Miami Herald: Florida waterfront proposal at crossroads over Miami River

Apr 22, 2010

The Miami Herald published this article on April 20, 2010.

Is the Miami River a working waterfront? That question is holding up the implementation of a popular constitutional amendment.

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — A bill to preserve the boatyards and marinas dotting the state’s coast probably would have flowed easily through the Florida Legislature, except for one flash point: the Miami River.

The Legislature is supposed to write rules this year to implement a 2008 constitutional amendment giving tax breaks to “working waterfronts.” But a plan sponsored by Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, was sidelined on Monday as lawmakers struggle over how to define working waterfronts.

The narrow definition that appeared before voters excludes tugboats and terminals that dock along South Florida’s watery ribbon, a move that Bogdanoff chalks up to an oversight. Her bill includes properties along the Miami River, which would give them the tax break.

“It is incumbent upon us to write the policy,” Bogdanoff said. “And being as unique a property as it is, the Miami River should be included.”

The marine industry has come out against the plan. Its members worry that inclusion of businesses on the Miami River might apply to businesses that have little to do with marinas, such as restaurants, hotels and condos.

“This is not in the spirit of the bill,” said John Sprague, who represents the Marine Industries of Florida. “The language was very clear on what should be included. You cannot add new facilities without changing the Constitution.”

Sprague’s organization led the effort to get the amendment on the ballot, as mom-and-pop businesses on the water drowned in increasing property taxes. In Palm Beach County, for example, a single boatyard saw its annual property tax bill go from about $30,000 to $500,000 between 2004 and 2006.

Those businesses were being taxed according to their “best and highest use,” a state standard. As waterfront property became more precious during the real estate boom, fees for such prime real estate ballooned.

The amendment, passed in 2008 with 71 percent of the vote, asks that those businesses be appraised at their current use. The change is estimated to save the industry more than $40 million.

Robert Samuels can be reached at