvard professor Roger Fisher, an expert in conflict resolution, was enlisted to serve as mediator. In the county's corner were attorney Robert Ginsburg and then-manager Joaquin Avino. Matheson brought along attorney Frank Burt. "They opened with a story about these two women," Matheson recalls. "There was one orange on the table and both of them wanted it. So what were you going to do? Cut the orange in half? Well, when you found out in conversation that one of them wanted orange juice and the other wanted to make marmalade, you let one person have all the juice and you let the other person have all the skin and they were both happy."
After two days of intense discussion, the team forged a tentative agreement. The county invited Matheson to become an equal partner in all decisions related to the park's development. In exchange, Matheson agreed to drop two of three lawsuits and allow stadium construction to continue uninterrupted. In addition, the agreement specified numerous development guidelines for facilities throughout the park. "What we did was negotiate with the county about what we felt were the important things about the park," Matheson explains. "We said there would be no gambling or wagering because we didn't want a casino there. We said no overnight accommodations. Essentially what we were looking for was a way to preclude a virtual ouster of the public by any private group that might get hold of the park."
A master plan for Crandon would be prepared by the Olmsted Office, revered designers of New York City's Central Park, and implemented only if approved by both parties. After months of work and input from Matheson, the public, and county park professionals, Olmsted's proposal was approved by the Dade commission in July 1993, but was still subject to change by either the county or the Matheson family.
Olmsted president Artemas Richardson sought to cure the park's schizophrenic identity by creating a uniform style for all buildings and signs and eliminating advertising from the boulevard, golf course, tennis stadium, and elsewhere throughout the park. He proposed reducing the boulevard's speed limit and creating traffic circles to slow commuters. A subtly elevated vehicular overpass would allow pedestrians and bicyclists safe passage under the roadway. At the marina, the northern parking lot would be eliminated and landscaped, a number of structures rebuilt and relocated, and Sundays on the Bay eventually transformed from a sometimes raucous entertainment bar to a low-key restaurant with early closing hours.
Richardson limited the height of light poles at the golf course, tennis center, and other areas of the park. The tennis courts, theater, playground, and recreation building at Calusa Park would remain and be upgraded. Bear Cut Preserve would be restored with mangroves and separated from the rest of the park by a fence, while hikers and bicyclists would be confined to specific trails and not allowed to wander. Intense plantings of new foliage would be undertaken in many locations, notably along Crandon Boulevard. A dramatically landscaped esplanade would divide the two parking lots and offer an uninterrupted vista from the boulevard to the sea. The Gardens would be developed according to their own master plan. And using the settlement agreement as a template, Richardson defined Matheson's goal of permanently shielding the new tennis stadium from view.
Any objections to the Olmsted plan, which ran to 77 pages and addressed fifteen distinct areas within the park, would be governed by the settlement agreement between the county and the Mathesons. A five-member committee made up of two Matheson appointees, two county employees, and an "independent park professional" acceptable to both parties would resolve any intractable disputes.
To date Bruce Matheson has filed at least 69 objections with the county, but the committee has never been formed. County Attorney Robert Ginsburg argues that there hasn't been a need for it. "Say we can't reach an agreement on something," he offers. "Then we would present our various positions to this committee. And the committee makes a decision and it may be something the Mathesons don't like or something the county doesn't like or something neither party likes. So it's preferable to reach agreement between the parties directly if we can." (The county has filed no objections to the Olmsted master plan.)
Matheson's objections have ranged from the minuscule (precise language on park signs) to the monumental (deletion of the proposed traffic circles and vehicular overpass). Generally they attempt to further his goal of shifting the park's emphasis from organized activity to passive recreation A with a few notable exceptions such as restoration of the carousel and reintroduction of the children's petting zoo. Overall, though, Matheson has made it clear he wants less, not more, even when that conflicts with the Olmsted vision: raze everything at Calusa Park, demolish the county fire station if its use changes, restrict activities at the Gardens, and so on.
Virtually all of Matheson's original objections have been accepted by the county and incorporated into what is now considered to be a draft of a master plan, a work in progress. But new objections have been raised more recently, and according to county parks planning chief Howard Gregg, they are "increasingly specific." For example, Matheson now wants to define precisely how many and what types of trees can be planted near the marina, along the boulevard, and elsewhere. He is also prescribing visitor-center details such as "a seven-minute or longer audio/video presentation."
Critics of the plan's current draft describe Matheson as a dictator (albeit a benevolent one) who is wielding his leverage like a club and promoting an agenda for the park that is myopic and impractical. "The whole thing has not been thought out," complains Theodora Long, of the Biscayne Nature Center. "When the county signed the agreement with the Mathesons, they agreed to anything as long as they could continue building Lipton. They sold their soul so they could have the stadium."
Frank Faragalli, a parks department official who has been acting as the county's liaison with the Mathesons, acknowledges that from the outset of negotiations, Metro-Dade has not been operating from a position of strength. "At that point, right or wrong about the process, the stadium was under construction," he says. "There was a [construction] contract already out. We were talking about grant monies. We were talking about construction delays that were going to add to the cost of the contract because they were no fault of the contractors. So I think under those conditions, the county was under some pressure to come to the table."
