BROOKSVILLE — After more than 5 1/2 hours of testimony from attorneys, county staffers and dozens of residents, a divided Hernando County Commission on Tuesday approved a rezoning request by Blue Pelican Marina that has kept the Hernando Beach community in an uproar for nearly three months.
The final decision came down to the swing vote of Commissioner Jim Adkins, who wanted the county to make it clear that it was not going to put its planned Nature Coast environmental education center on the marina site, even though the center was still on the marina's application.
After a break, Adkins ultimately voted with commissioners Wayne Dukes and Dave Russell once they amended one of the 28 performance conditions recommended by the county planning staff. That condition outlined that there would be only passive recreational uses on the property. Without saying it directly, the condition would prohibit the education center, amphitheater or 200-seat theater on the site.
The rest of the planned uses were approved, including land use changes that allow an expanded marina operation, potential changes in boat trailer parking and access roads that would be further negotiated with the county, and 42 residential cabins and a lodge that have been discussed for the 31-acre site.
Commissioners Diane Rowden and Nick Nicholson voted no.
"We shouldn't be thinking about any kind of approval,'' said Rowden, who pushed to have the entire plan taken back to the drawing board.
Nicholson, an engineer who served previously on the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission, said he had never seen a rezoning with so many conditions. After Dukes called a recess to allow Blue Pelican Marina officials to broker acceptable language with county planners, Nicholson got even more upset.
"This is a major, major change,'' he said, noting that he had never seen the County Commission make a major change in a project just before approval. "That's wrong. That's wrong.''
Opponents of the rezoning were dealt an early blow in the proceeding when Joe Mason, the attorney for the marina, asked that the nearly 200 pages of emails and letters written by residents, mostly in opposition, be inadmissible in the proceeding. He argued that the comments were hearsay and that he could not question the individuals.
Dukes ruled to reject the written comments, but allowed three dozen coastal residents to speak, with the majority speaking against the rezoning and raising concerns about the impact the marina's expansion would have on the roads, infrastructure and quality of life in Hernando Beach. In addition, attorney Ralf Brookes and expert planner Max Forgey, representing some of the residents, argued that the marina had not met the requirement to prove the rezoning was appropriate for the property; they also maintained it was in conflict with the county's comprehensive plan.
That presentation grew testy when Brookes questioned Dukes about his relationship with the marina, where the commissioner bought a boat a year and a half ago and where the boat has been serviced. But other commissioners would not rule that Dukes had a conflict of interest and should recuse himself from the vote.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.