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New commercial dock space denied

Published Sep. 29, 2005

(ran PC edition)

Hernando County officials also will consider banning certain commercial fishing boats from residential areas. A vote on that matter could come Tuesday.

The way Hernando Beach crabber John Loy sees it, the county is squeezing him from two directions.

Tuesday night, the Hernando County Commission unanimously turned down his rezoning request to expand commercial docks along a section of Calienta Street in Hernando Beach.

Next week, commissioners might approve an ordinance banning Loy and other commercial fishermen from parking boats longer than 26 feet behind their homes as of next summer.

If that happens, Loy will have nowhere to put his boat and will be "out of business," said his lawyer, Douglas Bevins.

Nonsense, says Commissioner Paul Sullivan. He said existing marinas have enough space to accommodate the 10 or so commercial vessels that the ban would reportedly displace. Fishermen counter that the room will run out if several boats now in dry storage are put into the water.

Tuesday's hearing marked the latest chapter in a divisive struggle between commercial fishermen and Hernando Beach residents over docking issues and, more broadly, the community's future.

"That's our livelihood you're taking away _ our livelihood," shrimper Mark Rodriguez told commissioners.

Theresa D'Amato, who lives across the street from Loy's property, spoke in similarly ominous terms.

"By rezoning you will ruin the quality of my life and that of my neighbors," she said. Among the concerns she and other residents cited were noise, safety and pollution.

The land in question is already zoned for commercial uses, so a pleasure boat marina would be allowed. Loy's proposal would have expanded the commercial dock area to a section of Calienta Street near Flamingo Drive, opening up a new canal to commercial boat traffic.

In something of a surprise, the Hernando County Marine Industry Council opposed the rezoning sought by Loy and another fisherman, William Caples. Its leaders fear adding dock space could increase the size of the commercial fleet in Hernando and upset even more residents. That, they fear, could lead to more regulation.

Instead, the council has pushed the commission to grandfather in longer commercial boats now docked behind residential properties.

Several commercial fishermen say the council does not speak for them. After the commission rejected Loy's rezoning request, Caples withdrew his request in a hail of angry words.

"My grandfather always told me Jesus was crucified between a doctor and an attorney," Caples said. "Well, if he was crucified here today, I would say he was crucified between a marine council officer and a certain county commissioner."

Caples was referring to Sullivan, a vocal ban advocate who is building a home in Hernando Beach with his wife, Cathie, president of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association.

After hearing residents' concerns, Bevins likened his client, Loy, to an early settler who went ashore only to be killed by natives.

Now the attention returns to a possible ban. In June, the commission voted 3-2 to look into such a ban. A final vote is expected Tuesday.

The two dissenters, Chairwoman Pat Novy and Commissioner Bobbi Mills, favor a grandfathering provision if there must be a ban.

"If they're going to be kicked off the property, we almost have to allow it," Mills said.

Novy said she would be "more open" to expanded commercial docks if grandfathering fails.

Sullivan said such an exemption makes no sense because county ordinance has never permitted commercial boat parking in residential areas _ though some county officials say the wording is murkier than that.

Mills favors grandfathering as a way to avoid rezoning _ a step she thought would affect many more neighbors than those now living near commercial boats. Another negative effect, she said, would have been an influx of commercial fishermen into Hernando County.

Commissioner Chris Kingsley, viewed as the swing vote on this issue, has been skeptical of grandfathering. He said a one-year grace period that would accompany the ban would serve the same purpose.