“Those islands on the Venetian Causeway have been trying for quite some time to become part of the City of Miami Beach,” Góngora said. “I never really thought it was practical but when we started talking about annexing North Bay Village, [I thought] let’s talk about annexation where the residents actually want to be a part of us and have been asking to become part of us for quite a while.”
The Venetian Islands are located on the western side of Miami Beach in Biscayne Bay. Going east to west, Belle Isle, Rivo Alto Island, Di Lido Island and San Marino Island are all part of the City of Miami Beach. The two westernmost islands – San Marco and Biscayne (above) – are part of the City of Miami. Residents say they have much more in common with their neighbors in the residential communities spanning the islands than with the adjacent urban areas in the City of Miami. There is even a physical barrier of sorts in the toll area separating them from downtown Miami. Complicating matters, San Marco and Biscayne Islands have a Miami Beach zip code and feed into the Miami Beach schools. A petition circulating among residents to formally request the change says, “There is an arbitrary divide in what should be one community.”
Góngora said of the annexation request, “I think it’s an interesting idea. Everybody assumes that these two islands are already a part of Miami Beach because they’re on the eastern side of the Venetian Causeway. I think if we had an opportunity it would be fantastic. Practically, I think it’s going to be difficult because the City of Miami is not going to want to give up tax revenue.”
What would this mean, roughly, to both jurisdictions from a revenue standpoint? Compass realtor Seth Feuer added up the assessed property values for us (taking into account homesteaded property values as we’re assuming they would remain homesteaded here). He came up with $167,983,566 in assessed property values on San Marco Island and $230,825,859 in taxable value for Biscayne Island. Using the City of Miami’s millage rate of 7.4365, a rough estimate is the two islands contribute almost $3m in annual property tax. [To calculate, you multiply the mill rate by the property value and divide by 1,000.] Using the City of Miami Beach’s millage rate of 5.7224, Miami Beach stands to gain roughly $2.3m in property taxes. Of course, there are service costs against those tax revenues, but that’s our back of the envelope calculation. And, yes, residents of the two islands would pay less in property taxes if they were part of Miami Beach, but all that we spoke with said that was not the driving force behind the petition.
Góngora is thinking creatively about how to ease Miami’s anticipated objections to losing revenue. On Fisher Island, he said, the eastern-most tip belongs to Miami Beach with the rest falling under the City of Miami’s jurisdiction. “I’ve asked the City Attorney to perhaps compare these properties and see if there would be an appetite for mutual annexation. Miami Beach gives up an area that everyone assumes is part of Miami for a part of Miami that everyone assumes is part of Miami Beach.”
“If we’re talking about annexation,” Góngora said, "I think we should include these islands that have been seeking to be annexed for several years, rather than a hostile takeover” of North Bay Village.
Diana Fontani, a Biscayne Island resident and City of Miami Beach employee, said, when she first moved to the island five years ago and even after she started working for the City, “I always assumed those two islands were part of Miami Beach.”
She echoed the thoughts of other residents who said “Sometimes it feels like we’re forgotten by the City of Miami.”
Fontani says the petition process picked up steam on San Marco Island where it was easier to go door-to-door in the single-family home neighborhood. Nearly 70% of the residents there have signed the petition. There is now a push to get residents of Biscayne Island to sign where homeowners are spread out among two condo buildings and single-family homes.
The petition, which is identical for Biscayne and San Marco Islands, lists five key reasons for wanting to make the jurisdictional switch:
- Children are Miami Beach students but have non-resident status so they “suffer from non-priority registration (at ‘non-resident’ rates)” for programs at the Scott Rakow Recreation Center. “Our children are therefore often shut out from participating in after-school activities with their classmates,” the petition states.
- “Inferior Security & Emergency Response Time.” The petition cites crime that occurs “on a regular basis” without adequate police coverage. “We share services with District 2, in heavily-populated downtown Miami (including the American Airlines Arena), and there are simply not enough officers to adequately cover Biscayne [San Marco] Island. Residents should not have to call 911 and wait over 45 minutes for an officer when there is an intruder on their property. It is common to have to wait two hours or more for a police officer when a non-emergency call is placed.”
- Incompatible zoning: Several residents who spoke with RE:MiamiBeach on background out of concern for retribution said the Miami 21 zoning which they fall under, is written for an urban setting. The same guidelines that apply to Wynwood and downtown Miami with smaller setbacks and less greenspace requirements apply to their residential neighborhoods. While Biscayne Island is a mix of single-family homes and the two condo buildings, San Marco Island contains only single-family residences as do most of the Venetian Islands. The petitioners want to share the same code requirements for setbacks and greenspace as the Miami Beach islands on the Venetian Causeway. There is also a complaint that the City of Miami is not enforcing zoning infractions or monitoring ongoing construction.
- The residents say by being divided between the two cities, there is inequitable treatment in parking fees and tolls for residents who live on the Venetian Causeway. While they pay non-resident parking fees ($4 an hour and “400% more than Miami Beach residents"), “Miami Beach Sunset Island residents are entitled to use the Venetian Causeway at the highly discounted resident commuter pass rate.”
- “Lack of Input in Miami Beach Government Affairs: The laws that most affect us on a daily basis are voted on in Miami Beach, and we have no input.”
Their biggest concern about becoming part of Miami Beach? The City’s ability to afford its initiatives to combat sea level rise.