December 5, 2018

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press
Newly chosen Islamorada Village Mayor Deb Gillis presents outgoing mayor Chris Sante with a plaque honoring his 10 years of council service. Sante, who declined to seek re-election, was mayor for four years.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press Newly chosen Islamorada Village Mayor Deb Gillis presents outgoing mayor Chris Sante with a plaque honoring his 10 years of council service. Sante, who declined to seek re-election, was mayor for four years.

ISLAMORADA — Unsatisfied with progress on improving the Morada Way Arts and Cultural District and the Indian Key Fill area, Islamorada Village Council members directed staff last week to get more involved on both.

Councilwoman Cheryl Meads recommended creating a formal business district for the area encompassing the arts district on Upper Matecumbe Key.

“The problem is [the arts district] is not being driven. They’ve been going around in a circle for years,” Meads said. “This is something we can actually do.”

“Some great things are happening there,” Meads said, but constant changes to the arts district board and its staff have kept the area from reaching its potential.

A business district established in a public-private partnership may be able to solicit outside grants and provide a more stable framework for improvements, she said.

“This is my fifth term and I’ve been through five [art district] boards. It doesn’t stop,” Vice Mayor Mike Forster said. “It doesn’t seem to be what they need it to be.”

Mayor Deb Gillis noted turnover in village planning staff also slowed progress.

“We kind of got back to square one,” she said.

Gillis advised a recent meeting of art district supporters and business owners “to fill their board and start working. … You can’t start with everything; you have to start small and expand it.”

Village Attorney Roget Bryan and Planning Director Ty Harris said Islamorada staff can work with the art district to better define district boundaries and establish priorities.

“Let’s give them a few options. It will go faster if we do a little legwork,” Harris said. “Otherwise, we’re herding cats.”

Senior planner Craig Southern was tapped as the lead person on the outreach project.

Council members said they would support a private-public partnership with the district but cautioned the village cannot write blank checks.

“When it comes to money, it’s got to be shared” by both sides, Forster said. “It can’t be all us.”

Indian Key Fill

Forster called for county staff to draft “a comprehensive master plan” for the Indian Key Fill area, which links Upper Matecumbe and Lower Matecumbe, since state agencies seem unwilling to provide improvements at the scenic spot.

“We can’t go season after season, having our constituents yell at us because of how dangerous and dirty it is,” he said. “We’ve had three [multi-agency meetings] on this and we’ve got nothing.”

Forster cited the need for metered parking areas to control crowd size and raise money for trash cleanup and to fund a code officer to keep watch on the weekends.

Village Manager Seth Lawless and Bryan pointed out that while the Indian Key Fill area lies within Islamorada, the property is entirely owned by the Florida Department of Transportation and other state agencies.

“We need to get a plan done and go to FDOT,” Forster said. “If it’s not costing them money, they’ll probably say go ahead.”

kwadlow@keysnews.com