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Before the pandemic hit, Miami Springs Mayor Maria Mitchell was tooling around on her bicycle when a neighbor’s car backed up and knocked her off the sidewalk.
“He hit me and knocked me off my bike and way into the swale, almost into the street,” Mitchell said at Monday’s City Council meeting. “I hit my head and got a cut, needed stitches on my hand, and my bike was all mangled.”
After a trip to urgent care, Mitchell went after the culprit: the overgrown hedges that blocked her view.
Mitchell ordered a code enforcement squad to crack down on hedge violators, but efforts were stayed last year due to COVID-19 protocols, as well as the abrupt closure of City Hall due to a fungus infestation.
However, Miami Springs City Hall has recently re-opened, and code teams have resumed issuing tickets, a measure that has riled locals, including one who thinks Mitchell should mind her own yard.
“You have a hedge in your front yard that is in violation, mayor,” said Paul Hervis, a 22-year resident and professional landscaper. “The code says anything obstructing a sidewalk where there are roads and fences in alleys would have to come down.”
Hervis referred to Section 150-013 of Miami Springs’ code that states: “Residential plantings, fences and walls… shall be maintained so as not to constitute a safety hazard or visual clearance obstruction to pedestrians or vehicular traffic utilizing City sidewalks, swales, alleys, streets or other rights-of-way.”
“The mayor passed by our home today and said she is going to be a stickler on this,” said Connie Maldonado, a project manager, who also spoke at Monday’s meeting.
Maldonado lives two doors down from Mitchell and said she and her husband, Miguel Pita, received a citation for violating section 150-013 of the code. The notice specified: “hedges constitute a safety hazard, obstruction – visual clearance.”
The city also slapped Pita, who spoke at a prior council meeting, with a $100 fine, which they plan to appeal at Tuesday’s code compliance meeting.
A public records request seeking copies of all city-issued hedge violations, since Jan. 1, is under review by city officials.
“The code has to be enforced fairly and consistently,” said Maldonado, who described a community that prides itself on its greenery. “If this is enforced city-wide, it will require a lot of enforcement activity.”
Miami Springs, originally called Country Club Estates, is a 393-acre triangle located north of Miami International Airport that is known for its beautiful gardens, green space, and waterways, according to Miami historian Paul George.
The city changed its name, around 1926, to reflect a plethora of fresh-water springs under its surface that was key water source into the ‘90s for much of the area.
In hopes of steering bicycles off sidewalks, Miami Springs received a $598,000 grant, in 2013, to expand its bike path network to connect its library, community center, swimming pool and ballpark. In 2016, the city received an additional $119,600 grant for more bike paths to provide alternatives to driving as well as connect to public transit routes and surrounding communities.
Hervis thinks Mitchell should use better judgment.
“It’s common sense, just like checking to see if it’s clear when you ride your bicycle on the sidewalk or on the street,” Hervis said.
At the end of Monday’s council meeting, Mitchell held up a photo of an overgrown hedge and said she is “digging in her heels” on the issue.
“We have a code in place, and it needs to be enforced,” Mitchell said. “I could have been killed.”
The public is invited to sound off on the situation at the next Miami Springs Code Compliance board meeting at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 4, at City Hall, 201 Westward Dr.