Ilonka Kuhl-Harris and husband Bob Armstrong stand proudly in their newly-owned lot. Kuhl-Harris fought for the land, and the insects, animals and trees that call it home. (Nina Grossman/Observer)

Harrison woman buys land to stop development

‘All I want is for it to sit there and just be green’

When the empty lot next to her Harrison home went up for sale, Ilonka Kuhl-Harris put in an offer.

Kuhl-Harris and her husband Bob Armstrong had watched birds, bees, squirrels, raccoons and other critters make homes in the treed green area next to their house. The idea of a house going up – and the habitats and trees coming down – was unthinkable, recalled Kuhl-Harris.

But the property had been sold. Kuhl-Harris was devastated to hear talk of ATVs and a three-car garage going into the beloved lot.

“I was too late. When I heard the sum, I thought, ‘I can’t do it. I don’t have the money.’ ”

But the couple dug deep and made an offer to the owner – doubling the amount he had paid.

“I knew it would have to be an offer he couldn’t refuse,” Kuhl-Harris said. “He didn’t move on the [offer] until a year later.”

On her birthday in August, Kuhl-Harris signed the ownership papers, finally sealing the deal on the vacant, yet not-at-all-empty lot.

With absolutely zero plans to develop or build, Armstrong and Kuhl-Harris have installed mason bee homes, bat homes and birdhouses, encouraging wildlife to move into the tiny refuge.

“All I want is for it to sit there and just be green,” she said. “This is the only way we can protect anything – by getting it before anything is built on it. It’s hard to get it back after that.”

And the property isn’t just for the couple to enjoy either. While insurance logistics still need to be worked out, Armstrong has built teepees from fallen wood for the neighbourhood kids, and Kuhl-Harris plans to install hammocks and even host “walk-in” movie nights for the neighbourhood.

“For the rest of my days, as long as I’m here, I get to look at this,” she said, gesturing to the land.

Even in winter, with the branches bare and the leaves crunchy, the land feels special. It could be the flowing Miami River behind it, or maybe the different types of trees that call it home. Or it could be that, for the first time in a long time, a tiny parcel of land is being loved – exactly as it is.


In summertime, the lot comes alive with leafy greens, bushes and wildflowers. (Submitted)

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