OZONA — Although they received a petition with more than 100 names opposing the request, Pinellas County commissioners on Tuesday night gave a marina on Ozona's historic waterfront the go-ahead to expand.
Commissioners paved the way for the Speckled Trout Marina to double the number of boats that it stores. They approved a change in the property's zoning designation from "residential" to "commercial recreation."
Marina owners Rick and Denna Bennett bought the original marina in 2001. In 2011, they bought 3 more acres of adjacent land across the street. The zoning change allows them to use the most recently purchased land for boat storage.
Several Ozona residents voiced opposition, citing public safety issues, an unwanted increase in traffic and fear that the charm of their community will be destroyed.
"(An expansion) would compromise the character of the community,'' said Daniel Morris, who lives near the marina. "I have no problem with the Speckled Trout as it is today, but to keep things safe, to double the size, is something to really consider.''
And Brian Smith, the president of the Ozona Village Improvement Society, said the changes would open the door for other land owners to want to expand as well. "It could be a real game changer for our community,'' he said.
However, John Cueva, zoning manager for Pinellas County's planning department, stressed that the changes come "with a long list of conditions.''
The conditions include a full site plan review, compliance with county landscaping, and parking regulations as well as the property owner retaining "clean marina status'' from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
"The conditions are very well thought out,'' Cueva said. "And they benefit not only the (business) owner but also citizens around the property. ... Right now, you've got water hitting the property and draining off into the estuary with no treatment.''
Commissioner Susan Latvala made the motion to approve the request. "Right now they don't meet any standards, and they pollute the Gulf of Mexico,'' she said. "By doing this, they will have to meet our standards ... and by doing this, (Rick Bennett) is giving up rights to his property that I guarantee that none of you would want to do.''
The final vote came in 4-3 with Karen Seel, Norm Roche and John Morroni in opposition.
Piper Castillo is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163.