By Isheka N. Harrison
Special to South Florida Times
MIAMI — Some senior members of the West Little River-Arcola Lakes Park Task Force and Advisory Committee who have performed community service for more than 40 years are feeling betrayed by Miami-Dade County over a new seniors center and say they are considering taking legal action.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jean Monestime of District 2 held a groundbreaking ceremony on Aug. 8 for the $6.3 million, one-story, 14,220-square-foot facility in the 19-acre Arcola Lakes Park, 1301 N.W. 83rd St., Miami.
Monestime touted it as the county’s first recreational facility specifically designed for use by seniors. But not everyone is celebrating.
Melford Pinder, who chairs the West Little River-Arcola Lakes Park Task Force and Advisory Committee, says the county has reneged on a promise to build a much larger center whose original design was approved and voted on by 140 residents and others in 2003 after many meetings and several draft architectural plans.
Pinder displayed a paper trail of letters and documents dating back to the 1980s which they say contain plans for an Arcola Lakes Senior Citizens Disabled Recreational Center which, at 28,000 square feet, would be almost twice the size of the facility under construction. It would face the opposite direction and include an indoor heated swimming pool, three whirlpools, a full kitchen and a 500-seat formal banquet hall with provisions for the handicapped.
“We have been trying to get this resolved for years now,” Pinder said. “We’ve asked several officials from the county to halt the plans until we could resolve these problems and have been attempting to meet with the commissioner for over a year.”
Pinder also accuses the Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation Department of calling meetings without her but putting her name on the agenda to give the appearance that she had been present and disrespecting her in the meetings she did attend.
“I don’t know anything about some of the meetings that the county says I was in because I was not invited,” Pinder said. “I was not even informed about the groundbreaking with an official invite. I heard about it through others. When they were making all their final plans, they never included me.”
Monestime rejects Pinder’s claim that he neglected to take into account the concerns of the residents or avoided meeting with her.
“The final plans reflect input from the community while adhering to the budget constraints of a public facility,” Monestime said in a letter to South Florida Times. “In regards to meeting with residents, I have an open-door policy and District 2 residents have never missed an opportunity to meet with me and share ideas for the betterment of the community.”
But Pinder remains unconvinced. She said Monestime called her to a meeting after the South Florida Times published a letter from her on Aug. 2.
“I believe the only reason Commissioner Monestime called that meeting with me is because he heard that my husband said he was going to protest and he wanted to appease us to avoid any demonstration at the groundbreaking,” Pinder said, referring to her husband Dudley. “He said he thought someone had told him I was looking for him about 11 months ago but I didn’t call him on it then because I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his aides and interns.”
The $6.3 million center is being funded by Building Better Communities General Obligation Bonds, which, according to Pinder, would not have been possible had she and her committee not appealed to the Trust for Public Lands to acquire the
“When we initially approached the county about finishing our master plan and constructing the senior facility, they emphatically said they were not interested in expanding the park and had no funds to help purchase the land,” Pinder said.
Monestime insists that the facility as currently planned – which would include entertainment rooms with flat screen televisions, an arts and craft room, a ceramics room, an exercise room with the latest fitness equipment and a large banquet hall/meeting room – is sufficient for the seniors.
“The seniors of our community deserve the very best amenities and that is what this new senior center will deliver,” Monestime said.
For now, the county is forging ahead with its plans — and Pinder is pondering her next step. "
We didn’t protest at the groundbreaking because that’s not how we do business,” Pinder said. “We requested the federal funds, we met with the residents and we came up with a plan. That’s our park. We gave it to the county to manage and if they refuse to revise their plans and provide what the residents originally requested, we can take it back.”