Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Ex-mayor adds to tiny town's conservation lands

LAYTON -- The smallest town in the Florida Keys now owns more than half of the property within its incorporated limits.

In an acquisition completed Aug. 24, Layton acquired 52.6 acres from a holding company owned by former city mayor Peter Riley, who is also considered one of the founding fathers of the tiny Middle Keys town. The property-size is quite substantial, since all of Layton is just 85 acres.

The land, which is located north of town, just beyond South Layton Drive, is made up of a mixture of wetlands and hardwood hammock and will be set aside for conservation.

"The city should be very proud to have such an acquisition to further protect our sensitive lands," Mayor Norm Anderson said in a prepared statement.

Riley donated the property to Layton. The Long Key town's only expense was slightly less than $15,000 for closing costs.

"I'm 84-years-old and I'm tired of fooling with it," Riley said in a phone interview last week from Georgia, where he now resides.

But the man who served as Layton mayor for 10 years in the 1980s and '90s, and before that as vice mayor for more than two decades, also said he feels good about giving so much back to the town that he long called home.

"I wanted the city to have it," Riley said.

The Riley property joins Layton's city hall and fire station, its tennis court and park property and the sewer plant site as a parcel owned by the 184-person town.

Riley site included, the properties amount to just under 54 acres, Layton Clerk Mimi Young said.

"The population of Layton, a lot of people are environmentally adept," said Young, who added that the townspeople are happy that the area won't be developed.

Development was what Riley had in mind when his Zane Gray Creek Ltd. acquired the property in 1978.

"Our desire was to make it a residential community, just like the city of Layton," he said. "We were going to get the plats, dredge out canals and sell the lots."

Riley said he and his financial partners had originally planned to subdivide 100 lots, but as the state began to more closely oversee growth in the Keys under the Area of Critical State Concern designation, they had to scale back their ambition to just 16 lots.

When the state wouldn't go along with that either, Riley courted potential buyers. The limited partnership was able to sell about seven acres eventually, recouping the investment of Riley and his financiers, he said. But they never could sell the bulk of the site.

"It got too expensive to develop the land," he said. "Too much red tape."

Layton officials plan to dedicate the land at the town's 50th anniversary party, which is tentatively slated to take place in early 2013.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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