AVON PARK – Currently, its a bland stretch of highway with mostly sand, grass and sun-faded cement meeting the eye when folks are traveling north or south.
But through a grant from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), areas along a 1.5 mile stretch of six lanes of asphalt should soon be sprouting and sporting a new look.
At the May 12 regular meeting, the Avon Park City Council voted unanimously to approve an inter-local agreement to help improve the look and spruce up U.S. 27 from the City of Avon Park Public Works Department, 2303 U.S. 27 south to Hal McRae Boulevard.
Avon Park City Manager Julian Deleon said the city was awarded $100,000 to “work some magic” on the highway’s visual appeal.
Deleon said Friday the city would contribute “minimal cost” to the project and most of the segment is either vacant and empty road medians or has no “curb appeal.” He said plans include fixing and replacing faded or damaged concrete and putting in plants that would constitute xeriscaping - landscaping that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental water from irrigation using indigenous plants.
The commercial district includes the main entrance of South Florida State College, Wells Motor Company, Chaney’s Used Cars, RaceTrac gasoline and convenience store and two, large shopping centers.
Deleon said before work could begin, a landscape architect would need to be hired for the project and right-of-way permitting from the FDOT is needed.
To get the money, Avon Park applied for a grant from the FDOT Florida Highway Beautification Council, which reviews, scores and ranks submitted Highway Beautification Grant applications. It’s made up two private citizens, a landscape architect and representatives of the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, the Florida Nurserymen Growers and Landscape Association, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and FDOT.
To get the shovels turning, Avon Park Director of Administrative Services Marie Sutherland said landscape specifications need to be submitted to the state. She said the grant application is an overview with a basic schematic diagram of local plant species, locations and maintenance program - a “draft design.”
Sutherland said the city is now going to a more specified layout design; it is then approved or edited by FDOT and then goes to bid for any construction.
The city’s contribution is $7,700 for the grant. Sutherland said the main design will include palms, since most of the right-of-way area is too narrow for larger canopy trees. She said over time, some height diversity and color with crepe myrtles or East Palatka Holly trees may be added.
“The design phase may take three months or less depending on land survey, if needed, irrigation installation and permits,” she wrote in an email. She said bids would take a month; any construction approximately four months; and it may take another seven to eight months before new trees are installed.
Robin Stublen, FDOT communications specialist, said Avon Park’s grant came from about $1 million per year that is given to municipalities around the state. He said similar grants and inter-local agreement have been awarded to the Town of Lake Placid in over the past five years.
Lake Placid Town Administrator Phil Williams said the money amounts to about $17,000 per year and is used to supplement town funds for road landscaping and maintenance. He said it has helped to purchase crepe myrtles and palm trees for U.S. 27 and helped offset costs for mowing and edging. He said the state monitors any work completed.
“We get reimbursed for work we do,” he said. “Lake Placid has gone all-out in its beautification efforts and it helps