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Planning commission recommends denial of expanded commercial fish processing in Hernando Beach

 
The Hernando County Government Center in downtown Brooksville. [JUSTIN TROMBLY | Times]
The Hernando County Government Center in downtown Brooksville. [JUSTIN TROMBLY | Times]
Published Nov. 14, 2018

BROOKSVILLE — Another voice has joined the list of those who oppose rezoning several properties on Shoal Line Boulevard to make way for a new fish processing operation in Hernando Beach.

Vocal residents, their homeowners association, the Hernando County Port Authority and county planning staffers have spoken against the proposal by Hernando Beach Seafood to move its stone crab processing to its Shoal Line lots from Calienta Street, where the company now processes both shrimp and stone crab.

The Calienta operation is on the wide Tarpon Canal the leads into the Hernando Beach channel and eventually the Gulf of Mexico. The new operation would bring boats in through the Marlin Canal, which is narrower and the main recreational boat channel for most Hernando Beach residents.

On Tuesday, after hearing why all the others thought the idea was a bad one, the county Planning and Zoning Commission recommended denial of the rezoning.

The next stop for the application is the Hernando County Commission.

The seafood company's spokesman again raised the hackles of his audience — as he had at a public information workshop this summer. Neighborhood opposition was based on false information, Allen Sherrod told planning commissioners. The company was not going to be "bludgeoning baby harp seals'' at the site, he said.

Previous coverage: Proposed expansion of commercial fishing in Hernando Beach draws public outcry

What Hernando Seafood wants to do is not unlike what it has been doing all along on Calienta Street, he said.

"It's not rocket science,'' he said. "It's not asking for something that hasn't been going on'' for years.

The county approved other commercial uses on the Marlin Canal, he said. Planning board chairwoman Lynn Gruber-White warned Sherrod "not to talk down" to planning commission members, and assistant county attorney Joseph DiNovo asked that he confine his comments "to the merits of your application.''

After his presentation, Sherrod asked: "Do you have any questions, or are your minds already made up?''

Previous coverage: Hernando County officials: Expanding Hernando Beach Seafood operations bad idea

Margo McConnell, representing the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association, explained how similar rezonings were turned down because they were not compatible with the recreational and residential canals. They also were not contiguous to the one area of Hernando Beach set aside for commercial fishing — Calienta Street.

The applicants would not limit their rezoning request to the half dozen crab boats now moored off Shoal Line Boulevard, she pointed out, so the rezoning could open up the site to any commercial fishing companies that wanted to use the new processing facility.

The existing stone crabbing boats make approximately 2,500 annual trips along the Marlin Canal during stone crab season, McConnell said. The number of docks at the location could allow as many as 19,000 boat trips per year for commercial vessels, she said, and adding outside fishing interests could mean 35,000 boat trips traveling past canal residences annually.

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Other residents spoke against the smell of fish processing, the pollution from diesel engines and negative impacts on the adjacent Hernando Beach Yacht Club. They also were concerned about traffic tie-ups with the company transporting seafood from boats on the west side of Shoal Line to the stone crab cooking and packing areas on the east side of the two-lane roadway.

"Fish processing is an intense industry,'' said Kathy Frase, president of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association.

Jodie Pillarella said that neighbors have smelled seafood processing already at the site. At a recent County Commission meeting, officials acknowledged code violations brought against the company and said a hearing officer will address them next month.

At Tuesday's planning commission meeting, a question went unanswered about whether the company was already doing what they were asking permission to do.

Hernando Beach resident David Sarkis suggested that the seafood company's "bombastic representative" was a bad choice and that Sherrod had openly said it didn't matter what the planning commission recommended. All he needed was three county commissioners to say yes.

Kathryn Birren, whose family owns Hernando Beach Seafood, also pleaded for the rezoning.

The opposition "has been based on lies,'' she said, and neighbors are "ready to burn us in effigy.''

Planning commission member Alia Qureshi asked county planning director Ron Pianta if they could compromise by leaving out the commercial fish processing approval from the rezoning. He answered that the commercial fish processing was the point of the rezoning.

Qureshi cast the sole vote against denial of the application.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434. Follow .