PLANTATION KEY -- The Monroe County Circuit Court has ruled that the roads of the Venetian Shores subdivision are public, potentially freeing the village to begin sewer work in the Plantation Key neighborhood of more than 400 homes.
"My thinking is that obviously we want to get into Venetian Shores and get the sewering done," Mayor Ted Blackburn said last week.
The village's $99 million sewer project is underway elsewhere on south Plantation Key, but in Venetian Shores, it had been held up by a 2010 lawsuit filed by resident Jim Bellizzi, who contends that the main drag, Venetian Boulevard, as well as the community's west-heading side roads, are privately owned.
If the roads had been deemed private, the village would have been unable to sewer in the neighborhood without either obtaining an easement from each property owner or taking the roadways through eminent domain.
The hold up has already caused tension between the town and sewer contractor Layne, known locally as Reynolds Water Islamorada, which began the south Plantation Key portion of the sewer project in late July.
In his ruling granting the village's motion for summary judgment, Garcia found that Venetian Shores builder Daroe Development made clear in a 1957 declaration that it intended to retain ownership of the roadways until they could be handed over to a neighborhood association for general usage.
Garcia also rejected Bellizzi's argument that a 1959 plat dedicated the roads as private and parceled each section of the road to the adjacent property owner.
"[T]he court finds that the language of the plat only grants the owners use, not ownership and control, with no evidence that any individual owner has exclusive use," Garcia wrote.
The summary judgment, which means Garcia found that the case did not merit a trial, is an important triumph for the village, which has managed the contested roadways of Venetian Shores as public since incorporation in 1998. Prior to that, Monroe County had managed the roads as public as well. The judgment is also good news for the Venetian Shores Homeowner's Association, which intervened in the lawsuit on the village's side in 2011.
"It's a victory for those who live in Venetian Shores since the overwhelming majority want the roads that are now public to remain public," association President Stan Margulies said last week.
Bellizzi called the ruling politically motivated. With the sewer project ongoing, and the state's 2015 deadline in place, he said Garcia put community concern ahead of the facts of the case.
"I believe whole-heartedly it was made based upon the politics of the issue rather than the lawfulness of the issue," he said.
He said he has thus far spent approximately $350,000 on the case, but has yet to decide whether to commit more money toward an appeal.
"Right now, I have no faith in the system," Bellizzi said.
Blackburn said last week that even if Bellizzi does appeal, he'd like to see sewer work begin in Venetian Shores. In such a scenario, Bellizzi would have to petition the court for an injunction to stop construction. The Village Council met last Thursday in a private session to discuss their next move related to Venetian Shores. Village Manager Ed Koconis, however, declined to divulge any decisions the council made at the meeting.
One timing concern for the council is a waterline replacement project that the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority has planned for Venetian Shores. The village would prefer to conduct its sewer work in coordination with the FKAA so that the roads do not have to be dug up twice.
The FKAA plans to begin its project in January, Executive Director Kirk Zuelch. Ideally, the village would begin before that time. Reynolds is a potential contractor for the FKAA job as well, a scenario that would likely ease coordination issues.