Community News Update July 17, 2016

Our latest newsletter is out!  Click here to read it in its entirety, or read below for highlights….

There is no such thing as a summer slow-dow when it comes to advocating for our community!  Here’s the latest:
  • MAC/Incorporation: Last month’s Public Hearing of the Municipal Advisory Committee (MAC) saw passionate sentiments from pro- and against-incorporation residents.  The HOA’s current position is that a vote should be held to let the residents decide. We urge everyone to come to the next Public Hearing on Thursday, July 21, 6-8pm, Highland Oaks Middle School to ask the MAC to Let Us Vote. The MAC is approaching their vote on whether or not to allow an election – it is critical that residents attend and speak in favor of allowing a vote to happen. 
  • FDOT Plan for US 1/Ives Dairy Overpass: We had a great turnout from our neighborhood to the Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Public Hearing regarding their proposed plan to re-configure the Ives Dairy/US 1 interchange. Despite our strong objections that doing so would destroy 25 small businesses as well as other concerns, FDOT decided to move forward with their plan. However, as a result of HOA lobbying efforts, Florida State Rep. Barbara Watson and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman are pushing for design modifications.  We expect to hear the results of those efforts very soon. The HOA Board will review legal options if all else fails.
  • Lane Changes: As a result of HOA efforts, the south-bound lanes leaving the main Highland Lakes gate have been modified as follows:
    • Left Lane: Left turn only
    • Center Lane: Straight or right turn
    • Right Lane: Right turn only


We believe that this modification will alleviate traffic backup during school season.

Bright Lights, New City? Biscayne Times, July 2016

Bright Lights, New City? Print
Written By Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer
JULY 2016



Unincorporated Ojus is growing: The 400-unit apartment community Gables Aventura is under construction at NE 202nd Street and Miami Gardens Drive. BT photos by Erik Bojnansky

or 13 years activists from several neighborhoods between Aventura, North Miami Beach, I-95, and the Broward County line have been debating if they should unite and form their own city.Now pro-cityhood activists want to hold a referendum, as early as March 2017, to create the newest city in Miami-Dade County. But before that can happen, the referendum must be endorsed first by the Northeast Miami-Dade Municipal Advisory Committee (MAC), then the county’s Planning Advisory Board, and finally by the Miami-Dade County Commission.

The next Northeast MAC meeting will likely be held in late July at the Highland Oaks Middle School auditorium, says Jorge Fernandez, the county’s office of management and budget coordinator.

As of 2014, according to the U.S. Census, 18,761 people lived within this 3.3-square-mile area that includes Sky Lake, Highland Lakes, Ojus, and various other subdivisions where municipal services are handled by Miami-Dade County. The area includes condominiums, single-family homes, and retail strip malls. Within this area, a 400-unit apartment community called Gables Aventura is being built at NE 202nd Street and Miami Gardens Drive.

Not too far away from this future community, the Florida Department of Transportation wants to build another flyover at Ives Dairy Road and W. Dixie Highway. (See “Overhead and Under Fire,” May 2016.)

The Census Bureau refers to this region as the Ojus CDP (Census Designated Place), after the town that existed there from 1926 to 1936. Most locals, however, limit the “Ojus” moniker to the W. Dixie Highway corridor and reject it as a name for their city. Other floated suggestions include Highland Oaks, West Aventura, and Aventura Oaks.


David Promoff of Enchanted Lake with Alan Hecht and José Klahr of Highland Lakes handing out T-shirts prior to the June 21 Northeast MAC meeting.

Lenny Feldman, former president of the Sky Lake-Highland Lakes Area Homeowners Association, says it isn’t even clear if his community will incorporate as a city. “It’s a very emotional and critical issue,” says Feldman, a Highland Lakes resident. “People have strong opinions on both sides.”There are plenty of people who want to keep the status quo. The June 21 Northeast MAC meeting was attended by dozens of residents and property owners, and those who spoke against cityhood (many of whom claimed to be speaking on behalf of condo associations) outnumbered those in favor of it.

Gerard Moss, a 94-year-old Sky Lake resident who sits on the Northeast MAC, is on the anti-incorporation side. Moss insists most people are satisfied with the services they’re receiving from the county.

“If you need the police, they come right away,” Moss says. “I don’t think we need another level of government. What do I need another mayor or another city attorney for? It’ll cost another million dollars of overhead.”

Kenneth Friedman, chairman of the Northeast MAC, is a cityhood advocate. He counters that many of his neighbors are dissatisfied with the services and representation they receive at the county, and says that most anti-incorporation critics are “negative thinkers” who see the glass as half empty.

An April report by the consultancy PMG Associates states that the Ojus CDP can run a city with a $9 million operating budget without raising property taxes, fines, or fees. Hypothetical expenditures for this future city will be $8.5 million, with $4.9 million of that amount spent on police, from the Miami-Dade Police Department.

