After nearly three years, the Health and County Operations Committee of the Miami-Dade County Commission voted unanimously yesterday to end the City of Coral Gables’ annexation of High Pines, Ponce Davis and Little Gables.
Years of work and participation from Coral Gables staff, County staff, and community stake holders to bring this issue to a vote by residents, came down to a 4-person vote (Sally A. Heyman (4) Chairwoman; Xavier L. Suarez (7) Vice Chairman; , Jose “Pepe” Diaz (12), and Senator Javier D. Souto (10)).
The annexation of High Pines and Ponce Davis was discussed first. A large push had been made to block the measure by the fire union due to concerns over loss of revenue for Miami-Dade county’s fire department. The measure was voted down first.
Numerous residents from the Little Gables area and the City of Coral Gables spoke for and against the area’s annexation.
Residents against focused on the status of those residing in the trailer park located at the intersection of SW 44th Avenue and 9th Street. This became the issue of contention for the committee. When asked to explain what would come of the trailer park’s residents, Coral Gables City Manager, Peter Iglesias, fumbled for words and was unable to provide a satisfactory answer to the Committee.
Joining the chorus against annexation was the lobbyist for the Executive Motel, which was the subject of discussion by many residents who spoke in favor of annexation. The motel has long been a hotbed of concern due to alleged prostitution as it offers hourly room rates. Annexation would have ended this, as Coral Gables prohibits hourly rentals of rooms.
Residents who spoke in favor of annexation asked for the County to bring the issue to the ballot so that residents could decide their own fate. They mentioned a 2017 survey of Little Gables by County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa which showed a 68% of residents in favor of annexation. County staff explained that this survey had been sent to all Little Gables residents and that follow ups had been made to those who had not replied.
In the end, Chairwoman Heyman made a motion to block the annexation of Little Gables, explaining that she understood that the trailer park resident’s fate was a problem they themselves have not done enough to provide low income housing.
LITTLE GABLES NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: “We are extremely disappointed with the County Commission sub-Committee decision today. Their votes do not reflect the wish of the majority of the Little Gables neighborhood. We will examine our options to bring this back at some point down the road so the residents, including the residents from the trailer park, can ultimately vote on this issue.”
VICE MAYOR VINCE LAGO: “For the past two years I have advocated and continue to support the concept of annexing both High Pines/ Ponce Davis and the Little Gables area. Today’s decision leaves many issues to be resolved and the majority of North Gables residents concerned in regards to the business practices of the 8th street motels. The polling numbers over the past few years have been overwhelmingly in favor of annexation, but at today’s committee meeting we witnessed special interests on behalf of the motels misrepresent the truth and eventually stifle democracy. These two separate areas would have greatly benefited from the city of Coral Gables’ first class services and amenities (police, fire, garbage/recycling, parks, etc), and not to mention it would have resolved service pockets for the County, which today recommended for annexation. I would like to thank our staff, consultants and residents who worked diligently for years in an effort to finally square off our city. Your commitment is admirable and based in good faith.”
COMMISSIONER MICHAEL MENA: “It is no secret that I voted against annexing Little Gables two years ago, largely because I was not comfortable with the trailer park situation there, but also because of the various zoning issues and the revenue shortfall that would have resulted for that area. As a whole, I did not see how it improved the quality of life of our existing residents. I voted in favor of annexing High Pines/Ponce Davis because those issues were not present there and it would create a significant revenue surplus. However, both votes passed and we moved forward as a City. It became very evident a few weeks ago, however, that politics were derailing the process at the County. The Dade Firefighters Union got heavily involved because of concerns over the impact of the tax revenues the County would be losing from the High Pines/Ponce Davis area. Then the County pulled a condition out of left field that would require us to transfer a piece of property to them (our transfer station out on 72nd Avenue) that is valued at close to $10 million if we wanted to proceed (which they knew was a non starter). Then the committee that met today cancelled this hearing twice. At that point the writing was on the wall. I feel badly for the many staff members who put so much effort into this and the many residents who overwhelmingly supported this when we polled over a year ago. If the County had no intention of allowing it, I wish they would have just said that from the beginning. At this point, as a City, it is time for us to move on from this issue and focus time and energy on the issues impacting our residents.”
COMMISSIONER JORGE L. FORS, JR.: “From the outset, I have been cautious of plans to annex Little Gables, largely because Coral Gables residents never had a say in the matter and the finances were questionable. Many claimed it was a ‘done deal’. During my campaign, I learned that residents shared my concerns and I voiced it at today’s meeting. Now it’s clear that it was not a ‘done deal.'”