Dedicated volunteers worked for years to make Miami Lakes the 31st municipality in Miami-Dade County, an accomplishment that was achieved two decades ago.
Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid said of the importance of local government, “You can’t speak to your president, you can’t speak to your governor ... but you can speak to your mayor, you can speak to your councilmembers to make sure that your community is improving,” Cid said.
It takes a committee, or three
The Miami Lakes Civic Association formed in 1964, two years after building of the community of Miami Lakes began.
The unincorporated town was developed by what came to be called The Graham Companies out of pastures belonging to the Graham family’s dairy cattle business.
The company, following landscape architect Lester Collins’s master plan, eventually built curved byways; 100 parks; dug scores of lakes and planted hundreds of trees for more than 40 residential neighborhoods and six shopping centers.
Nearly 30 years later in 1991, the community saw Key Biscayne separate from the county and become a village.
Stuart S. Wyllie, president and chief executive officer of The Graham Companies, recalls reading a county report then that analyzed municipal incorporations from the county’s perspective.
“They recommended that the county’s main focus ought to be the airport, the port, the major transportation arterials, and that municipal services -- the potholes, zoning, garbage, specific municipal things -- are best delivered and administered at the local level within these municipalities.
“In essence what they were saying is the county should let unincorporated Dade find its way into municipalities to provide these services,” Wyllie said.
Protecting a special place
Looking at a map, Wyllie said, “What we consider Miami Lakes, what the Grahams had developed, the logical thing for the county would be to lump us with Palm Springs North and far west. We could end up losing our identity.”
Wyllie said the company was “proud of Miami Lakes’ architectural controls and landscaping, which were unique to Northwest Miami-Dade. We needed to control our town’s destiny.”
But the company didn’t want to tell residents and the Civic Association how to run that effort, either, and limited its involvement to donating office space, Wyllie said.
Wyllie calls local electrician Wayne Slaton “the unsung hero” in the incorporation movement.
It grew from residents’ desire for local control: over infrastructure and maintenance, keeping more tax dollars in town and speeding up responses to quality of life issues.
“Every road, sidewalk, sewer, every bit of infrastructure, the developer had put it in,” said Slaton, who was elected the town’s first mayor in 2001. “It was minimally maintained by the county services.”
Also, Miami Lakers were among more than a million people in the county, and residents’ concerns weren’t a priority in the county’s downtown Miami offices, Slaton said.
Miami Lakers also wanted community-oriented policing, to see officers in their neighborhoods.
“It wasn’t because there was a high crime issue in town,” Slaton said. Officers based in the town’s station would patrol in areas of the county that needed them more urgently, he said.
Volunteers get it done
Slaton said the “road to incorporation was paved by dedicated, unpaid volunteers of the Civic Association,” and told The Miami Laker then those residents included Neill Robinson, Angela Garrison, Maggie Clavelo, Gil Mojica and the late Roberto Alonso.
In 1996, Miami Lakes and other community civic associations sought to incorporate, but the county only allowed Sunny Isles to move forward.
The county put a moratorium on incorporations and created community councils to allow local control over zoning.
“Miami Lakes was a master planned community from the get go,” Slaton said. “Zoning was not an issue in Miami Lakes, but it absolutely was in Doral or Palmetto Bay.”
In 1999, the county formed QNIP – the Quality Neighborhood Improvement Project – for specific improvements and maintenance in neighborhoods. Some sidewalks in Miami Lakes were repaired.
“They were trying to address the concerns of all these people asking to incorporate. It was a good thing and it was helping,” Slaton said.
Still, there’s nothing like local control over clogged drains and broken streetlights.
That same year, the county appointed town residents to a new group, the Miami Lakes Municipal Advisory Committee, to study incorporation.
In 2000, things moved quickly and in May, the county finally agreed to incorporation if the county continued to provide special police services (homicide investigations, bomb squad, divers, SWAT and helicopters); the library, fire rescue and solid waste removal.
“The county was getting tax dollars for those services and didn’t want to give them up,” Slaton said.
A new town
On Sept. 5, residents approved incorporation and the Miami Lakes Charter Committee was formed.
Miami Lakes Town Manager Edward Pidermann, who was then a firefighter in Broward County and lived in town with his family, said he got involved because, “I wanted to have a say so over the future and development of our new town.”
The committee had just three months to create the charter, with the help of attorney Richard Jay Weiss.
The charter set town boundaries and absorbed areas not developed by The Graham Companies, including West Lakes, Villa Vizcaya and Royal Oaks.
The charter also created schedules for council meetings and elections and allowed contracting with Miami-Dade Police for a dedicated force to protect the town.
On Dec. 5, 2000, residents voted.
Turnout was low, with only 1,566 of 10,699 registered voters casting ballots, The Miami Laker reported then.
But 94% of voters approved the charter.
“Incorporating has protected the town and what it stands for and why it’s unique,” Wyllie said. “On balance, it’s been positive.”
Cid said evidence of incorporation and the resulting local control can be seen in the town’s investment in its tree canopy; a low crime rate that enhances property values and the ability to fight for town interests, such as the lawsuit to try and keep the bridges closed at Northwest 170th Street and Northwest 154th Street.
The next 20 years
What does the future hold for Miami Lakes?
Cid says it includes advocating for residents whose properties are affected by limestone mining, as well as continued investments in infrastructure.
That includes ongoing drainage projects and next year, building a bridge over the C-8 Canal and extending Northwest 59th Avenue south to Miami Lakes Drive.
Cid called that project “one of the most significant developments in our town’s history. … That is one of the largest industrial bases in our community, with commercial businesses, job-wise, the top magnet school [Miami Lakes Education Center] in the U.S. [is there], yet they have to go outside the town to come in,” Cid said.
“Even from a public safety perspective [for kids walking to school] it’s very important.”