“We can’t, for the first three years, own our own police,” Friedman admits, citing county law for new cities. However, the new city can hire dedicated MDPD patrols, he says.

Alicia Perez Rook, an outspoken critic of incorporation, insists that the budget not only doesn’t include the cost of building a new city hall, it also omits a county exit fee that could reach as high as $1 million.

“Taxes will go higher,” predicts Rook, a Sky Lake resident. “They have to go higher. They have to pay for and maintain a new city.”

The Ojus CDP is just one part of a noncontiguous 208-square-mile territory where 1.1 million people reside. Known as the unincorporated municipal service area, these neighborhoods lie outside Miami-Dade County’s 34 municipalities.

Currently a property tax rate of 1.9283 mills, or $1.93 per $1000 of a property’s assessed value, is charged by the county within unincorporated areas for most city-like services, such as police, code enforcement, and garbage collection. That’s a far lower tax rate than most cities in Miami-Dade County, except for Doral (1.9 mills) and Aventura (1.7 mills).

Yet it’s unclear how much longer such unincorporated property tax rates can be maintained. Richard Friedman (no relation to Kenneth Friedman), a resident of the unincorporated Moors community just outside Miami Lakes, served on the county’s Annexation and Incorporation Review Task Force in 2013. During his tenure, Friedman learned that while the county’s elected officials have been reluctant to raise taxes, Miami-Dade’s infrastructure is crumbling.

“The current tax rates are artificially low as a way of maintaining favor with constituents,” he says.

That budget crunch will grow worse if more areas incorporate. Besides the Northeast MAC, seven other MACs are looking at turning their respective unincorporated regions into cities. Friedman predicts it’ll be the wealthy regions that bolt first. “Their taxation rate, their property values, allow them to charge at a lot lower tax rate than poorer areas,” he says.

If wealthy regions, like Kendall in south Miami-Dade, become cities, the county will have no choice but to slash services or raise property taxes of whatever unincorporated areas remain, Richard Friedman adds.

Whether or not Kendall becomes a city, Eugene Stearns, an attorney involved in the incorporation efforts of Key Biscayne and Aventura in the early 1990s, argues that Ojus CDP residents would be better off forming their own municipality.

Stearns asserts that tax money earmarked for an unincorporated community is pillaged “with great zeal” by county officials for countywide services like the Miami-Dade Transit bus system. Incorporated cities can also do a far better job providing services and addressing local issues than the county’s government can, Stearns insists. “Local governments,” he says, “are more efficient at providing a quality level of service at a lower cost than the county can.”

Former HOA president Lenny Feldman admits he’s leaning toward incorporation as a means of amplifying the community’s voice on matters like the proposed new flyover at Ives Dairy Road or public school construction, but only if there are guarantees that the new city government won’t overtax the residents on wasteful projects or bloated government pensions.

“If we’re able to make sure there’s responsible fiscal management,” Feldman says, “then there could be benefits to cityhood for a community like ours.”

Marc Hurwitz, the current president of the Sky Lake-Highland Lakes HOA, says his group has taken a neutral stance on the issue of cityhood. The group does, however, want a referendum. Proclaims Hurwitz: “The people should be allowed to vote on this as soon as possible.”

Adopt-a-Tree Event at FIU Biscayne Bay Campus

Miami-Dade County Division of Environmental Resources Management (DERM) will be giving FREE trees to the community through its popular Adopt-a-Tree Program.

Come to the Adopt-a-Tree Event on Sunday,  June 26th, from 9am until Noon at FIU Biscayne Bay Campus- 3000 NE 151 Street, North Miami,  FL 33181.

Residents eligible to adopt trees will be able to choose from Mango (only 1 per household), Carambola, Mulberry, Pigeon Plum, and Dahoon Holly. However, tree quantities are limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Participants will be required to fill out a “Registration Form” available at the event. Some restrictions apply – for information on rules, eligibility, tree information, and community service hours for those who would like to volunteer, please visit the Adopt-a-Tree webpage.

Also at this event, the Miami-Dade County Water & Sewer Department will exchange up to 3 incandescent light bulbs for high efficiency compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), as well as, 2 high efficiency shower heads to those residents who bring their old shower heads and/or their most heavily used regular light bulbs to exchange at the event (while supplies last). The Miami-Dade County Animal Services Department will also have pets there available for adoption. For more information call 311.

For more information on the Adopt-a-Tree Program, email or call 305-372-6784.

