By Michael E. Miller
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Since then, the Pizzis have been through numerous battles against overdevelopment and quality-of-life issues in Miami Lakes. Maria, who is tough as nails, blames herself for drawing Pizzi into his current role as the People's Champ. In 1995 Lowell Dunn announced he was building 150 townhouses on 60 acres west of Interstate 75; Miami Lakes residents had been told the land would be used for a community park, and to preserve an Indian burial ground. Maria began a grassroots effort to inform residents of Dunn's true plans and to mount opposition. At a community meeting on a Saturday morning, she brought Pizzi along. As a lawyer, he was preoccupied with other things. In fact Pizzi was not interested in grassroots activism, much less politics. "Hell, I didn't care what form of local government we had," Pizzi says from his Brickell Avenue office. "[But] when Lowell Dunn gets up to speak, he starts making threats that if we oppose his plans, he's going to build a parking lot and bingo hall, and sell it to the Miccosukees. At that point, I asked to speak and told Dunn the only way he would build on the land was over my dead body. I was pretty pissed off at what a jerk he was."
"That was the first and last time Lowell Dunn ever went to a community meeting without his attorneys," Maria adds. "That was the day Michael Pizzi, civic activist, was born."
Sometimes, however, Pizzi is blinded by his sense of righteousness. Take his battle to stop Hialeah's bid to annex a 3.8-mile stretch of land west of I-75 in unincorporated Northwest Miami-Dade. The land is home to several Pizzi battle sites. The Peerless dump is located there. The rock mining goes on there. And the Dunn-owned land Pizzi and residents have long coveted for a community park sits there as well. So it's no surprise that Mike would rather see Miami Lakes annex the land. "If that land falls into the wrong hands, everything I've fought for in the last ten years would mean nothing," he explains. "If the land is part of the Lakes, we would have control over development and preserve the quality of life for our neighbors."
If Hialeah gets the land, Pizzi warns, its pro-development city council could allow uncontrolled growth to occur. "The Hialeah plan is to build 20,000 high-density homes on top of the dump and the rock mining activities," Pizzi says.
Yet the Miami Lakes Town Council recently rejected Pizzi's proposal. The town also commissioned a two-million-dollar study that rejected the idea, too, because Miami Lakes, which was only incorporated in 2000, could not provide the area with basic services -- water and sewer. But the vote hasn't stopped Pizzi. There he was, this past February, debating Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez before the county's boundaries commission, in order to stop Hialeah. Julio Robaina, Hialeah's city council president, claims Pizzi's motives were clearly political and meant to do only one thing: "Produce hype around Mike Pizzi."
Robaina accuses Pizzi of turning the annexation issue into a Miami Lakes versus Hialeah brouhaha. "This is about what is best for Northwest Miami-Dade County," Robaina argues. "Miami Lakes did their own study that says the town is not prepared to service the area [proposed for annexation]. So why can't we come together and iron out our differences? To be a good public servant a person has to show a willingness to work with people. Pizzi is not going to build a consensus by making enemies and alienating [everyone] all the time."
"His idea of 'building consensus' is to cut a backroom deal and compromise my principles," Pizzi responds. "So Julio's right, I'm not going to play ball. And if that means I alienate people like him, so be it."
Miami Lakes Councilman Pizzi is driving his beat-up 1997 Toyota Camry down NW 87th Avenue, just entering the town limits at 149th Street. The Japanese rocket is missing its hubcaps and is caked in three weeks of Palmetto Expressway dirt. The inside of the car looks like a twenty-year-old wallet. The 'check engine' light is on, and a Bee Gees Greatest Hits cassette clutters the dashboard. But at least the air conditioner is working ...
He'd promised Maria he'd be home hours ago. He also forgot to pick up his son Stefan earlier in the day from soccer practice at Dade Christian School. As usual, Mike got caught up in a mission; taking a Miami Herald Neighbors reporter to meet with residents annoyed at the dozens of towering dirt mounds Lowell Dunn has stored behind their homes. The mounds are actually located on Dunn's land on NW 83rd Place between 158th and 162nd streets. Pizzi's cell goes off. "Hey CM," he says, subjecting his wife to the Mike Pizzi greeting. (CM stands for come mierda, or "shit eater.") Of course, Mike's kidding: "I'm just wrapping up a few things and I promise I'll be home in half an hour. I mean it this time."
It's clear Pizzi's obsessive ways are beginning to take their toll on his family and law practice. Yet Pizzi is unyielding. So sooner or later, either his family, his law firm, or his obsession will have to give. "It gets to the point that I get tired," Maria complains. "You see how much time [he] takes away from our family? Sometimes I think he's just spinning his wheels.