Are changes afoot for 5th Avenue?

Ray Young grew up in Indialantic and now owns Coastal Cloth Baby & Co. on 5th Avenue, the main thoroughfare into town from the mainland, so she has a vested interest in the appearance of the avenue. When she heard that Mayor Dave Berkman brought up the idea of enhancing the look of the busy commercial corridor at the council meeting on March 8, she gave the thought two thumbs up.

“That would be a good. It never hurts to spruce things up,” Young said.

The 5th Avenue corridor is Indialantic’s calling card, the closest thing to a downtown, used by residents and visitors alike on a daily basis. For years, the question has floated out there: Should the town enhance the street? And if so, how?

Several years ago, a group talked about establishing a Community Redevelopment Agency to pay for improvements, but CRA opponents prevailed.

“The topic is always what can we do better?” Berkman said. “We can do something about the sidewalks. About street signs. We can make it look more attractive so it represents who we are.”

At the council meeting, the mayor introduced a short-term list of upgrades he would like to see accomplished by the end of the year. The recommendations included: a large welcome sign at the end of the causeway, complete with a surrounding garden; smaller welcome signs at A1A and at Riverside Drive; partnering with businesses on improved landscaping; revamping the foliage on the median; installation of flags with a town logo; painting bricks in a beachy color; a guide sign highlighting points of interest along 5th Avenue

“The avenue is one of the more charming parts of the county. So I am in favor of anything that can make it more enticing,” Young said.

Councilwoman Mary Jo Kilcullen suggested the possibility of removing the median and bringing back parking, in part as an effort to slow down traffic on 5th. “Some of the traffic could be diverted to 4th and 6th avenues which are both zoned commercial. This could help with redeveloping downtown into an area with local businesses that could be frequented by the neighborhood,” she said.

But former councilman Loren Goldfarb called Kilcullen’s idea ill-conceived. “Those streets are not designed to handle the heavy flow of traffic that would result. One reason we have so much traffic on 5th is because there is no other causeway to handle traffic coming from Mel Beach and points south.”

Resident Jason Steele reminded council that the state Department of Transportation owns 5th Avenue.

“The DOT must approve everything you do and it could end up costing millions of dollars. For 30 years we’ve been talking about how to improve the avenue,” he said.

Indeed, any proposed new improvements within the right of way not performed by the FDOT are subject to permitting, the median included, said Jessica Ottaviano, a FDOT spokeswoman.

“The town can apply for a landscape grant for this corridor. The money is reimbursed after the work is completed. The grant can pay for things like plants, plant materials and the cost of installation within the right of way,” she said.

Councilman Dick Dunn said he favors going forward with the discussion, but doesn’t want to see the character of the town change in the process.

“This is our footprint. If you do something like remove the median, it will turn into a multiyear problem,” he said.

Kilcullen suggested hiring a professional engineer to assess any proposals.

Berkman wants to tap the Parks and Recreation budget for $9,000 for 5th Avenue improvements, and increase the budget for the next fiscal year.

“We have asked Parks and Rec to further investigate my ideas and instructed our town manager to begin researching the welcome sign we will place on the bridge,” Berkman said. “This will become a monthly agenda item.”

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