Too many lights. Too much curbing. Dilapidated buildings fronting the highway. Not enough trees.

In the midst of budget season, the Marathon City Council is still struggling to gain some ground on improving the community’s aesthetic image, particularly along the U.S. 1 corridor.

Community Image Advisory Board (CIAB) members Pete Chapman and Patti Childress (formerly the council’s Beautification Committee) appeared before the council for their quarterly report.

Chapman said the committee was still in the “heavy lifting” stages of charting a definitive course of action.

Vice Mayor Mike Cinque and Mayor Ginger Snead patiently insisted they were ready to see some improvements, particularly in the way of planting new trees, planted in the median along U.S. 1 adjacent to the airport.

Chapman told council the advisory board is still awaiting approval from FDOT for their proposed design changes, specifically concerning installation of trees and foliage.

“I drive up and down the Keys, and I think the curbing and islands along U.S. gives our city a more urban look than that of a rural community,” Cinque suggested. “When I’m coming into Marathon from Grassy Key, I feel like I’ve hit an industrial park with all the lighting. I love this town, and I’d like to soften the look of the U.S. 1 corridor.”

Chapman noted that the CIAB is exploring the creation of an incentive program for residents and business owners along the main artery of Marathon to plant some trees and “gussy up their properties a bit.”

“We are defined by the businesses along U.S. 1, so we would like to formulate some sort of minimum standard,” he explained, adding that the advisory board would also be cautionary in suggesting uniform standards for all sections of the community, but instead devise an appropriate plan for each section of the Marathon business community. “Old Town is very different than Grassy Key.”

Snead expounded upon Cinque’s concerns regarding excessive lighting, adding that she was surprised so many streetlights were permissible in the midst of marine turtle nesting season.

“I agree we need more foliage and something to soften our corners, but I believe we need some kind of guidelines so we have some consistency,” Snead suggested, continuing that on a drive through town, one section looks like an industrial park and another is “like being in someone’s back yard.”

In that same vein, Ron Wampler and the building department continue to address a handful of dilapidated and unsightly properties across the city, and high on the list is the former Hanley property, a concrete skeleton of a building surrounded by a cold chain link fence, in the heart of Old Town.

Attorney Bob Miller, who currently represents the estate responsible for the property, told the council, however, that the estate does not have sufficient funds to either develop or demolish the property as it currently stands.

“What I’ve discussed with my client is the offer that we mitigate the appearance of the structure…and landscaping has been suggested as a possibility. The estate should have enough money to fix the appearance,” Miller said.

“I’m not of the general feeling that if we get rid of these buildings that that will force people to re-develop their properties,” he continued. “Redevelopment of an existing property is way more attractive than a vacant piece of land and having to go through all the processes. But, it’s an eyesore, and we’re willing to do something about it.”

Wampler said the city still had an action filed against the property and the property owner had until August 17 to file an appeal. He said he primarily wanted to alert the council that if the city were to opt for total demolition of the property, there would be a significant cost involved with that action.

“If estate doesn’t come forward with that demolition, then the city will make that demolition and then put a lien on the property,” Wampler informed.

Councilman Pete Worthington questioned the city’s ability to collect on liens on properties that eventually wind up in foreclosure, but the city attorney said it would depend on how the city is able to attach a lien to the property and address such similar issues through code enforcement.

Worthington said though there had been improvements through Old Town on nearby properties, “It’s my hope that a building that doesn’t have doors in it, doesn’t have a roof, and doesn’t have windows, whether it is structurally sound or not, something needs to be done with it. It’s not a good message to send to people coming from Key West approaching that end of town that’s the first thing they see from the highway.”

Earlier Tuesday morning in the council’s workshop, Councilman Dick Ramsay voiced his concern over the large stop signs along the bike at the intersection of U.S. 1 and 109th Street.

“I slammed on the brakes and almost got into an accident the other day,” Ramsay said of the signage that faces oncoming, westbound traffic at the busy intersection. No mentions of the signage concerns were raised in the regular council meeting.

Recently installed signage along the bike path, though meant to alert bikers of high traffic intersections, may potentially confuse westbound drivers along U.S. 1.

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