ISLAMORADA -- Work on the south Plantation Key sewer system is scheduled to begin July 29. However, Venetian Shores, by far the area's largest neighborhood, won't be included in the work.
The cause of the delay is a 2010 lawsuit that will determine whether many of the roadways in the Shores are actually public, as the village contends, or are privately owned, as the litigant, Venetian Shores resident Jim Bellizzi, argues.
The village can sewer public roadways as a right. But to gain easements for the sewers on private roadways, the town must get sign-offs from property owners.
That's what Islamorada is working toward on other private roadways within the south Plantation Key area, which runs from mile marker 88 south to Snake Creek, said Wastewater Program Manager Greg Tindle. Among those streets are the roadways in the gated Plantation Lake Estates neighborhood.
In Venetian Shores, however, Bellizzi's slow-moving lawsuit with the town has left the issue of ownership an open question.
"In an ideal world, we would win the lawsuit or he'd drop it, we'd go on our usual schedule and Venetian Shores would get sewered," Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn said in an interview last week. But he added that the town isn't about ready to relent just to get the sewer work done.
"We're right, he's wrong, so why in the world would we structure it otherwise," he said.
Bellizzi is equally resolute in his position. The village manages the roadways as public based on a deed bestowed upon it from Monroe County at the time of incorporation in 1998. But Bellizzi contends that documents from the early days of the neighborhood in the late 1950s show that all but two streets west of the main Venetian Boulevard, as well as most of the boulevard itself, were dedicated as private. Therefore, the deed is irrelevant.
He said last week that he has no intention of striking a compromise to end the suit.
"If I instituted a lawsuit because I believe that the roads in the subdivision are private, if I give up that position, then what was the point of the lawsuit to begin with," he asked rhetorically.
The state-mandated December 2015 deadline for the village to complete sewer work is still 2 1/2 years away. So it might be too early for officials to have begun worrying about what will happen if they can't complete Venetian Shores in time. But with the lawsuit having lingered for nearly that long already, the question could become a stronger consideration soon.
At the Village Council meeting last Thursday, Bellizzi's attorney Frank Greenman proffered his own solution while discussing a related road overlay contract, to be implemented after neighborhoods are sewered. Why doesn't the village seek sign-off from neighborhood residents, just as it is doing on roads that everyone recognizes as private?
"You may be able to pave Venetian Shores just by asking," Greenman said.
In an interview the next day, Bellizzi said the neighborhood homeowners association, which has intervened in the lawsuit on the village's side, could assist in the signature collection process.
Homeowners' association president Stan Margulies is dubious about the suggestion, however.
"If Jim is pushing for that to happen, it could be part of a legal strategy," he said.