River of Sass

From the grave eco-saint Marjory Stoneman Douglas has spawned a neighborhood dispute of historic proportions

The issue came up in October 1999 at a hearing before the Historic and Environmental Preservation Board, when the Land Trust requested approval to begin construction. Neighbors insist this was the first time they had heard the full extent of the plan. In attendance was John Freud, who said he had attended an earlier meeting where no decision was reached on whether to give the property a historic designation. Although the city is required to inform residents who live near a proposed project of a public hearing, Freud testified he never heard from the city again.

Eaton insisted the city had fulfilled legal requirements. "All neighbors within 375 feet of the subject of the property were notified of the hearing," she reassured board members. (Reached by phone last week, Eaton acknowledged she had not researched whether neighbors were told of the proposal.)

The historic-preservation board voted against the building permit for the site, but shortly after the meeting Eaton decided another hearing would be held to ensure every interested person could have input.

Stewart Avenue residents say the plan to turn Marjory Stoneman Douglas's house into a museum and offices stinks
Steve Satterwhite
Stewart Avenue residents say the plan to turn Marjory Stoneman Douglas's house into a museum and offices stinks

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Neighbors on Stewart Avenue now are fully aware of the plan and vow to do whatever it takes to stop it. Residents include lawyers, accountants, and even a television personality, soccer commentator Andres Cantor. While some say that given the zoning change and Douglas's historic importance they could support a museum with limited visiting hours and parking spaces, all draw the line at an office.

Jude refuses to talk further about the issue for fear of jeopardizing future talks with residents. But she is clearly not optimistic. "I don't know if there is a snowball's chance in Hell of it happening," she admits.

Meanwhile both sides struggle to lay claim to the legacy of Marjory Stoneman Douglas: "She spent her life trying to preserve the Everglades," says David Turner, a Land Trust board member. "I think she would have been upset that they are not allowing the preservation of her house."

Neighbors of course disagree. "She didn't want people around [either]," says Lewis Freeman, who lives down the street from the house. "They are paving paradise to put up a parking lot."

jacob.bernstein@miaminewtimes.com

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