By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
A drama of biblical flavor is unfolding in Surfside. In a key role is Eduardo Rodriguez, city manager of that town, who plays David. His Goliath is the manager of Indian Creek Village, Leonard Matarese. This is type casting. Matarese is six-foot-seven, 240 pounds, and has a reputation for being a tough guy.
The people who employ Matarese -- they are called the Philistines in the original version -- are the residents of Indian Creek Village, easily the wealthiest municipality in Dade County. It occupies a private island in Biscayne Bay and is shared by only 34 homesteads; a police department of seventeen people protects them. That's one cop for every two homesteads. The average assessed value of the properties is around $2.5 million, which means their true market value is much more. Owners include supersinger Julio Iglesias, agro-business titan Dwayne Andreas of Archer Daniels Midland, car dealer extraordinaire Norman Braman, golf pro Raymond Floyd, former Dolphins coach Don Shula, Lennar Corp. honcho Leonard Miller, a stray Japanese businessman, and according to Surfside officials, one Saudi tycoon whose identity is cloaked behind corporate ownership. Matarese doesn't comment on who does or doesn't live there. "Suffice it to say that anyone who lives here is well-to-do and well-known," says Matarese, who doubles as Village police chief.
Adds Rodriguez: "These are very wealthy people and they and this guy Matarese have been trying to steamroll us. Well, we're not going to let them."
So what is the war about? The use of a single plot of land. The private residences of Indian Creek Village line the edge of the island while its core is taken up by the exclusive Indian Creek Country Club. The tiny island is separated from its neighbors in decidedly middle-class Surfside by a guarded bridge and the waters of narrow Indian Creek -- except, that is, for three lots on the Surfside bank of the waterway, which are owned by the village. It is on one of those lots that the village has chosen to build its new 4000-square-foot municipal hall and police station.
"They don't to build it on their own island because they are rich and famous and don't want to affect their lifestyles," huffs Rodriguez. "They want to build it in a purely residential area of our town. Well, we have a lifestyle that we enjoy and we're trying to protect that too." The name of the town is Surfside, not Serfside, after all.
Matarese hotly defends his residents. "These are some of the nicest people I've ever met. They're not arrogant at all, and they have bent over backward to meet the objections of the town of Surfside. But the village owns that land, it's zoned for government use, and we are going to build that building on it. Make no mistake about it."
They are not building at the moment. Construction, which began two months ago, was stopped voluntarily by the village after Surfside filed a lawsuit February 6 in Dade County Circuit Court. The suit alleges a conflict of interest that would render illegal the transfer of the lot in question from the country club to the village government in 1996. Surfside claims that Kenneth Fisher, mayor of the village, was also an officer of the club, creating the conflict and violating state law. It also claims that construction as planned violates a property easement that would make it impossible for Surfside to maintain a storm-drain line that runs under the property. (That problem, Matarese says, has been rectified since the suit was filed.)
Matarese explains that the town has outgrown its very small municipal hall -- about ten by fifteen feet -- located on the island. There is a large empty lot on the island that would easily accommodate a new village hall, but it's owned by the country club and would cost four million dollars, Matarese claims, if the club wanted to sell, which it doesn't.
The land across the bridge cost them only $425,000. Matarese reports that the new building, which will primarily be used by the village police, will be residential in appearance, Mediterranean in style, and "probably the nicest building on that block. We have tried to be as neighborly as possible," he repeats. "The building is really smaller than it should be. We have provided for a public walkway so the people of Surfside can have access to the water, with places to sit next to the creek. We're putting landscaping in front of the building so you can't even see it from the street. We reduced the number of parking spaces when they asked us and the level of lighting. We're answering their complaints about ingress and egress. All at extra expense that has raised the total cost of the building to $850,000. What else do they want?"
Rodriguez has a simple answer to that: Build the hall on the island.
The village has kept a trailer on the lot in question for several years, using it as a temporary facility for Matarese, the town clerk, and the police. But Surfside neighbors say they didn't know the arrangement would be made permanent. "At two or three in the morning police cars are slamming their doors," gripes Eli Tourgeman, who lives next to the lot. "Before, there was only one police boat parked on the water. Now there are three -- three boats in one small police department. I have to keep my windows closed at night because of the noise and the fumes. Would any of these residents, with their multimillion-dollar residences, allow this to be built next to their homes? No way."