September 4, 2019

Kevin Wadlow/Free Press
The Village Council voted last week to protect the Russell Cottage as a 'historic structure.

Kevin Wadlow/Free Press The Village Council voted last week to protect the Russell Cottage as a 'historic structure.

ISLAMORADA — Applying potent fertilizers to residential landscaping can be “too much of a good thing,” Islamorada Village Council members agreed Aug. 29.

The council passed the first reading of a landscape ordinance that would prohibit the use of fertilizers containing nitrogen and phosphorus within 15 feet of a waterway or shoreline, and in an overall restricted period from June 1 to Sept. 30.

“We have dozens and dozens of waterways, canals and basins that can be affected by nutrients,” Kelly Cox, an Islamorada resident who serves as attorney for the nonprofit Miami Waterkeepers group, told council members. “We need to concentrate on what we can do as a community to set the gold standard for water quality.”

Another section of the proposed ordinance, likely to have its second reading Sept. 19, would ban the dumping of grass clippings or “vegetative debris” into a canal or water body.

Islamorada previously considered a rule against “blowing stuff into a canal,” Mayor Deb Gillis said, but did not follow through. “It took a while but we got here.”

The village’s Landscape Advisory Committee endorsed the proposed ordinance, which does not apply to all fertilizers. So did the Florida Keys Fishing Guides Association, which commended the “low-cost, common-sense measure.”

“There are things that are too much of a good thing,” Cox said, pointing to excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that threaten Florida Bay and can kill seagrass.

Commercial landscapers and “applicators” would be required to obtain state-approved training for best practices. Gillis said landscaping companies she spoke with had no objections.

“Many of them are saying this is the right thing so do,” she added.

The regulation would not ban fertilizers containing phosphorus or nitrogen, but limits how much of the nutrients can be in the fertilizer mix and where it may applied.

A first violation would receive a written warning, and second violation require a $50 fine. “The penalties are completely reasonable,” Councilwoman Cheryl Meads said.

In other items at the Aug. 29 meeting at Founders Park Community Center:

• Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Sarah Fangman briefed the Village Council on plans to update the sanctuary management plan.

“We’re not just drawing lines on a map,” Fangman said. “This is a thorough analysis of what we’ve done economically and ecologically.”

Vice Mayor Mike Forster asked that with possible new rules and expanded protection zones, “How do you propose to enforce even the old regulations when the [Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] is so short staffed?”

“We are absolutely having conversations about that already,” Fangman said. “Are we going to be 100 percent ready? I don’t think that’s realistic … but protections can make a difference.”

Councilman Jim Mooney questioned a draft proposal to ban anchoring within the 132-square-mile Key Largo Management Area to protect corals and seagrasses.

“Ultimately you’ll have have greater damage done,” he contended. “If you say no anchoring off Key Largo, where you can’t drop an anchor for snorkeling or fun fishing, they’ll come someplace else.”

Written public comments on the sanctuary plan are open until Jan. 31, 2020.

• An ordinance that allows some use of residential setbacks for specific items like overhangs and air conditioners was approved.

• A first reading of an ordinance to allow convenience stores to operate in two additional zoning districts, Village Center and Highway Commercial, was forwarded to a second hearing. Five of six convenience stores in Islamorada opened before the village incorporated and lie in zones now considered “non-conforming,” which limits their ability to expand or make improvements.

• The Russell Cottage in the village-owned Green Turtle Hammock on Upper Matecumbe Key was approved as a protected “historic structure.” The Florida-cracker style building was shipped to Islamorada in the wake of the deadly 1935 hurricane.

• When the new marina building opens at Plantation Yacht Harbor, in village-owned Founders Park, it will be dedicated to the memory of Bob Mitchell, the late chairman of the Islamorada’s Near Shore Water Regulation Advisory Committee. Mitchell proposed the 300-foot, go-slow areas for boaters off Islamorada shorelines and purchased some of the first buoys to mark the areas.

• Islamorada holds its first formal hearing on the upcoming village budget and tax rate at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, at Founder Park. The final hearing will be 5:30 p.m. Sept. 11.