Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
County looks to clean up clutter

KEY LARGO -- A group of community activists wants to make the island more appealing to the tourist's eye.

The movement, led in part by the Key Largo Federation of Homeowner Associations, has asked the county to crack down on illegal signage.

At last week's Monroe County Commission meeting, Key Largo Chamber of Commerce President Craig Cope tried to shift the focus to a countywide effort and provide any businesses in violation with a warning before assessing any fines.

"Don't put the emphasis on Key Largo," Cope told the commission. "Let's make all of the Keys clean."

Cope told the county to focus its attention on every individual island.

"We have not been focused so much on signage," said Christine Hurley, the director of Growth Management. She told the commissioners that her office has not made sign enforcement a top priority among its many tasks.

But federation member Kay Thacker wants officials to be more proactive.

"We seem to create a new junkyard every month," said Thacker, who presented the commission with a slideshow of businesses violating code by placing signs in the right-of-way.

Her pictures also pointed to outdoor storage and parking on the right-of-way at Island Market Place and elsewhere.

"We would never advocate that any business should knowingly break the law," Cope said regarding signage, but he added businesses have dealt with a lot of highway construction lately, which has made it difficult to lure customers.

He asked the commission to consider a sunset clause to allow businesses three months before they are fined so they have time to learn the code. Hurley added her department doesn't fine any business without first issuing a written warning.

Cope also said the county should speed up the permitting process for businesses that are trying to install a compliant sign. Other than just looking at signage, Cope said the county should target illegal vacation rentals in Key Largo.

"You have people out there advertising [online] to break the law," he said.

Also representing the Key Largo federation, D.A. Aldridge said economic hardship should not be used to justify allowing illegal signs.

She pointed to a recent report that stated the Florida Keys had the highest occupancy rate in the country during this winter season.

Given this reasoning, she said it's time for the county to begin enforcing code violations on Key Largo businesses.

The commission agreed unanimously to put the focus of the next 12 months on cleaning up Key Largo, eschewing a countywide effort as too time-consuming.

"We can't have the entire county cleaned up and looking pretty at once, I got it," said Heather Carruthers, a Lower Keys commissioner who favored a broader approach.

Carruthers said that if a similar request comes out of the Lower Keys, the commission should also support it.

"It won't go the other way, trust me," Murphy said regarding a vote for a future project.

jgore@keysnews.com

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