(WSVN) - A village in the Keys is fighting back after a homeowner has been treating *public* land as her *private* property. Here’s Karen Hensel with tonight’s 7 Investigates.

With a Monroe County sheriff’s deputy on standby, a crew from the Village of Islamorada moved in.

Just after 8 a.m., they began taking back public property one homeowner had taken over as her own.

John Cioffi, Islamorada resident and business owner, Feb. 28 story: “I got back about here and the lady came out and started yelling at me that I couldn’t be here, and I had to get off the property, that I’m trespassing.”

As 7 Investigates first reported in February, the lady is Mary Barley.

Outside her home were signs warning “no trespassing… keep out” and “private.”

People like Cioffi — a resident and business owner — were told they could not walk on this public path that leads to Florida Bay.

John Cioffi, Feb. 28 story: “Well, I thought this was a road. It always was.’ She said, ‘No, it’s private property. You have to get out.’”

Her properties are at the corner of De Leon Avenue and Avocado Street, and courts have ruled this small stretch of land next to the home is public.

The saga started back in 2001 when Barley sued the village.

She lost the court case, appealed, lost again but then sued again in January, claiming she had “… made improvements …” and “… exercised … control over all or part of the disputed area…”

John Cioffi, Feb. 28 story: “This is a road, and being that it’s a road, you can’t just block it off, and you can’t put your things like your structures that she built in a roadway.”

But for more than 16 years, Barley has ignored the prior court rulings.

In the area, she has stored a pile of wood and metal, garbage cans, even a fence deterring access to the water.

John Cioffi, Feb. 28 story: “The point is the public has some say in that, you know? We are taxpayers. It is our land.”

Now, the Village of Islamorada is retaking control of the public land.

First to go: a dozen trash cans, which village employees moved back over to Barley’s property.

The fences were ripped out and loaded into a dump truck.

The no trespassing sign is down, and it took crews less than 30 minutes to clear out what was once here. Now people can walk this public street to see the water.”

Barley stood outside recording public works employees.

Karen Hensel: “Mary, can we talk to you?”

But when we asked her to talk with us on camera, she took off.

Karen Hensel: “Mary, don’t go inside, can we talk to you?”

Mary Barley, homeowner: “Do not step on my property.”

Karen Hensel: “Can we talk to you? We’re not on your property.”

One thing that has not been removed yet: a propane tank one village council member raised safety concerns about in January.

Council Member Mark Gregg, Jan. 19: “There’s a large propane tank there, which in my world is a bomb, and if somebody hits that in their car, we are exposed to liability.”

This cement barrier was loaded onto a forklift and brought in to block it.

Through a public records request, 7 Investigates learned Mary Barley offered Islamorada a land swap to avoid the village “… spending several hundred thousand dollars litigating…”

Her attorney wrote it was a piece of property valued between $750,000 and $1 million, “… a virtual windfall for the village.”

This is the property she wanted to trade, but as you can see, it has no access to the water.

The village turned the offer down vowing “… to dutifully defend the rights of the public in the lawsuit.”

A lawsuit the village is now asking a judge to dismiss.


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