It seems simple enough: Two men want to run flight instruction businesses from a small county-owned beach off the Dunedin Causeway. But some officials think that area, already crowded with boats, Jet Skis and the like, isn't the place for a business offering lessons on amphibious, light sport planes.
The result is a tangle of questions ranging from which government entity has the right to enforce its laws to which laws apply, where they apply — even when a business is a "business" under the law.
The dispute has been going on for months. One of the instructors, Dave Myers, owner of Amphibian Air, was finally ticketed last month while flying recreationally. Now it's up to a judge to decide.
Myers and Charlie Floyd, owner of Duckwing Triking, have been asking for a citation since they began doing business in north Pinellas in December.
"One department says we're okay, and another says we're breaking an ordinance,'' Myers said. "We needed a judge to look at the facts and make a ruling one way or the other."
The sliver of land in question, on the northeast end of the causeway, is owned by the county and maintained, in an agreement with the county, by Dunedin.
City law bans business on the causeway, except those businesses with a business license. The only business to hold a license with Dunedin is Sail Honeymoon, a kayak and sailboat rental company, located on one of two parcels of city-owned land on the causeway.
In March, Sail Honeymoon owner Glenn Steinke complained about the powered hang glider pilots conducting business without a license, according to a sheriff's office report.
"They want to be able to come and go as they please, but they don't want a contract," Steinke said in an interview. "Well, that's no way to run a business."
While navigable waters are public according to the state Constitution, the pilots still need a place to set up and launch. Myers and Floyd believe that because they operate mostly on the water and in the air and are not staking out on the beach, they do not need a business license, comparing themselves to charter fishermen.
The two went to the Dunedin City Commission in April. County officials had written to the city saying the planes were a safety and liability concern and stating their opinion that private enterprise was not allowed on a public right-of-way. The county has not passed any legislation to support that opinion.
But Vince Gizzi, the city's parks and recreation director, told commissioners that the issue was in the hands of the county because it owns the land.
Yet, commissioners still voted in June to ban the aircraft owners from doing business on the causeway. Recreational flying should still be allowed, they said.
Both men are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration as sport pilots and flight instructors. Their business offers introductory lessons, which range in length and price.
Though most people take one-hour lessons costing $225 for fun, others come to train to become pilots themselves, sometimes coming from out of state and even as far as Scotland. Myers and Floyd say they flew between 20 to 40 customers a month.
Myers was ticketed for violating a county ordinance that says aircraft cannot "take off from or land in or on any county-owned or managed land or waterway." This section, however, refers to properties managed by the Department of Parks and Conservation Resources. The beach off the causeway is not listed as one of those properties.
The ambiguity of jurisdiction in this area has been a problem for at least a decade, said Diana Carsey, one of the heads of the Waterfront Task Force, a group of Dunedin residents formed last year.
"What you have come across is a new reason for this to be resolved," Carsey said.
As far as whether this is up to the city or county, County Commissioner Susan Latvala said "nobody can seem to agree on that." Latvala said she didn't see a problem with the amphibious planes but said the governments need to come to a collective decision.
A Pinellas County judge will hear the case on Thursday.
Contact Taylor Goldenstein at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155. Follow @taygoldenstein.