UPCOMING OCT 6 SESSION: PUBLIC INPUT NEEDED FOR ISLAMORADA’S “FILLS” IMPROVEMENT

A family stops at the Fills to check out the water. DAVID GROSS/Keys Weekly

Islamorada residents will have a chance to share their thoughts on possible improvements for the land connecting Lower and Matecumbe Keys — known as the Fills. 

A public input session set for Wednesday, Oct. 6 at Founders Park Community Center will kick off a master plan process that village staff is embarking on with its consulting engineer, CPH, Inc. The village says the meeting will provide an opportunity for the public to share ideas on what they would like to see for locals and visitors to enjoy, all while maintaining public safety and protecting the shoreline. 

Council members approved CPH Inc. as the firm to assist in creating the Fills master plan during a March meeting. Property that the village is looking to maintain is owned by the Florida Department of Transportation and state Department of Environmental Protection. Land along U.S. 1 between MM 77.5 and MM 79.8 is currently subleased to the village, however, to manage and maintain per a pair of five-year agreements with the state in 2019 for the Indian Key boat ramp, owned by DEP, and property on the Fills owned by FDOT. 

While authorized to control parking and access, the village is also required to submit a management plan for each agency’s approval.

Plans for the village to maintain the land come after years of overcrowding, trashing and chaos of the small islands in Tea Table, Lignumvitae and Indian Keys. Issues at the Fills came to a boiling point during Memorial Day Weekend in 2019.

Following crowded meeting rooms and irate residents, village officials implemented temporary control measures beginning in the summer of 2019. It included reduced parking, lower speed limits implemented by Sheriff Rick Ramsay and lease agreements with state agencies to get a better handle on the issue.  

Residents interested in providing input for the master planning process are encouraged to attend the open-house style meeting at the Founders Park Community Center between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 6. 

The village said it’s the first of many opportunities for the community to be a part of this master planning effort. In addition to this first public workshop, there are plans for a community survey and at least three more public workshops. Participation and input during this process will help to create the community vision for the Fills area, a vision that will be incorporated into the master plan and ultimately achieved through a series of future projects. The master plan is slated to be finalized in April 2022.

This workshop will be an open forum listening session for everyone to share their ideas with village council, staff members and engineers.

The meeting will not be broadcast because there will be no formal presentations or the use of microphones necessary for a public broadcast.

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.