By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
After nearly a decade, a petty feud between Pembroke Pines and Southwest Ranches involving a metal gate blocking a street near Griffin Road appears to be over.
During that time, only first responders and some Pembroke Pines residents could pass through Southwest 207th Terrace and 54th Place without impediment. Townsfolk and emergency personnel in Southwest Ranches had to find another north-and-south route to get to Griffin Road.
On May 25, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling ordering Pembroke Pines officials to permanently open the gate. In 2015, a year after the gate was installed, Southwest Ranches sued Pembroke Pines for illegally blocking a public thoroughfare.
The appeals court’s unanimous denial of Pembroke Pines’ petition means the gate must be opened immediately, said Alan Kipnis, a private attorney who represented the town.
“It’s easy for them to disengage the system they were using and simply open the gate,” Kipnis told Florida Bulldog. “We want to avoid going back to Judge [Carlos] Rodriguez and demand [Pembroke Pines] do so or hold [the city] in contempt.”
Christopher Stearns, a private attorney for Pembroke Pines, declined comment about the city’s next move, including possibly seeking a review by the Florida Supreme Court. But at least one Pembroke Pines elected official is ready to make peace with Southwest Ranches.
“I am a proponent of being good neighbors, instead of spending years in court,” City Commissioner Thomas Good Jr. told Florida Bulldog. “I am hopeful that going forward we can collaborate as sister cities and figure things out.”
A HISTORY OF ROAD BLOCKS
In 2012, Southwest Ranches spent $80,000 to put up three electronic steel gates at Southwest 199th, 202nd and 205th avenues just south of Griffin Road, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. At the time, town officials claimed the barriers were necessary to prevent Pembroke Pines motorists seeking access to Griffin Road from cutting through neighborhood streets. First responders in Pembroke Pines and Southwest Ranches have the ability to open the town’s gates to get through.
Members of Pembroke Pines then-city commission alleged Southwest Ranches put up the gates as payback for the city opposing the construction of a federal detention facility in the town. Residents in both municipalities also complained the gates were unnecessary. In 2013, the husband of a crash victim blamed the blocked roads for the death of his wife, Maritza Medina.
Diego Medina alleged that Maritza Medina was forced to take a different route that put her on a collision course with a convicted felon fleeing from police, according to CBS News Miami. The felon slammed into Maritza Medina’s car, killing her.
Shortly following the accident, Pembroke Pines put up the metal gate. It opens automatically with the clickers that were handed out only to residents of five residential communities and first responders employed by the city, according to Southwest Ranches’ lawsuit.
“It was done for the health and safety of the people who live in those communities,” Pembroke Pines Vice Mayor Iris Siple told Florida Bulldog. “Should there be a medical emergency, first responders are able to go north to Griffin Road much quicker.”
By not providing clickers to Southwest Ranches police officers and firefighters, Pembroke Pines violated state law, Kipnis said. Pembroke Pines also conveyed the gated portion of the road to a private party . By doing so, the city sought to circumvent state law prohibiting local governments from blocking roadways from other jurisdictions, Kipnis added.
In his ruling for Southwest Ranches, Judge Rodriguez noted an affidavit from the town’s fire captain, Darren Bock, who said not having clickers endangered town residents because first responders were not capable of taking the shortest route to access areas south of the Pembroke Pines gate.
Pembroke Pines broke Florida law, and the city’s “obfuscation of a dedicated right of way was improper and thwarted [Southwest Ranches’] abilities to perform its municipal duties,” according to a May 14, 2022 order by Broward Circuit Judge Rodriguez.
“The court finds that this impediment to the town’s duty to protect the health, welfare and safety of its residents constitutes a special and particular damage,” Rodriguez wrote. “The town is hindered in performing its duties under the Florida Constitution.”
Rodriguez also tossed Pembroke Pines’ argument that conveying the road portion with the gate to the private party meant it was no longer a public right-of-way.
The four-member appeals court affirmed Rodriguez’s ruling.
Southwest Ranches Mayor Steve Breitkreuz said Rodriguez and the appeals court made the right decision. “It was pretty clear cut and dry,” Breitkreuz said. “You can’t limit who can go through. Either you let everyone through or you don’t. We felt pretty confident it would go our way.”
He understands why Pembroke Pines didn’t give Southwest Ranches clickers due to the animosity over the town’s closure of 199th, 202nd and 209th avenues, Breitkreuz said. “I get it,” he said. “They were attempting to protect their neighborhoods just like we did. They just attempted to do it in an illegal way.”
He would like for Pembroke Pines and Southwest Ranches to reach an amicable agreement to open the metal gate on Southwest 54th Place, Breitkreuz added. “I am hoping we can turn the page on a lot of the past history,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to move on…put it behind us and work on a partnership going forward.”