HERNANDO BEACH — In mid-December, the Hernando County Commission unanimously denied an expansion of commercial fishing in the residential canals of Hernando Beach. But another local fishing business has filed paperwork seeking a similar expansion.
Sport Fisherman's Landing, Inc., owned by Hernando Beach resident Tommy Evans, has applied for a rezoning that would allow an expanded fishing fleet and commercial fish processing in the Cheeks Creek canal, one waterway south of the traditional commercial area.
The rezoning request is at least partially in response to Evans' own code violations for storing fishing-related supplies on the site. He was judged guilty for it by the county last year. Evans challenged any future zoning violation reports by requesting relief under the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act.
In January, another code complaint accused Evans of loading iced seafood onto trucks from the site in the evening, a commercial fishing activity not allowed in his current zoning district.
"It appears that they are acting after dark, knowing code enforcement only works during daylight hours,'' Hernando Beach resident John Paul Reeve stated in his complaint to the county.
"It is my understanding that in-lieu of the 'request for relief' they are now attempting to rezone for proper land usage,'' county zoning administrator Chris Linsbeck told the Tampa Bay Times. "We’ve been on hold since the initial request for relief was filed.''
The Sport Fisherman's Landing property, at the southwest corner of Gulf Coast Drive and Calienta Street, is at the same location where another fishing interest, Daniel Ebbecke, sought permission in 2016 to dock six shrimping boats longer than 26 feet.
In the most recent case, Hernando Beach Seafood applied to expand its fish processing operation further south, bringing commercial fishing into the Marlin Canal.
In both cases, commissioners cited the adverse impact of commercial fishing on the residential portions of Hernando Beach as a primary reason for denial.
In Evans' "request for relief'' filed last year, he argued that "the county has taken unreasonable enforcement action against Sport Fisherman's Landing for using the property in the same way it has been used historically. This action is unreasonable because Sport Fisherman's Landing is protected by state pre-emptions protecting commercial fishing operations ... and due process.''
In past rezoning cases, residents argued that commercial fishing traditionally has been sited in the Tarpon Canal, which leads directly to the Gulf of Mexico. Commercial fishing operations were concentrated north of Flamingo Boulevard to keep activities in the one canal.
Evans' application seeks the same commercial fishing uses requested by Hernando Beach Seafood. They are defined as allowing "ice service to fishing boats, landing, icing, boxing and shipping fresh fin fish, shellfish (mollusks) and crustaceans.''
In addition, Evans is wants to dock two commercial vessels of less than 40 feet. And he wants to decrease the set-back from the canal to allow for an existing commercial structure.
He also wants to build a house on the site.
"The applicant/owner is requesting approval to secure zoning consistent with historic and present use of the property, which is a crabbing operation,'' according to Evans' written narrative for the project.
Don Lacey of Coastal Engineering, who is representing Evans on the rezoning, said this case is different from the Hernando Beach Seafood case because the Cheeks Creek canal is wider and straighter than the Marlin canal, where that company hoped to rezone.
Recreational boats of a similar size already use the Cheeks Creek canal, Lacey said.
Like previous efforts to expand commercial fishing, this one is generating concern among Hernando Beach residents.
"This is sort of a rewind of the Ebbecke ... and recent Birrens issues,'' said resident Charles Greenwell, who spoke against each of the previous rezoning attempts. Like the others, this application will intrude on the residential and recreational uses of the canals south of the traditional commercial fishing area, he said.
"I can't imagine that the Board of County Commissioners will reverse themselves'' on the issue, he said.
Icing, landing and packing are acceptable activities of a commercial fishing operation, Greenwell said, but they don't belong in established residential areas. Instead the county should be looking for a new location, not Hernando Beach, to support commercial fishing expansion.
"We need to focus on a new sea port,'' he said.
No date has been set for hearings on the rezoning, which will have to go through the county Planning and Zoning Commission and the County Commission.
A public inquiry workshop, during which Evans can make his case with the community, likely will happen in late February, Lacey said.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434. Follow .