30 years later, the fierce spirit that won Key Biscayne independence remains fresh and strong | Island life


Vernon’s Pharmacy, which many consider America’s last stronghold on Key Biscayne, was a social gathering place where one could order burgers and shakes at the lunch counter, purchase stamps through the post office window at the back and even make a long-distance call – with lots of coins – from the only glass-fronted phone booth in the area.

The year was 1991, and as historic as it was for Key Biscayne’s incorporation into Miami-Dade County, it was also the year the Florida Marlins baseball team was born, the he year Dan Marino became the highest paid player in the NFL ($ 23 million for five years) and the year that the world’s first and only global website was published.

Thirty years ago, it might not seem so far off in the grand scheme of things, but for the people of Key Biscayne, celebrating their own independence on this Pearl Anniversary is something they can be proud of, even if it is. it took a bit of coaxing at first.

“It’s really hard to imagine where we would be today without incorporation,” said Betty Sime Conroy, a driving force to help influence the vote in that direction and a resident since 1963 (“when you left your doors unlocked and your keys in the car ”).

“It’s so hard to imagine for our new residents; with progress there will always be problems but overall the improvements have been tremendous, ”she said. “You could see real estate values ​​go up. We had so much to offer. Just the dog park alone (brought) people from the Key.

In 1991, the island literally broke new ground. The area was incorporated as a new municipality – the first new city in Miami-Dade County in over 50 years.

Famous faces of this movement included Sime Conroy (pronounced SIMM) and Eugene Stearns; Roberto Cambo and Ed Sawyer; Gary Gross; the first mayor, Rafael Conte; and the founding members of the village council of Clifford Brody, Mortimer Fried, Michael Hill, Luis Lauredo, Joe Rasco and Raymond Sullivan.

But it was Sime Conroy and his friend, environmentalist Mabel Miller, who got the ball rolling when they tried to stop a county-ordered bulldozer from cutting down the beautiful trees in Crandon Park to make a pedestrian crossing tunnel to the tennis stadium. It was even reported that Sime Conroy was standing in front of the bulldozer at one point, daring it to continue – although that may be an exaggerated media tradition, she said with a laugh.

Today, the Mabel Miller Walking Trail on Virginia Key honors Miller’s environmental legacy.

“Even if they had their permits and we could go to jail (…)

“(Our residents) really didn’t know how the county was treating us,” she said. “Before, there was so much flooding that children used to have boats to go up and down the streets. I called Public Works (Dade County) and asked them what plans they had for us and they said “Nothing”. “

She and others went door-to-door to explain to suspicious residents how incorporation could help them, how taxes would actually be reduced since the city would have its own police and fire departments and, in its own right. turn, the response time would be considerably shortened. They also brought in other city managers to talk to residents.

“There was a lot of fear, so the education process was huge,” said Sime Conroy.

“I remember that the County wanted to put two hotels the size of Fontainebleau, 800 rooms, and other large facilities. The County approved it … there weren’t enough of us voters (to stop it). The only thing that saved us was the recession, ”she said.

“We are not against development,” she once said, “we just want reasonable development.”

With the support of a nine-member board formed in Key Biscayne in 1987, Stearns – a distinguished and seasoned litigator for the law firm Stearns Weaver Miller – not only fought for incorporation on the island, but also in the corridors of the Dade County government. He urged the County Commission to allow Key Biscayne residents to go to the polls on this issue.

The vote of November 5, 1990 for incorporation was decisive: 1,749 voted yes, while 1,261 voted no, a margin of 58.1% to 41.8%. Then, on June 18, 1991, voters approved the village charter by a vote of 1,124-541 (68% yes), making Key Biscayne the 27th municipality in Dade County.

“I will never forget the enthusiasm and optimism we had for our future (when the original vote was passed),” said Sime Conroy, charter editorial board chair and former ranked tennis player. the state that was surprised one day to see President Richard Nixon – a part-time resident during his White House days – watch her serve.

“It was exciting and the start of many other incorporations in Dade County,” she said. “It was truly a volunteer effort… we had a wonderful community spirit. In the ’80s it was a sleepy little town (and the thought of incorporating it) scared most people.

Just a year later, the eye of devastating Hurricane Andrew descended on Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and the island’s community spirit was certainly intact as city officials, the police chief and residents collaborated to clean up the mess left behind.

Nowadays, there is a strong quest to protect the city from flooding and erosion, not only with a recently hired resilience officer, but also a $ 100 million bond approved last November by voters to fight against predicted sea level rise as well as the effects of hurricanes.

Next week: Reflections from 30 years

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