Fisher Islands Express Ride Toward Municipality Is Sidetracked
Written by Candice Ventra on September 28, 2000
By Candice Ventra
Miami-Dade County has muzzled talks of creating more new cities until after next week’s election, when voters will consider requiring new municipalities to own up to agreements they make with the county.
Recently commissioners Dennis Moss, Betty Ferguson and Pedro Reboredo have said that letting cities incorporate without changing the county charter to require those cities to keep agreements with the county is dangerous. The county could create a bunch of wealthy municipalities, they have said, while poor unincorporated areas are left out in the cold.
Residents of soon-to-be-incorporated Miami Lakes, for example, agreed to hire county police services for two to three years and to pay the county $1.45 million the first year to help supplant lost revenue. The county could lose $1.1 million a year as a result of Miami Lakes’ incorporation.
The county commission had just given Miami Lakes a green light to begin writing a city charter to present to the county for approval. But it voted to stop a bid to make Fisher Island a city.
Commissioners last week ruled they would not continue with steps toward incorporation for the private island, where some residents have been pushing for municipal status.
During a hearing, residents and lobbyists both for and against incorporation addressed the commission.
The plan on the agenda would have directed the county manager to begin an incorporation review, which would include a call for some residents to go before the county’s planning advisory board.
The new roadblock came a few weeks after commissioners gave the same issue first approval.
Miguel De Grandy, lobbying against incorporation, said making the 220-acre island a city would set a dangerous precedent, easing the path for other condominium communities to incorporate.
"If you permit the creation of ‘micromunities’ just because they are affluent and wealthy," Mr. De Grandy said, "every small community that is enclosed by natural or artificial boundaries can come to you to approve this."
More than 1,000 persons live in 563 units on the island, said Monette Klein O’Grady, chairman of Say Noo to Incorporation, or SNOOTI a political action committee formed to thwart the motion.
"Fisher Island is a gated residential condominium community," she said. "It is not indicative of what makes up a city."
Mr. De Grandy said several secluded condominium communities could become cities if Fisher Island did. He cited Brickell Key and Aventura Waterways, which have 2,010 and 2,800 units, respectively.
Ms. O’Grady said incorporating would also sacrifice the island’s privacy. Today Fisher Island can only be reached by private ferry or helicopter.
Fisher Island resident Barry Kutun, who favors incorporation, cited Indian Creek as a private island that became a municipality.
Mr. De Grandy said by state law incorporation of an island requires a city hall there with reasonable access to it. Most residents, Ms. O’Grady said, moved to Fisher Island to avoid easy public access.
"I bought my home on the island because of the privacy it offered to me," she said. "I did not buy my home to become a city."
Mr. Kutun said access to the island is already easier than it used to be and many public functions already occur there.
"We have a full public hotel on Fisher Island," Mr. Kutun said. "You don’t have to be a member or resident to have a wedding or quince there."
Mr. Kutun said residents interested in incorporation proposed to continue to use the county’s police and fire department.
In addition to Miami Lakes and Fisher Island, county officials said, groups in the Redlands, Country Club Lakes, Palmetto Lakes and Doral have taken initial steps toward incorporation.
George Burgess, executive assistant to the county manager, said the county could lose nearly $3 million a year if Doral were to incorporate because of the community’s high tax base.
But the commission adopted a resolution sponsored by Mr. Moss and Commissioner Dorrin Rolle to direct the county manager to suspend negotiations with the municipal advisory committee for incorporations until an Oct. 3 county referendum seeking to change the charter to force an area that’s incorporated to abide by prior agreements with the county.
Last week’s resolution also said that if the charter amendment fails, municipal advisory committees will be suspended until the commission "adopts a comprehensive incorporation-annexation policy" that protects unincorporated areas.