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?

In recent years a new breed of settlers have come to the Redland. Like the ones who preceded them, they mostly are opinionated iconoclasts who seek a rural lifestyle where they won't be bothered. But, often embarking on a second career or an early retirement, they have changed the farming dynamic. Even as increased foreign competition makes it harder for larger vegetable and fruit farmers to continue, these smaller agriculturists have met with success establishing nurseries and orchards. Noble Hendrix, a former thoracic surgeon who grows lychee, stood at the back of the auditorium that day. Martin Motes, an English professor-turned-international-orchid seller, was there as well. It's likely that without this demographic change, Redland incorporation would not be possible. The new influx has not only resuscitated agriculture, it has made it more of a lifestyle choice than ever before.

By way of introduction Pat Wade, chairwoman of RAMAC, filled the audience in on the background of the effort. Wade, a retired associate professor of medicine, grows and sells wholesale ornamental foliage. She detailed the results of a survey the group conducted that showed overwhelming support for incorporation (though only 460 people responded). Wade then tried to explain how the police force and other services would work. "If it seems a little squishy," she concluded, "it's because it is a little squishy." The chairwoman then handed the microphone to Geoffrey Knights to break down the budget. "It always falls to me to flesh out the details," Knights quipped.

Indeed the 50-year-old economist has done much of the number crunching and analytical work on the incorporation proposal. A native of the Midwest, Knights has studied under five Nobel Prize laureates in economics. "It's not something I did," he insists. "It was just luck." Knights came to Miami-Dade 25 years ago and did strategic planning and systems work for Burger King Corporation and the United Way before setting himself up as a freelance consultant. After Hurricane Andrew, Knights and his wife, who works for the World Wildlife Fund, decided to move with their young daughter to the Redland. "We thought they had good values," he notes a few weeks after the February meeting.

The numbers cruncher for the incorporation effort has been Geoffrey Knights
Steve Satterwhite
The numbers cruncher for the incorporation effort has been Geoffrey Knights
Banker Bill Losner and the Redland activists have feuded for years
Banker Bill Losner and the Redland activists have feuded for years

Knights had settled into a quiet rural life until, at his wife's urging, he joined the Redland Citizens Association (RCA). The organization has been a powerhouse in South Miami-Dade for decades, fighting zoning battles to protect agriculture. "The RCA is not a homeowners association; it's a civic organization, and I liked that," recalls Knights. "It was really fun. There was a lot of give and take."

Within a year of joining, the economist with an interest in land use and zoning became a board member. Last year he was elected president. While the RCA refuses to take an official position on Redland incorporation, most of those pushing the new municipality are members of the organization.

Knights outlined a rough budget, and some members of the audience expressed concern about the small surplus of about $50,000. He explained that if residents expected perks, the incorporation was probably not going to work. Ultimately he made the point that government, local or otherwise, was only as good as its officials. Incorporation did not guarantee good zoning, only more accountability.

Skeptics in the audience were joined by a handful of people who appeared outright hostile. David Kaplan, newly elected president of the Dade County Farm Bureau, took to the podium to lash out at the premise that incorporation would save agriculture. Kaplan, who sold his 100-acre tree farm and now owns a five-acre nursery, questioned the farming credentials of most of the audience.

"We are going to have a lot of beautiful houses and a lot of hobby farms, but not a lot of agriculture," Kaplan maintained. "God bless Mrs. Wade, but my guess is most of her income doesn't come from agriculture."

Wade and Knights made the case that a municipality would give farmers legal standing to promote agriculture and apply for grants. A few days later as proof that such support exists, the activists produced a copy of a letter then-Homestead Mayor Steve Shiver wrote to the RCA. Shiver hoped to convince the group to allow Homestead to annex the Redland. He requested the chance to present a proposal to make the Redland a "special" district that could be eligible for tax rebates and grants. His overtures were rejected.

Shiver, now wearing his county manager hat, denies he has formulated a position on Redland incorporation. "I look forward to working with those folks," he insists.

In addition to County Manager Shiver, one powerful private citizen who will probably play an important role in Redland incorporation is banker Bill Losner.

Bill Losner sits deskbound in his office at the headquarters of the First National Bank of Homestead, where he has been chairman of the board for twelve years. At almost 63 years old, Losner still has the chubby face and demeanor of an overgrown kid. A major force in the community since the Sixties, evidence of Losner's irrepressible energy can be seen on his résumé, where he lists his participation in 44 charitable and civic causes, ranging from president of the Rotary Club to membership on the Agricultural Museum Board of Trustees. He has even held public office, winning one term as a community councilman.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets