County Commission Tables Giving Laurel Avenue to Developers

by Arnaud and Naja Girard….

At a public meeting in Marathon, Monroe County Commissioners expressed concerns about abandoning yet another public waterfront area to developers. [Watch excerpts in the video above.]

At the center of the controversy was a claim by the developers of Wreckers Cay, and supported by the county attorney, that the county can legally abandon Laurel Avenue because it does not provide public access to open water. [County Code prohibits abandoning roadways that provide access to land on open water.] Rather [they wrote in their staff report] the road ends on a spit of land that developers own through a quit claim deed.

However last Sunday, The Blue Paper reported that Wreckers Cay’s claim to the spit had been rejected by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] and was not supported by the records of the property appraiser’s office. The Laurel Avenue jetty is about 1000 feet long and has been used by the public for decades to access Boca Chica Bay.

Fifteen seconds into her presentation of the road abandonment proposal, Assistant County Administrator, Christine Hurley, was interrupted by Commissioner Heather Carruthers, “Tell me about the spit of land. Who owns it?”

“Uh, I’m going to turn that to Bob [County Attorney Bob Shillinger]. He has the title opinion.”

In the past, Bob Shillinger had made an elaborate presentation supporting abandonment of a similar public roadway on Stock Island.

Rather than taking DEP’s offer to clear the way to county control of the Laurel Avenue jetty, Mr. Shillinger hired a private attorney to draft a disclaimer, by which the county relinquished any claim to the Laurel Avenue jetty.

But at today’s public meeting, the county attorney’s response was more circumspect, “To answer your question, the title is a little unclear at this point.”

“Ok,” said County Mayor Sylvia Murphy jokingly, “That clears every thing up.”

Her skepticism was echoed by Commissioner Danny Kolhage. “I can give you a quit claim to the Bahia Honda Bridge,” he said.

“Sort of reminds me of a little island off of Key West,” said Commissioner Carruthers referring to the failed development of Wisteria Island.

The commissioners agreed that too much public waterfront has been given to developers, making reference to Ocean’s Edge Hotel’s closed “public boardwalk” and to the encroachment of Murray Marine onto the county seawall on Laurel Avenue.

Mayor Murphy floated the idea of making a deal where developers would provide upland facilities such as a dinghy dock for a Boca Chica mooring field.

Commissioner Carruthers stated, “I’m not ready to give this away at all. If we have law enforcement issues then we need to do a better job of enforcing the law there — I don’t mind tabling this indefinitely.”

In the end commissioners decided to table the issue until the detailed Wreckers Cay development agreement proposal is before them.




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