Raschein schedules meeting over highway dispute

KEY LARGO — With a growing concern among local business owners about who owns a stretch of land alongside U.S. 1, state Rep. Holly Raschein has scheduled a Dec. 3 meeting to address the issue.

The meeting, slated for 9 a.m. at the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, mile marker 102, oceanside, will bring together business owners as well as Monroe County and Florida Department of Transportation representatives to discuss the issue.

A 20-foot-wide road, which is now paved over, runs parallel with the highway and has multiple businesses situated alongside it that have been housed there for generations. FDOT says it owns the land and has told businesses to vacate it or pay the state to use it.

However, the old road was recently found on a 1914 county map by local surveyor Eddie Martinez, who is president of Zurwelle-Whittaker Surveyors. He believes the land, which runs from mile markers 107 to 98, bayside, still belongs to the county. FDOT, however, claims the road was given to the state between 1938 and 1969. While both entities acknowledge that a road exists, the question comes down to ownership.

Business owners along the highway, such as Tanya Cleary, who owns Dream Bay Resort at mile marker 99.2, bayside, are outraged because they claim they have spent tens of thousands of dollars over the years maintaining that section of road.

That maintenance, such as paving and landscaping, was often done through permits issued by the county.

Cleary also claims FDOT has overreached beyond its boundaries and is doing so because the county has no surveyor on staff to contradict it.

“The county never should have allowed the state to sell or lease this land to unsuspecting citizens, especially since they’ve continued to issue permits for structures, signage, parking areas and landscaping to be placed on it,” Cleary said in an email to the Free Press. “It’s obvious from their permitting and functioning that the county also understood this was an old county road, at least they did until FDOT started aggressively laying claim to it.

“Then, it seems they just wanted to ignore the issue and leave the individual property owners to fend for themselves against this intimidating state agency.”

The reclaiming of the rights-of-way by the state during its highway repaving project has already affected many businesses and, specifically, their parking lots, something that’s already scarce for smaller shops and restaurants along the highway.

bbowden@keysnews.com

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