The first to get clobbered by Matheson's new-found clout was the Center for Environmental Education, which is run out of a double-wide trailer near the southern edge of the Bear Cut Preserve. The center, which opened in 1971, provides tours of sea beds, hammocks, and other local ecosystems for Dade's inner-city students.
In July 1991, Dade commissioners approved an expansion that would have more than quadrupled the size of the center and doubled the number of visiting students to 30,000 annually. Theodora Long says the state endorsed the plan in January 1992 and approved $1.8 million in funding. The Russell Partnership designed a new, 18,000-square-foot building. But Matheson killed the expansion. Long says he initially wanted to remove the entire facility. "I can't get Mr. Matheson mad at us again," she says with trepidation. "He might decide to pull the whole thing again. The last time, he saw MAST Academy down the street [on Virginia Key] and he said he didn't need a school facility in the park. We wanted to double the size of the facility, but now we are just going to stay the same, which is better than nothing. If we weren't there, that would be even worse."
The changes proposed for Crandon and Calusa Park have rocked the Village of Key Biscayne. "Whatever he [Matheson] decides, that's all that matters," says Councilwoman Betty Sime, who counted Matheson as an ally during the initial dispute over the tennis stadium. "He may say a rock is blue and the next day it's green, and they are just jumping for him. I think it's unfair for one single person to decide the fate of this whole park." Sime argues that Matheson's emphasis on passive green space will only increase the demands on Key Biscayne's already taxed recreational resources. "He seems to be going to the other extreme, where you are going to really limit people using the park," she continues. "There is certainly a point to be made that maybe the Lipton went too far because it's a commercial venture, but as far as the ball fields are concerned, they are very legitimate in a regional park. We don't have enough of that in Dade County."
Village Mayor John Festa echoes Sime's criticism. "There are other people [besides Key Biscayne residents] who use that park facility for playing baseball, soccer, and other things. If the lights are to come out, if the fields are to become more natural fields, what does the MAST Academy do? What do people do who live on Brickell? Would they want to go out and play softball or have a league at night? The entire park is becoming more passive than it has historically been. I'm all for the concept of limiting commercialization of park lands, but I'm not for the concept of total passive or leaning toward total passive park land."
Because Key Biscayne residents were the primary users of Calusa Park's tennis and playground facilities, the county made a deal when the village incorporated. In exchange for maintaining the little park, the new city would gain more control over the property. In the past five years, the village has spent $60,000 on improvements. Now Matheson wants to raze nearly everything and move the old Calusa Playhouse to the Gardens. The latter proposal has crippled efforts to raise money for restoration of the structure following a devastating fire. It has also infuriated members of the Calusa Playhouse Drama Club.
County Attorney Robert Ginsburg (in consultation with Matheson) attempted to defuse the situation by offering Key Biscayne a chance to keep the playhouse at Calusa and maintain three of four existing tennis courts. All the village council had to do was vote to endorse the overall Crandon master plan. The mayor and council members balked. Instead, they instructed their own city attorney to sue Dade County.
This past December the village filed that lawsuit, which claims that the Dade-Matheson settlement agreement reached in Boston is unconstitutional. According to attorney Joseph Serota, when county commissioners approved the agreement, they also unlawfully delegated their authority and obligation to vote on a final version of the Crandon Park master plan. Argues Serota: "That's like saying in Congress, 'We can't agree on how to deal with the Cuban situation so we'll hire these guys from Harvard and you guys hire somebody else and they will decide what the foreign policy is. And whatever they decide, we have no veto power.' We are not saying that Key Biscayne should decide how the park is used, but we should be able to go before the county and have input. We want the ability to plead our case to the people who are answerable to the public and have the ability to affect some kind of change. And the way the settlement is set up, the county commission has no authority."
The county's Ginsburg disagrees. "I don't view county commission action at a public hearing to be a rubber stamp," he says.
Matheson shrugs off the lawsuit and explains that county commissioners have no need to reopen debate. "The county has already passed [the master plan], so has the family," he asserts. "These things have already been agreed on. The only reason we are going in front of the county commission is to have them confirm the discussions between the family and the parks department. The county didn't object to anything and the Matheson family did, so we are in the process of resolving those objections through discussions and we are almost finished."
Among the nearly completed negotiations are those concerning the future of the 47-acre Gardens at Crandon. Matheson more or less ignored the separate master plan for the old zoo that had been approved by county commissioners in 1991 and subsequently incorporated into the Olmsted document. The Gardens plan grew out of an unusual union of county planners, artists, and members of the general public. The goal was to "develop a botanical park dedicated to exploring the relationship between art and the landscape" that would also incorporate historical elements such as the zoo's remaining animal cages. Participants created a scheme that provided six activity areas, each with its own botanical and artistic elements. Wooden structures dating from the key's coconut plantation era would be converted into studios for resident artists.
