Sweetwater annexation proposal sets off war of words with Miami-Dade commissioner

It’s Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier Souto versus Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño in the latest public squabble over a proposed city expansion.

Maroño and his city commission have asked the county to annex Florida International University’s engineering campus and portions of two major roads to Sweetwater. Those roads — West Flagler Street and Southwest Eighth Street — and FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing are in Souto’s unincorporated Miami-Dade district.

Souto, who has decried the proposal from the dais and on Spanish-language radio, has likened the move to an invasion.

“Georgia doesn’t get into Florida. Florida doesn’t get into Georgia,” he said in an interview. “We have to respect boundaries.”

Above all, Souto said he is upset that he was not informed about Sweetwater’s proposal from its inception, learning of it from a newspaper article instead. He has since filed county legislation that would essentially give commissioners veto power over annexations involving their districts.

Maroño, whose city lies outside of Souto’s district, said he is baffled by the commissioner’s reaction.

“I haven’t been able to speak to him because he won’t talk to me,” he said. “I wish that I knew what his problem was.”

Sweetwater’s proposal would annex the engineering campus and the public rights-of-way on Flagler between Southwest 102nd and 110th avenues and on Eighth Street between Southwest 102nd Avenue and the Snapper Creek Canal.

The county would not lose any tax base because universities do not pay property taxes and because Sweetwater doesn’t want to annex any homes or businesses — only the rights-of-way themselves, to have police jurisdiction over them.

Maroño said the city wants to work more closely with FIU.

“We are becoming a college town/university city,” he said, listing for-profit universities in Sweetwater. “We can’t say we have FIU in our city, or a campus of FIU. So we figured the engineering campus would fit in perfect.”

Souto wrote in a newsletter that the city has set its “ultimate sights on incorporating Florida International University and Tamiami Park” into its borders. FIU’s main campus is outside Sweetwater and outside Souto’s district.

In the newsletter, Souto accused the city and FIU President Mark Rosenberg of “conspiring and negotiating in secrecy.” Rosenberg sent the county a letter backing Sweetwater’s proposal — though Souto said Rosenberg told him privately that he wasn’t involved in the process.

“A university meddling in politics and going on a partnership with a city to invade communities?” Souto wrote. “Is this America?”

Through a university spokeswoman, Rosenberg declined to comment.

Maroño, who put out a news release to counter Souto’s statements, said his city has no intentions of expanding into Westchester or Fontainebleau — and suggested a possible motive for Souto’s stance.

“He wants to create a city of Westchester,” Maroño speculated. “He wants to be the first mayor of the city of Westchester, and he wants to include the FIU main campus in that city.”

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