Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

As marina issues linger in Hernando Beach, owners believe they're unfairly targeted

HERNANDO BEACH — From their support for a improved landscaping in the median at Shoal Line and Osowaw boulevards to their efforts to help the county resolve congestion and parking issues at the community boat ramps, Ron Wolf says all he and his brother have tried to do is make Hernando Beach a better place.

But Wolf, whose brother, Gordon, owns Blue Pelican Marina, says they are frustrated that they have been the targets for a variety of complaints regarding code violations and safety issues.

Many of the issues arose as the marina pitched its rezoning plans to the county. Approved earlier this summer, the rezoning allows an expansion of the marina's boat storage capacity and construction of a lodge. The approval has been legally challenged by residents under the name of the Speakman Trust, an landowner adjacent to the marina.

The most recent problem for the marina came last week: a $100 citation from county code enforcement for building a dock that is 36 feet long — 14 feet over the limit. The marina was notified of the violation weeks ago and missed the deadline to file for a variance, thus the citation, said Chris Linsbeck, the county's zoning supervisor.

Now the marina may soon be back before the County Commission. If residents oppose the request for the variance, the commission makes the decision, Linsbeck said.

The county already has heard from one objector — Hernando Beach resident Forrest Bennett, who organized the opposition to the rezoning. In an email to Jodi Singer, the county's building department manager, Bennett wrote: "Any private structure or expansion into the crowded and chaotic turning basin serving the commercial fishing fleet, residents and four public boat ramps is clearly unwise.''

The marina also came under fire recently from Commissioner Diane Rowden, who questioned the safety of the marina's forklift operation after a video was allowed into evidence in the rezoning that showed two cars driving around and under the forklift when it had a pontoon boat lifted into the air. The marina uses the forklift to move boats from dry storage to and from the canal along Calienta Street.

Since that time, the county and the marina have taken several steps to ensure compliance with all of the conditions that had been agreed to in the past to ensure safety.

Crosswalks erased when Calienta was repaved have been repainted. Bushes that obscured warning signs have been trimmed. Missing signs have been reinstalled. Wolf maintains that the marina has always used extra help during especially congested times to direct traffic. Horns and lights have been added to the forklift.

According to Brian Malmberg, assistant county administrator for operations, "five years of accident reports as well as a visual assessment of the crossing point on Calienta do not bring to attention any immediate safety concerns.''

Bennett said he believes the marina operation continues to raise public safety concerns.

"It defies common sense and is not prudent for government to allow an unwieldy industrial vehicle to repeatedly cross a public roadway on a blind turn in a busy and chaotic public location under any conditions. Ever,'' he said.

Rowden said she believes the forklift safety issue needed to be addressed.

"I'm really happy that they have taken what steps were necessary to make sure these safety issues were cleared up,'' she said.

At the county's request, the marina also has had to remove boat trailers from an inappropriate parking area, has removed an unpermitted deck built on the site and a tent, and is grappling with plumbing and electrical questions related to unpermitted construction in Ron Wolf's office.

Wolf says there are lots of code violations all over Hernando Beach and he feels the marina has been unfairly singled out. That is why, when he and his brother learned that there was a small area behind the marina that had been filled illegally, they sought an inspection by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Earlier this month, a DEP inspector found fill on the marina's property and on the adjacent land owned by the Speakman Trust, which had filed the challenge to the rezoning. Wolf said that he and his brother had planned to speak with the landowner about the fill in hopes of seeing the legal challenge of the rezoning lifted.

Several days later, however, Wolf said he and his brother had decided not to intervene and just let the appeal "run its course.''

The DEP has not been able to determine who placed the fill on the site and continues to investigate, according to agency spokeswoman Ana Gibbs.

Bennett said that the Wolf brothers, as developers, should have known they needed to seek permits to build or make other building changes.

"It's a history of not playing by the rules and trying to slip something by people,'' Bennett said. "It doesn't provide any assurance that they will be playing by the rules in the future.''

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