Residents of Miami-Dade’s vast southwestern suburbs will be able to once again consider if they want to remain under county rule or break away to form new cities of their own.
Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday approved — somewhat reluctantly — the creation of a pair of committees to examine the price tag of incorporating. The region flirted with cityhood more than a decade ago but ultimately didn’t go for it.
One of the two municipal advisory committees, known as MACs, will include some neighborhoods from Tamiami Trail south to Kendall Drive and from the Florida Turnpike west to the Everglades. The other will include portions of a swath from Kendall Drive south to Coral Reef Drive and from the Turnpike and Southwest 137th Avenue west to the levee east of the Everglades.
The committees were sponsored by Commissioner Juan C. Zapata, a proponent of incorporation who represents most of the areas involved. Some neighborhoods fall in Commissioner Xavier Suarez’s district; areas in other commission districts will be excluded from the committees.
“I’ve been a big advocate of the county getting out of the municipal business,” Zapata said, adding that he wants to start a “community dialogue” so residents can decide for themselves what they want.
A freshman on the board, Zapata had pushed for the committees for months but encountered friction when he initially proposed areas that overlapped with other commission districts. He eventually removed those neighborhoods from his plan.
On Tuesday, Zapata faced additional questions from some of his colleagues, who said they wanted to wait for a task force reviewing the county’s city annexation and incorporation policies to weigh in before signing off on new committees.
“That is not good policy,” Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa cautioned.
But county administrators noted that Miami-Dade already has five active committees, and the commission drew up two additional ones in May, sponsored by Commissioner Dennis Moss in unincorporated portions of his South Miami-Dade district.
To handle the surge, county Budget Director Jennifer Moon said her office will soon need to hire a full-time employee who would make around $96,000 a year in salary and benefits. That person should have a master’s degree and be highly qualified because incorporation efforts are so controversial, Moon said.
West Kendall last contemplated incorporation more than a decade ago, when a committee known as the Big MAC weighed cityhood options for what were at the time nearly 100,000 residents. Zapata was once the committee’s chairman. One short-lived proposal would have created three separate municipalities in the area.
The committee ultimately disbanded in 2003, with then-Commissioner Joe Martinez citing a lack of interest from the community in continuing its meetings.
In other business Tuesday, commissioners signed off on a plan to allow Genting to launch a small cruise ship to transport more than 1,500 passengers from PortMiami to the Malaysian company’s Resorts World Bimini casino two hours away in the Bahamas.
As part of the deal, Genting will pay about $11 million to refurbish the port’s Terminal H. It will be reimbursed through rent credits, though Genting will still have to pay the port about $7 million a year in rent.
The ship was docked in PortMiami last week, and several county officials took part in a ceremony with Bahamian leaders and top Genting executives on Friday, even before the cruise service had been approved. But the ship has been waylaid at the port after failing to meet U.S. Coast Guard safety requirements over the weekend.
Commissioners approved the plan without discussion.
The board also gave the final approval necessary to build a pedestrian bridge over U.S. 1 at Mariposa Court. Commissioners’ unanimous vote allowed the county to take over control of Mariposa from the city of Coral Gables so Miami-Dade can build the overpass 17 feet about U.S. 1 from the Metrorail University Station.
The University of Miami has been lobbying for the bridge for years. Eight UM students have been struck by cars and three of them killed trying to cross the intersection since 1989, most recently Ashley Kelly in 2005.
Current students, clad in the university’s signature orange and green, sat in the commission chambers Tuesday, as did state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican and former UM student body president, to support the proposal.
UM President Donna Shalala, calling the bridge “one of the single most important issues” of her tenure, told commissioners the worst part of her job is telling parents that their child has died in an accident.
“Over the past 24 years, the intersection at U.S. 1 and Mariposa Court has been the scene of critical injuries and the loss of life,” she said.
The meeting began on another somber note, with a moment of silence to honor the 19 firefighters who died this week in Arizona. An opening prayer noted that Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Deputy Mayor Chip Iglesias are both former firefighters.