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Exceptions to fishing boat ban rejected

(ran ET edition of TAMPA & STATE)

After a 2{-hour debate, the County Commission denies an appeal to let longtime commercial fishermen remain docked behind residential properties.

Most of the faces were the same in the standing-room-only crowd at Tuesday's County Commission meeting held to seek a final decision on the proposed ban on commercial boats docking in residential areas.

This time, though, supporters of the commercial fishing industry wore yellow ribbons. They turned out in force, filling the seats on one side of the room and standing along the walls in the back. Residents fighting to oust commercial boats from residential areas of Hernando Beach filled the seats on the other side of the room.

After a 2{-hour debate, those wearing yellow ribbons left disappointed when the commissioners denied an appeal to make an exception to the ban and let longtime commercial fishermen remain docked behind residential properties.

The 3-2 vote may serve as the final word on the issue that has divided the coastal Hernando Beach community.

In June, commissioners decided to amend language in ordinances to clearly ban the docking of commercial boats longer than 26 feet behind residential properties. Those fishermen whose boats were docked behind residences before June 8 will be given a year to either move to commercial dock areas or clear out.

Several commercial fishermen, and residents who support them, had hoped to persuade commissioners to grandfather about 10 fishermen now docked behind homes.

Several members of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association, which spearheaded efforts to oust commercial boats from residential areas, argued the boats devalue neighboring properties.

"They are damaging our property values, our quality of life and the tranquility of our community," resident Polly Bennett said.

Several fishermen argued the decision amounted to putting several longtime fishermen out of business.

John Loy, who has docked a commercial boat behind his home since 1981, said there are not enough commercial slips to accommodate all the fishermen docked in residential areas. Last week, commissioners rejected Loy's petition to rezone two lots he owns on Calienta Street to expand the commercial docking zone.

"I'm fighting for my life," Loy said. "This is what I work for. This is what I've strived for all my life. It's a hard life, but it's what I enjoy."

Linda Duda said every person on her street in Aripeka signed a petition in support of allowing her to keep a commercial boat docked behind her home.

"Let us get on with our not-so-luxurious lives," she pleaded.

Gene Caples, who also was denied a rezoning attempt that would have expanded the commercial dock space in Hernando Beach, argued against granting special exceptions, saying it would give those fishermen a competitive advantage over those renting commercial slips.

Other residents argued there are enough commercial slips for rent to handle the area's fishermen.

"I almost feel intimidated by all these yellow ribbons," said Julia Jackson, vice president of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association. "Why can't these boats go to a marina and pay a docking fee?"

Jim Bradley of the Hernando County Marine Industry Council argued the available slips, all at the Snapper Marina, are floating docks that would not hold up to bad storms.

The marine council presented a survey it garnered from Hernando Beach residents Saturday and Monday suggesting most residents there supported the grandfathering. According to the survey, 260 people, or about 71 percent of the 364 who responded, were in favor of grandfathering the existing fishermen in residential areas. Among those living directly beside someone with a commercial boat, the survey found, 58 of 60 said they favored grandfathering.

Commissioners Bobbi Mills and Pat Novy moved for an amendment that would have exempted current fishermen from moving their boats. But the motion failed.

Commissioner Chris Kingsley left the door open for special exceptions someday. If, after the one-year grace period has expired, a commercial fisherman docked in a residential area can show he or she made a good-faith effort to relocate to a commercial area but could not get a slip, then, Kingsley said, he would consider granting a special exception.

"It is not my intent, or the intent of this board, to drive any commercial fishermen out of business," Kingsley said. "There's nothing right now that says there aren't enough existing slips for these 10 boats."