PORT RICHEY — The neighbors here in Harbor Isles were cordial once, even friends.
Phil Franco would invite Chuck and Pat Boyer from next door into his home on Waterside Drive. Chuck would jump from his back yard into Millers Bayou to rescue neighbors' lawn furniture. Couples would throw Christmas parties and invite all their neighbors. The Boyers, using shrimp they'd caught in the Gulf of Mexico, would bring their homemade gumbo.
The problems started with Mary Jo. Beginning last year, neighbors complained the Boyers' shrimping boat, a 32-foot Luhrs, was noisy and smelly and ran at all hours. Even worse, every time the Mary Jo was moored at their backyard dock, neighbors said, the Boyers broke the law.
Chuck Boyer, 65, and Pat, 61, said that was silly. They'd had Mary Jo docked there for five years and had a crew run it every season. They said they kept the thing clean, idled quietly in the bayou and worked hard to be good neighbors. Why not, they asked, just let them be?
Over the months, as complaints were filed and officers called and lawyers consulted, the neighborhood became a battleground. On one side were the Boyers, Mary Jo and a Florida law allowing boats to dock on state waters. On the other, Chuck Boyer said, was a "social clique" of their neighbors, including the man they considered their "mouthpiece" — Port Richey Mayor Richard Rober.
Rober, who lives a few doors down on Island Drive, said he "doesn't have a dog in this fight." A shouting match last week seems to say otherwise. Pat Boyer was walking their dachshunds, Toby and Deebo, when Rober's wife, Ave, drove past them on Waterside Drive.
Rober, from inside her SUV, said she heard Boyer holler, "Go to hell." (Boyer said she didn't say anything.)
Then Boyer saw Rober stop, roll down her window and holler back, "I already live in hell. I live down the street from you."
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Most evenings, around 7, a captain and deckhand who work with the Boyers climb onto the boat and idle into the gulf.
For hours they drag for bait shrimp, filling their tail bags with an average of 10,000 a night. Around 2 a.m., they join about six other shrimpers at slips behind the Seaside Inn, where they unload their catch into livewells.
Buyers pay $55 per thousand shrimp, and the haul gets split between Boyer and his crew. It's good work, he said, but unpredictable — especially now.
City code prohibits commercial fishing work — be it unloading fish, drying nets or repairing boats — in a residential neighborhood. City officials and council members point to that zoning rule as a clear ban on the home dock for the Mary Jo.
But the Boyers, and their attorney, say state law prohibits the city from regulating their anchoring in state waters, like the bayou, rendering the city code moot. A planner with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission echoed that interpretation in a letter to City Hall.
That hasn't silenced city officials. A code enforcement officer visits the home almost every day, Chuck Boyer said, and fines of about $180 have yet to be paid.
In December, Boyer paid $300 to store Mary Jo at a slip within sight of his dock. But a month later, wanting to save money, he moved the boat back to behind his home, this time mooring it by four anchors 15 feet from his dock. It saves him, he said, from new violations, though it brings with it its own problems. Rough waters could loosen the anchors or toss the boat into the seawall, and to reach the boat, crew members must row over with a dinghy.
"You know what this reminds me of? A child's game," Boyer said. "This right here. That you have to paddle 10 feet out with this boat."
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Since October, Franco said, he has kept a daily log of the Boyers' dock and Mary Jo. His wife, Kathleen Brown, keeps her own personal log of "what they yell and scream."
"They think nobody lives around here but them," Franco said. "I live next door. I'm a good guy. My wife's a good lady. My life's been turned upside down. I don't want to live this way."
The logs, he said, show information that proves the Boyers are "serial liars" and out of bounds. Even if they fish far from home, Franco figures "commercial fishing activity" — which the code prohibits — must take place at the home.
"Does the fuel fall from rain?" Franco, 65, said at a meeting last month. "Do the people who run the boat fly across the dock?"
At the same meeting, Richard Rober said any work for the boat constituted commercial activity in a residential area, an act that breached "the spirit of the rules."
"You can't be partially pregnant. You walk out with the sea bag and a cooler. You're walking out with fuel, with nets. All those activities are required to be engaged in commerce," Rober said. "Everything in life is an interpretation, you know? And in this man's interpretation, that boat needs to be out of there."
The Boyers aren't planning on it. Chuck Boyer said he's sunk $6,000 into attorney's fees and is considering suing the city. Another code enforcement showdown is planned this month.
"Man," Boyer said, looking across his back yard. "They didn't have a problem eating that shrimp gumbo."
Drew Harwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6244.