Baños is the Editor of Gables Insider
In a determined effort to extend the boundaries of its city limits, Coral Gables stands on the brink of reigniting longstanding debates that center around the prospective annexation of three distinct neighborhoods: High Pines, Ponce Davis, and the perpetually contested Little Gables. These protracted deliberations have kept the city’s residents divided for a considerable time, and as this debate is rekindled, the keen interest of the public becomes increasingly evident.
This Wednesday, September 20, 2023, at 6:30 PM, the community will congregate at the Coco Plum Woman’s Club, located at 1375 Sunset Drive, Coral Gables. The focus of this assembly will revolve around the proposed annexation of High Pines and Ponce Davis. Historically, this particular set of neighborhoods have been known to elicit a broad spectrum of reactions, with some voicing reservations, while others perceive it as a beneficial stride toward the city’s future. Perhaps, the most compelling argument in favor of this annexation revolves around the tantalizing prospect of an augmented tax revenue stream, a compelling financial incentive for the Commission, in an area seen by many as an affluent and picturesque County enclave.
In stark contrast, the gathering slated for September 27, 2023, at 6:30 PM, to be convened at the Police and Fire Headquarters located at 2151 Salzedo St, Coral Gables, is dedicated to the annexation of Little Gables and promises to be a heated and contentious affair. Positioned on the periphery of North Gables, this rectangular slice of county land has long served as a crucible of debate and discord, wedged uncomfortably between two incorporated municipalities.
The recent resurgence in momentum behind the annexation efforts for all three neighborhoods can be traced back to the commitment in 2017 of Mayor Valdes-Fauli and, during that period, Commissioner Lago. Notably, Mayor Lago has emerged as the most ardent advocate for annexation, displaying unwavering resolve even in the face of a multitude of challenges and vocal opposition from segments of the public and firefighter unions, entities with a vested interest in the eventual outcome.
In a significant setback, the County dealt a blow to the initial attempt to annex all three areas in July 2019, following nearly three years of relentless effort by the City. However, Mayor Lago resurrected the endeavor in August 2022, setting the stage for impassioned and occasionally contentious debates, most notably with then-Commissioner Fors, who enshrined his opposition to annexation as a central pillar of his campaign for the Commission.
During the meeting on September 13, 2023, Commissioner Fernandez seized the opportunity to pose critical questions about the rejuvenated process, examining a city initiative designed to garner signatures of support from Little Gables residents. This initiative effectively limits their choices to a decisive “YES” on mailers sent by the city. The city’s staff provided a detailed presentation of this process, representing a renewed beginning after the County’s resounding rejection in 2019. To advance, proponents of the proposed annexation in all three areas must secure support from a minimum of 20% of registered voters, followed by the City’s endorsement before undergoing further administrative scrutiny by the County. The community meetings, detailed above, constitute an integral component of this multifaceted prequalification process. They are complemented by a dedicated page on the Coral Gables website, a digital platform designed to showcase the city’s myriad advantages, a modern echo of the land promotion campaigns of the early 1920s.
As the process unfolds, residents living within the annexation areas, alongside their fellow Coral Gables residents, will once again have the opportunity to articulate their perspectives and express their deeply held opinions. Historical debates have habitually revisited similar themes, revolving around concerns pertaining to purportedly blighted areas in Little Gables and the presence of businesses operating on an hourly basis, factors that have served as bases for postponement or outright rejection of annexation. Preliminary and antiquated financial appraisals have also underscored the potential negative ramifications on tax revenues when weighed against city expenditures in the initial three years following the adoption of annexation, a confluence of circumstances that foreshadows initial fiscal challenges for the city.
Perhaps the most potent argument posed by opponents of annexation rests in the contention that the city ought to prioritize its existing affairs before entertaining further complexities. Notwithstanding, Mayor Lago is widely expected to counter with the compelling assertion that annexation will ultimately serve as a catalyst for the transformation of this particular County section into a robust contributor of taxes to Coral Gables. Proponents of annexation argue that the addition of this County segment, a region already enjoying services rendered by Coral Gables Police and Fire Departments due to the protracted response times of county entities during emergencies and preexisting interlocal agreements, represents the most direct path to authentic contribution to the city’s tax revenue. Furthermore, the argument contends that the prestige of the Coral Gables name will steadily dispel the notion of blight, a gradual process bolstered by recent surges in property values in Little Gables that rival those in North Gables, thereby reinforcing tax revenues.
Perceptions regarding annexation appear to be inexorably linked to one’s proximity to Little Gables. The prevailing anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that residents residing in closer proximity to Little Gables are inclined to express greater support for annexation. Conversely, those living further away exhibit a more pronounced skepticism, rooted in apprehensions concerning the potential addition of a trailer park to their jurisdiction, among other fiscal concerns. This prevailing sentiment is underscored by a central desire to uphold and preserve the image of Coral Gables as the quintessential “City Beautiful” enclave.
In the final analysis, the ultimate arbiters in this ongoing saga will be the city’s residents who will amplify their voices and air their perspectives, while the City Commission will labor to chart the most prudent course of action, one that takes into account the benefit of all stakeholders. It is wise to underscore that, should Mayor Lago succeed once again in advancing this matter, all residents, whether hailing from Coral Gables or the boundaries of Little Gables, will be afforded yet another opportunity to weigh in during the County’s comprehensive review process. Perhaps, as in the case of contentious debates that have come before, the destiny of this particular discourse will ultimately be consigned to the annals of history, or perhaps we may finally be able to call these county residents our Coral Gables neighbors. Either way, residents will have an opportunity to have their voices heard during the above-described meetings.