By Bobeth Yates

NOTE: This story was originally published on April 16th, 2021.

Miami (CBSMiami) — The situation over what happens next at Matheson Hammock Park West gate got heated this week.

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Miami-Dade County commissioners discussed plans that could change how people access the nature preserve and if and how their dogs would be allowed.

“We have to do whatever it takes to preserve and restore those properties and this is the first step to that,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Raquel Regalado. She is referring to her resolution that unanimously passed committee, which allows the Department of Environmental Resource Management to have a say in what happens on environmentally protected land, that includes the Matheson Hammock Park, a popular location for pet owners.

“This is not a dog park it’s an environmentally protected botanical preserve I’m not going to make a determination on whether dogs impact that land or not were asking DERM to make an objective determination,” said Regalado.

She adds in that 1989 residents voted on an ad valorem tax to acquire and preserve environmentally sensitive land, now referred to as EEL properties.

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On a map of the park, a property has now been merged with the original Matheson Hammock Park deeded to the county in the ’30s. But, Regalado adds since the property was not policed, residents began using it as they wished, which includes having unleashed dogs roaming the preserves. Now, a group of residents called “The friends of Matheson Hammock Park West”, says efforts are being made to push them out.

“There’s a billboard that says a boardwalk is starting to be built and this is all happening. We would do a public record request saying show me the plans and they would say, ‘ohh the plans aren’t done yet.’ We would say OK, then show me how much it’s going to cost, they would respond, ‘ohh we don’t know yet,'” said Attorney David Winker, who represents the group of residents.

Winker says with little information from the county, park access has declined for many in the community, that includes the west gate being shut down to non-disabled residents. And, the group says they don’t believe the concern is about the environment but instead the fact that homeowners who live close by don’t want them around.

“Neighbors here in Hammocks Lakes were advocating to not reopen this entrance at all, and all of a sudden they are concerned about the environment, when they proposed a broad walk over sensitive lands that’s not necessary. And, want to be very clear, they’re forcing everybody to go through a more environmentally sensitive entrance to bring people through.”

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Commission Regalado says the park improvement project is currently on hold until DERM provides their assessment. After that, they will meet with the public before voting on what happens next.