Matheson has challenged the basic principles of the Gardens plan, and his objections, adopted by the county, now require planners to abide by the Crandon master plan when conflicts arise. According to a draft of the Crandon plan dated February 2, 1996, all animal cages and pens "shall" be removed from the Gardens site. In addition, Matheson requires that all artwork be "executed from the park's past and present historic themes, from its environmental attributes and from factual characters of the flora and fauna of the garden's site and not from the idiosyncratic signature or psychology of the artist." Matheson also prohibits resident artists and places a time limit of three days on any exhibits.
Vivian Rodriguez, executive director of Dade's Art in Public Places program, believes that Matheson's changes to the Gardens' master plan are too rigid. "I don't really see a role for the kinds of projects and activities that were envisioned in the original [Gardens] plan," she says. "It doesn't allow for as open or as creative a process as I would want. If we're to be involved there, my interest now would be in creating a new master plan altogether."
Matheson says his current negotiations with the county allow for the refurbishment of as many as three old animal cages, but he doesn't budge from his overall demands. "Think of it this way," he counsels. "There was never any art in that park. Never. It's one of these things where we go back to: 'Why is there a Crandon Park?' And there is a Crandon Park because a gentleman named Charles Crandon felt that the resource was the beach, which has in the past been voted one of the top ten beaches in the United States A not one of the best artist display sites in the United States. And to save a 48-year-old bear cage that is deteriorating just doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense."
To the artists and planners who considered the zoo's old animal cages, their preservation made perfect sense. Aside from their attractive potential as exhibition and performance spaces, they served as stark reminders of the primitive conditions in which humans once kept exotic creatures.
But it is the attitude expressed by Matheson -- only he can make sense of Crandon Park -- that has prompted others much closer to the planning process to raise their own objections. A stream of memos sent to Charles Pezoldt, former director of Metro-Dade's Park and Recreation Department, provides insight into the frustration Matheson has engendered.
Charlie Sanz, a county landscape architect, penned a memorandum to Pezoldt commenting on Matheson's 69 objections. Although she acquiesced in most of Matheson's proposed changes, her June 28, 1994, missive noted that two objections called for definitions that were much too specific and which implied the "incompetence of park professionals."
On August 12, 1994, Sanz wrote another memo to Pezoldt in response to a requested review of Matheson's modifications. She found them inappropriate: "His intent is to explicitly and irrevocably define for all time any present and future development within the park's lands. Mr. Matheson's request, if granted, would defeat the purpose of the Crandon Park master plan, which proposes a responsive, ideal environment, and as such, may be continually in flux, reviewed, and refined in light of those ideals, as time progresses, conditions change, and development occurs."
Artemas Richardson, Olmsted's president, chided Matheson in a January 2, 1995, letter for modifying his master plan without his consent. "I am surprised, disappointed, and angered that you would give any paper which purports to have been written by me to anyone else without first giving it to me and obtaining my permission," he wrote. "The fact that you assured me it was 'only a draft' does not excuse your issuing it, nor would it have done so had it been clearly marked DRAFT (which it wasn't). Anyone who read that it was prepared by Artemas P. Richardson would assume that I had written it (which I had not). And while much of the text clearly reflects our discussions, there are parts with which I don't agree and parts which I consider conspicuous by their absence."
One of those conspicuous absences was Richardson's idea for a vehicular overpass, slightly elevated, that would allow bicyclists and hikers easy access to either side of busy Crandon Boulevard. Matheson maintains that there is simply no demand for its construction. "Members of a family that go to the beach don't go to the tennis center and they don't go to the golf course," he claims. "If you go and see the type of cars that are parked at the golf course, they are not the type of cars that are parked on the beach. The beach is a blue-collar 'country club' for the guy who is an average worker. I've walked the beach so many times and talked to the people there. They want to see the zoo brought back, so we are going to bring some animals back. They want more shade. They want more picnic tables. They like it the way it is. The people who play golf would not even step on the beach. They are the type of people that have pools in their back yard or a pool at their condominium or a country club membership or something else."
A January 31, 1995, memo to Charles Pezoldt from parks department official Howard Gregg picked apart the latest draft of the Crandon plan incorporating Matheson's objections. The original Olmsted document, wrote Gregg, was being "compromised to mediocrity." In particular, Gregg strongly disagreed with Matheson's insistence that the vehicular overpass and the traffic circles be deleted from the master plan.
Those omissions and other changes continued to anger Olmsted's Artemas Richardson. On December 17, 1995, he wrote to county parks officials: "I felt that if the treatment of the traffic circles was not to be included and if there was substantial change from the treatment of the Gardens that I would not want my name as endorsing the plan. It's been roughly three months and I have heard nothing. That's where it stands."
Matheson defends his proposed changes to the Crandon Park master plan by noting that they have not been conceived in a vacuum. On the family's payroll is the firm of Wallace Roberts and Todd, landscape architects who have worked on projects at Fairchild Tropical Garden. "So this is not just Bruce Matheson and some harebrained idea he has," he insists. "We have hired the best consultant to help make Crandon Park the best possible park we can.