One Man, One Vote, One Problem
After years of legal wrangling, incorporation is hitting its stride again. Miami Lakes, Palmetto Bay, Doral, and Miami Gardens are the latest communities to follow a trend that will most likely fill out the edges of Miami-Dade County. But one name is noticeably absent from this list: the Redland. "We're in a holding pattern," says Pat Wade, a long-time advocate of Redland incorporation whose efforts to win the right to vote on incorporation failed in November 2001. In fact the Redland is further from a vote than ever.
Wade and other incorporationists blame the delay on Miami-Dade County Manager Steve Shiver. They say Shiver has worked behind the scenes to thwart their efforts and in turn their right to vote on the issue. And they may be right.
Nothing is easy these days when it comes to incorporation. Proposed municipalities must go through an arduous study and review process. Various county departments must sign off on proposals, and the county commission has to vote to give the area the possibility of voting at all. In addition the county has strict new rules to ensure that would-be incorporated areas maintain specific services -- the county's fire-rescue, public library, solid-waste collection, and police systems. They also must prove they will be "revenue neutral" (meaning the loss of their tax base won't hinder services elsewhere in the county) or else pay a "mitigation fee." Two years ago an analysis team in the county's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) did declare the Redland "revenue neutral," but that was about the simplest hurdle to be faced.
The area is huge -- nearly 45,000 acres south of SW 168th Street and mainly west of Homestead and Florida City. It is an agricultural community seeking to stay that way, hence the move to incorporate and control its future. For one important reason, though, that future is hotly contested: The Redland is the last frontier for development in South Florida. Currently the area lies beyond the county's Urban Development Boundary, which limits growth to one residence for every five acres, but that restriction could change with a vote of the county commission. That's why incorporation is opposed by developers and the bankers who finance them and provide mortgages to their customers. Developers' lobbyists are adept at influencing county commissioners, but they'd have difficulty swaying a future Redland city council determined to maintain its rural character.
Although publicly Shiver is neutral on the issue, his efforts to get a foothold in the Redland date back years. "We feel your need for incorporation can be accomplished with the creation of a Community Development District (CDD) within the City of Homestead," he wrote to the Redland's Citizens Association in November 2000, when he was mayor of Homestead. A CDD would have meant annexation to Homestead and control by Shiver.
After he was rebuffed, Shiver, now county manager, began maneuvering behind the scenes. For example, in the months leading up to a November 2001 county commission meeting on whether to allow Redland residents a vote on incorporation, Shiver put pressure on the OMB analysis team, which was ready to recommend incorporation. According to a source on the team, shortly before the November meeting Shiver called on analysts to attend a gathering of the anti-incorporation committee known as CARI (Citizens Against Redland Incorporation).
The "citizens" CARI represents are far from disinterested. They include many of South Miami-Dade's most active real estate and banking interests, many of whom are connected to Shiver's former life as a Homestead real estate entrepreneur. CARI president Richard Alger, a long-time Shiver supporter, is a board member of First National Bank of South Florida. Community Bank of Florida board member Gerald Case is vice president of the group. (Both banks are headquartered in Homestead.) Shiver's wife is a current member of Community Bank's executive advisory council, and Shiver himself is a former stockholder and advisory council member at the bank as well.
For its part, First National graciously hosted what would later be known as the "inquisition" of OMB analysts. "The meeting was civilized but clearly antagonistic," recalls an analyst who attended but prefers anonymity. The antagonism principally came from CARI's lawyer Miguel DeGrandy, a well-connected county-hall lobbyist. "They clearly had a different view of the world," the county analyst says. DeGrandy's bloodletting, which concentrated on tax and boundary issues, went on for three hours.
Insiders say Shiver also pushed both Homestead and Florida City governments to write letters to the county disputing the Redland group's proposed municipal boundaries. They further claim he alerted the planning department to a quirk in the proposed boundary that could have created an enclave, a no man's land between Homestead and Florida City that would have complicated delivery of county services. The letters put more obstacles in the Redland incorporationists' way. In fact by the November 2001 commission meeting, there were so many obstacles the sponsoring commissioner, Katy Sorenson, withdrew the incorporation-vote proposal.
Shiver denies involvement in any obstructionist efforts, an assertion backed by the county's assistant planning director, Lee Rawlinson, who insists Shiver never mentioned the enclave issue. "It's not rocket science," he says. "The code prohibits creating an enclave."
Indeed the enclave was a legal snafu. Redland activists, however, were reluctant to compromise when it came to proposed boundaries and who their neighbors would be. Shiver calls them stubborn. "If they'd focus on themselves," the manager says, "then we could push this issue forward."
But exactly what "forward" means is still up for interpretation. Shiver seems to think the Redland needs "a fresh start." Last year he personally asked Commissioner Sorenson to "reconfigure" the Redland's citizen incorporation committee. The Sorenson camp felt this meant including members of CARI. Shiver then went to Pat Wade's home and made the same request, calling for a "united front," which Wade believes is a euphemism for developer-controlled. Sorenson and Wade refused to act on Shiver's proposal.
"[Redland residents] don't want a Publix," Wade says. "They like their dirt roads. They want a rural community. They want the rest of the people to leave them the hell alone. This is 180 degrees from what Shiver, the bankers, the big landowners, and the developers want."
Meanwhile Shiver strains to sustain his public neutrality. "I think [Redland incorporation] has a place," he says, "just like any other incorporation has a place. But if we're going to incorporate, we're going to do so for the right reasons."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.