Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Officials: FDOT riding roughshod over businesses

KEY LARGO -- The relationship between Florida Keys property owners and the state's road agency appears to be buckling.

Shoulder extension and paving, curb construction and landscaping, which are all part of the Florida Department of Transportation's U.S. 1 resurfacing project in Key Largo, have prompted the agency to reclaim public rights-of-way along the highway that for years have served as unauthorized parking areas for local businesses.

Last week, FDOT took frontage parking away from Harriette's Restaurant at mile marker 95.7, bayside, to install a 6-inch curb and landscaping. FDOT also recently took signage area away from D-Hooker Sports Bar Grill at mile marker 102.2, bayside.

Two Facebook pages have been formed to call attention to the so-called harassment, including "Stop FDOT" and "Save Harriette's."

Islamorada Village Councilman Mike Forster, a local business owner, posted his complaints about FDOT's actions to Facebook.

"It's very disheartening that we are even funding through our hard-earned tax dollars this kind of action by our own agency [FDOT]," Forster wrote.

The matter also was discussed last week by the Village Council, which fears Islamorada's rights-of-way will be targeted next. The council agreed to request a meeting with upper level FDOT officials, including the agency's director Ananth Prasad.

"What's happening in Key Largo can happen to us tomorrow," Forster said. "I want to be proactive."

Others on the council agreed with Forster.

"They're out of touch with reality," Councilman Dave Purdo said of FDOT. "We can't allow FDOT to come into our community or another community and do what they do."

Marathon City Councilman Mark Senmartin, also a business owner, responded to Forster's Facebook posting, calling for a Middle Keys representative to be included in any meeting with FDOT.

State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, says she is willing to arrange such a meeting.

Some business owners may not wait for that.

D-Hooker assistant manager Robert Maury said their loss of signage prompted the restaurant to ask a company attorney about possible litigation against FDOT. No lawsuits had been filed as of press time, according to the Monroe County Clerk of Court's website.

FDOT spokeswoman Sandra Bello did not return phone messages seeking comment for this story.

Despite the pushback from local business owners, the actions being taken by FDOT as of late come in the wake of a Key Largo Federation of Homeowner Associations request for better code enforcement along public rights-of-way. The group also lobbied for a pedestrian crosswalk between mile markers 99 and 100.

FDOT installed a crosswalk at mile marker 99.7 in April. Negative feedback about its location and design has prompted a separate meeting between Raschein, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and FDOT. That meeting will take place July 21.

jgore@keysnews.com

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