A deal 10 years in the making to divvy up about eight square miles of mostly industrial and commercial land in northwest Miami-Dade County among four cities blew up Thursday when a group of county commissioners blocked it.
As a result, the warehouses, manufacturing plants and strip malls located west of Miami International Airport and south of West Okeechobee Road will remain unincorporated neighborhoods that rely on the county for public services — almost a decade after the county suggested the cities of Doral, Medley, Miami Springs and Virginia Gardens negotiate to split up the land wedged between them.
The decision is a win for property owners who trudged to County Hall in protest, saying their property-tax rates in most cases would rise and hurt their businesses’ bottom lines.
“It’s going to lead to struggling tenants,” said Nestor Machado Jr., one of the owners of the West Airport Center mall on Northwest 36th Street between the Palmetto Expressway and the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center. “In turn, it’s going to lead to increased vacancies. Empty storefronts.”
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They also decried not having a say because county rules do not require voters to approve annexations for commercial areas with fewer than 250 voters.
For the cities, the decision of the commission’s land use and development committee represents a loss of millions of dollars in potential tax revenues that would have boosted their coffers.
“We have been patient and working with the county,” Medley Mayor Robert Martell said.
The debate underscored a big question facing the county: whether it should force all of its unincorporated areas to form new cities or join existing ones so the county can focus on regional matters, as neighboring Broward County does.
For now, some commissioners are loath to accept applications without a countywide plan in place.
“To me, all of these are premature,” Commissioner Barbara Jordan said.
Last year, voters amended the county charter to require commissioners to consider if annexations of commercial land were intended to merely bolster a city’s tax base. Similar annexations in the past have been criticized as blatant land grabs.
The county had asked the four cities to figure out a way to divide the land after Virginia Gardens — which lost much of its footprint with the development of the airport — applied to annex land in 2003. Medley, Miami Springs and Doral, which was then a brand-new city, cried foul and said they wanted in, too.
Three years ago, the cities submitted their agreement. The county’s planning advisory board recommended that commissioners deny all of the requests.
Facing likely defeat, the cities deferred their applications until this year — with a new wrinkle: Doral wanted to take over a parcel that Medley intended to annex, prompting Medley to accuse Doral of reneging on the deal.
On Thursday, as opponents dressed in anti-annexation T-shirts lined up in the commission chambers, city leaders asked the committee to at least vote in their favor so the full, 13-member commission could consider the agreement.
“If this dies here on the table, it’s over 12 years of work,” Miami Springs Mayor Zavier Garcia said.
But that’s exactly what the four commissioners in attendance did, effectively killing the deal.
Commissioners didn’t vote against the agreement, which had to be considered as six separate items. But for each item, Committee Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Commissioners Jordan, Audrey Edmonson and Xavier Suarez either deadlocked or failed to muster enough support to even hold a vote.
The commissioner who could have broken some of the ties, Lynda Bell, was absent because of a death in her family.
County rules don’t allow the proposals to come up again for at least six months.
The committee also effectively killed an application by West Miami to annex a mostly commercial parcel west of Southwest 67th Avenue and south of Eighth Street.
An application from El Portal to annex two enclaves already surrounded by the village was allowed to go to the full commission, as was a boundary adjustment between Doral and Sweetwater.