HOA Letter to FDOT District 6 Secretary Regarding the Proposed Ives Dairy Overpass

June 14, 2016

Via Electronic Mail & Standard Mail

Jim Wolfe

District Six Secretary

State of Florida Department of Transportation

1000 NW 111 Avenue

Miami, FL 33172

Request for Alternative Design

Proposed NE 203rd Street & U.S. 1 Intersection Improvements

 FM No: 433511-1-22-01; ETDM No.: 14050


Dear Secretary Wolfe,

Thank you again for attending the public meeting held on June 8, 2016 at the Aventura City Hall concerning FDOT’s proposed improvements to the N.E. 203rd Street and U.S. 1 intersection.  As mentioned, we have the privilege of serving as the President and Immediate Past President of the Sky Lake–Highland Lakes Area Homeowners Association (HOA), advocating on behalf of an unincorporated community of over 13,000 residents. 

As you clearly heard from the nearly one hundred (100) residents in attendance that evening, we urge the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to consider adopting the alternative design calling for a westbound overpass at 203rd Street adjacent to the current eastbound overpass and lowering U.S. 1 to street level.  A substantial majority of our residents prefer this option in lieu of the currently proposed design calling for a jughandle or horse-shoe shaped loop that would snake up, over, and down West Dixie Highway and through twenty-five (25) community businesses that comprise a tax base of over $5.2 million from which we derive county services.  

Considering that this intersection provides ingress and egress to Aventura Mall, the second largest shopping mall in the U.S. in terms of visitors, now undergoing an expansion, we further urge FDOT concomitantly to consider a comprehensive plan, in conjunction with FDOT District 4 and Miami-Dade County to relieve traffic congestion in the area.  All parties must come to the table to arrive at a holistic solution to the traffic challenges in our area, including improvements at Miami Gardens Drive, NE 215th Street (County Line Road) and Hallandale Beach Blvd. A holistic approach is especially critical given the expected passage of 100 trains daily across these intersections.

On January 26, 2016 Mr. Harold Desdunes responded to my December 1, 2016 letter to FDOT Assistant Secretary Mr. Richard Beiter as well as to my discussions with Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Carlos Lopez Cantera, FDOT Secretary, Jim Boxold and prior FDOT District 6 Secretary, Gus Pago.  In that letter Mr. Desdunes stated that FDOT’s, “foremost interest is vehicular passenger and pedestrian safety…[and] on the quality of life for area residents when this increased rail traffic commences.”  We submit that FDOT’s current design does not meet these objectives and if implemented would violate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because it:

  • calls for the demolition of the Breslev Orthodox Jewish Center and House of Worship at 20450 West Dixie Highway whose congregants walk to synagogue to pray;
  • would cause severe hardship on hundreds, even thousands, of others in the Orthodox community by making it impossible for some and extremely difficult for others to traverse U.S. 1 to worship at their current synagogues;
  • unnecessarily requires the demolition of at least two dozen established businesses along West Dixie Highway, including a youth programs center, and irreparably harming our business corridor’s recent revival and vital $5.2 million tax base;
  • would destroy a one-half (1/2) acre wood stork habitat, raising environmental concerns;
  • would include significantly elevated and visible roadways minimizing the privacy, tranquility and desirability (quality of life) of numerous neighboring homes;
  • would be located three blocks south of the Aventura-Waterways K-8 Center that will compromise the safety and security of hundreds of students and parents traversing this already dangerous area daily by foot and by car;
  • would not pose a much better alternative than the option we prefer as it still would yield an “F” rating to traffic at certain times of the day and route traffic to the already congested Ives Dairy and N.E. 26th avenue intersection leading to gridlock[1];
  • is not being addressed in tandem with any other possible improvements to N.E. 215th street (County Line Road), Miami Gardens Drive and Hallandale Beach Blvd.

As we have stated before, while we do not profess to being engineering experts, we truly believe that a safer, wiser alternative must exist that would be considerably more compatible with the residential nature of our bedroom community and not require the destruction of these cherished businesses, including a house of worship, bringing a vital tax base for our community.  

Thank you for considering our concerns and suggestions.  We look forward to hearing from you and your colleagues concerning this critical matter prior to reaching any final decisions.                                                                                        


Marc Hurwitz, President                                                     Lenny Feldman, Immediate Past President                                         

Sky Lake – Highland Lakes Area HOA                                  Sky Lake – Highland Lakes Area HOA


cc: Jim Boxold, FDOT Secretary

cc: Tom Byron, FDOT Assistant Secretary

cc: Fabiana Gonzalez, FDOT

cc: The Honorable Senator Gwen Margolis

cc: The Honorable Senator Oscar Braynon II

cc: The Honorable Representative Barbara Watson

cc: The Honorable Representative Joseph Geller  

cc: The Honorable Commissioner Sally Heyman

cc: The Honorable Mayor Enid Weisman

[1] We note this intersection still is about ¼ mile away from Highland Oaks Middle School and most residents we polled, including Miami Dade County Public School officials, do not appear concerned about the safety of students attending HOM as a result of the alternative design that the majority of our community now prefers despite opposition that may have existed decades ago.