We Built This City

Turns out the best possible way to rescue Miami-Dade's remaining rural farmland is to incorporate as a ... city. Huh?

"It will be a titanic struggle," observes former County Manager Merrett Stierheim.

If the residents of the Redland are to incorporate and take control of their own destiny, they must follow a precise road map that leads through the county commission, various advisory boards and study groups, and a public referendum. Perils await at every juncture.

Commissioner Katy Sorenson says the community supports Redland incorporation
Steve Satterwhite
Commissioner Katy Sorenson says the community supports Redland incorporation
Commissioner Katy Sorenson says the community supports Redland incorporation
Steve Satterwhite
Commissioner Katy Sorenson says the community supports Redland incorporation

The incorporation process, devised after much trial and error in 1999 by Stierheim and the commissioners, allows ample opportunity for the commission to bring everything to a screeching halt.

First comes a study by a municipal advisory committee of area residents, usually named by the commissioner of the district and approved by the entire county commission. In the case of the Redland, Commissioner Katy Sorenson stacked the Redland Area Municipal Advisory Committee (RAMAC) with local activists. The advisory committee and county staff hold public meetings, and then their commissioner decides whether to sponsor an ordinance putting incorporation into the pipeline. If a majority of the commissioners concur, the real work begins.

The county instructs a standing boundaries commission to scrutinize the proposed borders of the new city, with help from county staff. It is before such a panel that the shape and size of the Redland will be debated. After the boundaries commission, the proposal goes before a planning advisory board, which analyzes it for the new city and figures out how it will affect what remains of unincorporated Miami-Dade. County staff, using their own data and input from the boards, then fashion a conceptual agreement between the county and the new municipality. The agreement, along with reports by the two boards, the municipal advisory committee, and staff, is forwarded to the county commission. In a public hearing, commissioners listen to the pros and cons of the incorporation before taking a vote on whether to accept the agreement and the new municipality.

But even then it's far from over, even if commissioners green-light the proposal. The plan next goes to registered voters in the proposed boundaries. Upon approval by residents, a charter committee is appointed by the commission to decide what form of government the new municipality will have. The charter also will detail a schedule for elections. Public meetings are held to receive input from the citizenry to help fashion this governmental blueprint. When the committee completes the charter, the county commission once again gets to vote, though only to approve or reject the charter. If commissioners accept the charter, it too goes before residents for a vote. Once the new city has a charter, another round of local elections for leaders is all that remains to create a fully functional new city.

The commission approved the formation of RAMAC in May 2000. After two public hearings and months of biweekly RAMAC meetings, the commission approved the official onset of the process in February 2001. The proposal is scheduled to go before the boundaries commission in late May.

For the Redland each step in this labyrinth is proving to be hotly contested.

As the people who want to safeguard their rural lifestyles press to make the Redland a city, forces are marshaling to quash their rebellious efforts.

A complicating factor is that much of the area's farmland is not owned by the farmers who work on it. Instead the land is controlled by nonresidents, many of whom hope to cash in when the area is developed. In the meantime county agriculture tax rebates encourage the absentee owners to lease the land cheaply to farmers. These absentee landlords have money they can use to pay lobbyists to influence commissioners, should they choose. Many farmers who tend large vegetable row crops and groves also have been critical of the incorporation drive. They argue that the free market should hold sway, agriculture cannot be saved, and farmers have an inalienable right to profit from development of their land. A proponent of this perspective has been the Dade County Farm Bureau (see "The Final Harvest," May 14, 1998). (The farm bureau has not taken an official position on Redland incorporation.)

But at the moment the most serious threat to the incorporation proposal comes from the area's unhappy neighbors in a dispute that likely will heat up when the boundary commission meets to review the lines around the hypothetical city of the Redland.

Sound public policy dictates that the boundary commission not draw lines that create an enclave of unincorporated land sandwiched between two cities. The county would still be responsible for providing services to such an enclave, a prospect that is both expensive and difficult.

But the boundaries Redland activists envision could do just that. A sliver of county land no more than six miles long would be isolated between the Redland and Homestead, bordered on the north by SW 288th Street, on the west by SW 197 Avenue, and sharing its south and eastern edges with Homestead. The land currently is inside the development line on the county master plan, and it could become the poison pill that kills the Redland incorporation.

Many residents of this area discovered with horror at a recent public meeting on Redland incorporation that while they live surrounded by farmland, in recent years their community was zoned for high-density residential. Wary of politics Homestead-style, many residents have decided that should the Redland become its own city, they'd like to belong to it.

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