A group of nearly 200 residents of the unincorporated neighborhoods of High Pines and Ponce Davis gathered at the Riviera Presbyterian Church Tuesday night with passionate — but divided — messages for Coral Gables leaders.
The homeowners expressed both support and opposition to the idea of being annexed into the Gables. Some had concerns that the city’s rules on building and zoning are too restrictive, while others welcomed the potential for faster police response times and better services like waste pickup.
Annexation has been talked about for years, and in November 2015 the city commission approved studying the areas. The two neighborhoods are southeast of South Dixie Highway and surrounded by Coral Gables along with portions of Pinecrest and South Miami.
The Little Gables neighborhood, just south of Southwest Eighth Street, is also being considered for annexation, but is further along in the process.
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The boundaries of High Pines are almost L-shaped. It is bounded by Sunset Drive to the north, Southwest 88th Street to the south and Red Road to the west. The area extends east to Erwin Road, and the border with Ponce Davis is roughly along Southwest 80th Street and 52nd Avenue.
Ponce Davis then extends from that border east to Erwin Road and Old Cutler Road and south to 88th Street. High Pines and Ponce Davis have about 2,690 residents between them.
City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark said that the push for annexation came from Miami-Dade County’s desire to fill in certain unincorporated enclaves that are surrounded by other municipalities.
“The county has to cross over these municipalities in order to service you,” Swanson-Rivenbark said. “You are landlocked with other municipalities including Coral Gables.”
Supporters of annexation said that they felt isolated and said that Miami-Dade police can take hours to respond to their calls. The city’s consultant, citing numbers from the county’s police department, said that the average response time for emergencies is about 10 minutes. Coral Gables estimates about three to four minutes response time for its police force.
“The police are nonexistent. My house was broken into, and it took two hours for police to show up,” said John McNally, a High Pines resident.
At one point in the meeting Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli described the areas as a hole and Coral Gables as a doughnut surrounding the neighborhoods, which prompted some residents, after the meeting, to declare that they “are not a hole.”
Daniel Wolfe said that the city’s pitch of improved services and aesthetic standards was not enough to sell him on annexation.
“We are not a hole. We are a catch and I really feel like we need to be courted,” Wolfe said. “They’re not offering us enough in exchange for the property taxes we’re going to give them.”
City staff estimates that the Gables would receive about $50 million in property taxes, over the next seven years, from annexing High Pines and Ponce Davis. The city’s estimated expenses, including services like solid waste, police and fire, would be about $23 million over that same time period.
Residents in the area would see an increase in their base property tax rate, from about $4.34 per $1,000 of taxable value on their home, which includes a county fire district tax, to about $5.56 per $1,000 of taxable value. When combined with other regional, school board and county taxes, the rate increases from about $17.90 to $19 per $1,000 of taxable value.
Others said they were hesitant about having to adhere to the City Beautiful’s standards for home improvements and building.
“We find having less regulation is important although we approve of many of the things they do,” Linda Dann, a High Pines resident, said.
City leaders have said that if the annexation happens, they will respect Miami-Dade County code and not enforce any of the Gables-specific regulations.
An annexation requires multiple steps, and the city’s consultants said the process could take up to a year.
Residents in the area have received a survey, and Gables leaders hope to see more than 66 percent support for annexation. The next step would be circulation of a petition in the areas targeted for annexation. If at least 20 percent of the residents of an unincorporated area sign the petition in favor of annexation, the city would hold a public hearing and then the plan would go to the County Commission and eventually to voters in the unincorporated area.
The two neighborhoods are being considered separately and the boundaries could change.
“It is the commission’s intention to annex those areas that want [to be annexed],” Swanson-Rivenbark said.
The process is further along in the Little Gables area, which runs from Calle Ocho down to Southwest 16th Street between Cortez and Salzedo streets. About 68 percent of that area’s residents are supportive of annexation, according to surveys sent out by Coral Gables.
Little Gables has about 2,530 residents, and the city would receive about $9 million in property taxes, over the next seven years, from annexing the area. The estimated expenses for the area are about $16 million.