BROOKSVILLE — Hernando Beach residents have filed an appeal to last month's rezoning at Blue Pelican Marina, citing procedural issues, inconsistencies with Hernando County's comprehensive plan and the conflict posed by County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes running the meeting and casting the deciding vote while he has an ongoing business relationship with the marina.
The legal challenge, filed in the name of an adjacent landowner, the Speakman Trust, asks the court to overturn the commission's 3-2 vote to approve the rezoning, which allows the business to expand its dry dock boat capacity and build a lodge.
Residents packed the June hearing and expressed several concerns, including adding more cars to Shoal Line Boulevard, expanding the commercial footprint of the largely residential neighborhood and harming the environment.
Commissioners removed from the proposal for an education and tourism center, which had been a key element of the original plan.
That move serves as the basis for a complaint that commissioners did not follow due process. They "allowed the application to be substantially amended and changed after the public comment portion of the hearing," according to the appeal.
Commissioners disclosed that they'd had conversations and received emails about the rezoning, information they are not allowed to consider in making their decision. But the complaint argues that they did not give enough detail about that information.
The complaint goes on to say that Dukes "had an ongoing business relationship with the applicant involving the purchase and servicing of his personal pontoon boat at the subject dry dock boat facility yet voted to approve … the applicant's requested quasi-judicial rezoning.''
That relationship was not disclosed until Dukes, who in his capacity as chairman could rule whether evidence was relevant, decided that a video showing the operation of a forklift at the marina, which raised safety questions, was not relevant. At that point, the attorney for the residents, Ralf Brookes, cross-examined Dukes, who admitted that his own boat had been transported by a forklift at the marina.
The 23-page appeal, which will be heard in Hernando County Circuit Court, also lists multiple instances in which the planning professional hired by the residents, Max Forgey, found that the rezoning was in conflict with elements of the county's comprehensive plan. For example, the plan requires that marine commercial districts must "provide for the minimization of adverse impacts on the waterways" nearby.
Forgey determined that the marina rezoning was "completely inconsistent" with that requirement. The appeal notes that the rezoning would add traffic "in an already overcrowded turning basin and canal with marked rock obstructions that serves commercial fishing and shrimp, stone crab and commercial vessels adjacent to two existing public boat ramps, and a private forklift launching dock that extends further into the waterway than may be allowed."
"Further, this is a major addition to a small, existing dry storage facility, located across a two-lane public street from the waterway that requires forklifts to carry pontoon and other boats across a hazardous blind curve."
County Attorney Garth Coller declined to comment on the appeal. Dukes called the implications of a conflict "ludicrous."
"I'm sure I could buy a boat anywhere I want," he said.