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Anclote marina neighbors upset by possible expansion

In the mid 1990s, Raymond Varner decided to build a house on his commercial property on the Anclote River.

To do this, he had to ask the county to switch his property's zoning from commercial to residential.

Planners agreed a residential designation better fit the surrounding neighborhood, which straddles the Pinellas-Pasco line and is full of single-family homes.

Now Varner, 71, is asking for a do-over.

Varner is the former owner of the Anclote Village Marina, which he built on an adjacent piece of land on the Pasco side of the border.

He sold the business in 2005. And now he wants Pinellas to return his 1-acre parcel to its previous commercial status so he can sell it to the marina owners, who wish to expand.

This does not please Varner's neighbors.

Bill Deland, 65, who lives next door to the marina — on the Pinellas side — said the expansion will bring the marina within 15 to 20 feet of his bedroom window.

Marina co-owner John Drapp said he and his business partners hope to add about 150 "high and dry" boat slips to the site, doubling the capacity.

"There's no way in the world this should be allowed to come any further. We need this buffer in between," Deland said.

Deland and other neighbors said the noise and traffic generated by the marina has turned the once-sleepy little community into a bustling center of activity.

First, there's the constant racket caused by the diesel forklift that stows the boats, said Tony Leisner, who lives two doors down on the Pinellas side.

"It makes it almost impossible to use our yard on the weekends," he said.

Then there's the loud music emanating from the marina bar, Miss Vicki's on the River.

"The bar is in Pasco, the noise is in Pinellas," said Leisner, 66.

He said the proposed project could hurt property values.

For Margaret Jacobs, who lives less than a half mile away in Pasco, the issue is traffic. Marina users often park on the street, creating a dangerous situation on a road with a blind curve, she said.

"There are times when the boats are so blocking that area, you can't even get out (onto the road)," said Jacobs, 81.

Pinellas officials will consider Varner's request at an examiner's hearing today. Several of his neighbors said they plan to attend.

Jacobs and other neighbors say a contentious relationship with Varner has been brewing since the early 1990s, when he claimed control over a road that led to the old Duke's Fish Camp.

Varner argued — and a circuit court judge agreed — that the road was on his private property. Varner later bought the fish camp and built the marina there, against the wishes of several nearby residents.

Varner, who was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1996, also drew the ire of a developer who tried to buy the marina in early 2005. The sale fell through when the developer learned Varner hadn't secured the necessary permits to reconfigure the docks, dredge and build a sea wall at the marina. Varner was fined $25,000 and received the permit after the fact.

Gerald Figurski, an attorney who represents Varner, said his client plans to move out of the state and wants to help the current marina owners.

"They're not selling this lot just to make money," Figurski said.

The 1 acre parcel of land is the "last piece of the puzzle" needed to expand the marina, Figurski said.

"That area is a specific piece where it should be commercial recreation, especially in light of the need for boat slips," Figurski said. "It's an ideal location."

Drapp would not disclose the sale price. On county tax rolls the property is assessed at $404,141. Based on comparable sales it's valued at $799,500.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4162.

Anclote marina neighbors upset by possible expansion 04/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 3:30pm]
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