The party continues on Beer Can Island as Hillsborough acknowledges its hands are tied

The new owners say they’ve improved things on the once-lawless Beer Can Island off Apollo Beach.
The new owners say they’ve improved things on the once-lawless Beer Can Island off Apollo Beach.
Published June 28, 2019

Russell Loomis is throwing a victory party.

"All weekend," he said.

And he has just the place for it.

Around 18 months ago, at the bargain price of $63,650, Loomis and three friends bought 11-acre Pine Key — a popular boating and camping destination known by locals as Beer Can Island.

Loomis, Cole Weaver, James Wester and John Gadd sought to bring order to the once lawless island between Apollo Beach and MacDill Air Force Base.

READ MORE: Hillsborough County says changes at Beer Can Island violate code

They installed toilets and trash cans, built a small concert stage, anchored a floating tiki bar on the coast and held private parties for those who purchased island passes.

But Hillsborough County Code Enforcement said the activity can't be permitted there because the property lacks a zoning designation of any kind. The agency issued the owners a fine and ordered them to stop what they were doing.

Then on Friday, the Code Enforcement Board — appointed by the County Commission — reversed the action and dismissed the violation.

Beer Can Island, it seems, had slipped through the cracks.

"The county doesn't have jurisdiction on un-zoned property," the owners' attorney Mark Bentley said.

The county wrote an ordinance in 1977 giving it the required jurisdiction, but the ordinance was repealed in 2012 with plans to add replacement language in another government document — the county's underlying land development code.

But that never happened.

"The island is an anomaly," Bentley said. "No one can identify another piece of property that doesn't already have a land use designation."

It does have an address, according to Code Enforcement records — 1 Beer Can Island Way.

The Tampa Bay Marina in nearby Apollo Beach was the previous owner of the apostrophe-shaped island, with its sandy beaches surrounding a center of largely invasive trees and undergrowth. It was a place to drop sand from the marina's dredging operations.

READ MORE: Carefree but hardworking, partner in Beer Can Island just wants to hang out

The former owners took a hands-off approach to the island — no electricity, no running water — so trouble sometimes arose when alcohol flowed freely and no one worried about the rules.

The current owners made Tampa Bay Marina a deal: Sell the island at its appraised worth and they would allow sand dumping to continue there. The deal was sealed.

Now, it's up to the Hillsborough County Commission to establish a land-use designation for the property, Bentley said. If Beer Can Island's owners don't agree with the decision, they can fight it, he added.

The county wasn't happy with the reversal.

"Code Enforcement staff continue to be concerned about the welfare of the visitors to the island, and the safety of the structures that have been built and are being used without proper permits, inspections, and oversight," county spokesman Michelle Van Dyke said in an email to the Times.

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Meantime, the party continues — responsibly, the owners say.

"There's no more fights," Loomis said, "trash is cleaned up almost every day, plus we have first aid kits, defibrillators and staff to help anyone in need all day long."

Contact Paul Guzzo at or follow @PGuzzoTimes.