Florida Keys News
Monday, July 21, 2014
Officials: FDOT riding roughshod over businesses

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 six-inch curb and landscaping. FDOT also recently took signage area away from D-Hooker Sports Bar and 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 Ananth Prasad, the agency's director.

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

Others on the council agreed.

"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 such a meeting.

D-Hooker Assistant Manager Robert Maury said the restaurant's loss of signage has been turned over to its company attorney for possible litigation against FDOT. No lawsuits had been filed as of presstime, according to the Monroe County Clerk of Court's website.

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

jgore@keysnews.com

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