Fisher Island incorporation bid revived after county's change of heart
By Suzy Valentine
Fisher Island incorporation efforts resume this month after Miami-Dade County commissioners voted to reconsider authorizing a study of municipal status.
On Sept. 8, the commission vetoed an investigation into increased self-governance for the unincorporated community. Two weeks later, they voted to revisit the idea and are to rehear the item Oct. 18.
Civic leaders voiced concern last month that Fisher Island - which has 467 residents, 293 of whom are registered voters - would form too small a municipality. According to the 2000 census, however, the county includes communities such as the village of Indian Creek with 41 residents and the city of Islandia with a population of 6.
A Fisher Island resident welcomed the commission's U-turn.
"We're not asking for anything special," said Irwin Potash, a doctor at the Port of Miami. "The island should be treated just the same as any other principality."
"Every jurisdiction is entitled to be treated equally," said Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, whose district includes the 216-acre island.
The island's reputation as the richest community in the nation - per capita incomes averaged $236,238 five years ago - had resulted in an injustice, Dr. Potash said.
"There is some prejudice," he said. "People think we're just a bunch of rich folks. Residents are well-off, but some don't join the club because they can't afford to."
It costs $175,000 for an equity share in the Fisher Island Club - a figure that's to rise to $185,000 on Oct. 15. Annual dues for use of facilities, excluding the golf course, are $5,558 plus tax. Fairway fees are an additional $3,350 plus tax per year.
Mr. Barreiro said he didn't believe that the wherewithal of residents had influenced the initial decision by his colleagues to veto a feasibility study.
"I hope that wasn't the case."
Meanwhile, Dr. Potash said that it had been disingenuous for Commissioner Katy Sorenson to suggest that a homeowners' association would be more democratic for a community the size of Fisher Island.
"To leave it up to a management company, is absurd," he said. "That organization is run by the developer."
Though he has no leanings on the incorporation issue, Dr. Potash said he thought it would win support.
"I'm in a neutral position," he said. "There are going to be a lot more people at this hearing. I think it will get the votes."
Commissioners last month voted 6-3 against creating a municipal advisory committee for the island. They are to repeat the second reading process for the ordinance in less than two weeks.
If commissioners approve the feasibility study, it should be less than a year before the question of municipal status returns to the county.
If there were to be a vote on incorporation, 25% of registered voters - in this case 74 people - would be the minimum majority at the polls required in order to approve it.
"It's not a small community," Mr. Barreiro said. "There are 20 condominium associations, a marina, restaurants and commercial entities. It's a mixed-use island with its own character. It's not at the stage of adopting a charter. I think other commissioners decided that they could look at the information before making a decision and weigh the pros and cons."