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Hillsborough County tells Beer Can Island to shut down the party

Beer Can Island exists within a loophole because it lacks a zoning designation of any kind.
Pine Key — a popular boating and camping destination known by locals as Beer Can Island.
Pine Key — a popular boating and camping destination known by locals as Beer Can Island. [ Times (2018) ]
Published Dec. 21, 2020
Updated Dec. 21, 2020

APOLLO BEACH — The two-year land use debate between Hillsborough County Code Enforcement and the owners of Pine Key — the popular boating and camping destination known by locals as Beer Can Island — might be coming to a conclusion.

Code enforcement has levied four violations against the owners including two that could dampen the plan to keep Beer Can Island a party destination. Russell Loomis and some friends bought the island located between Apollo Beach and MacDill Air Force Base in December 2017, promising to bring order.

Two of the violations are for “nuisance conditions,” according to code enforcement records, citing junk, trash and drums with portable toilet waste accumulating on the island. The owners have 30 days from Dec. 18 — the date of their hearing — to correct those.

Related: Owners of floating bar needed home port, so they bought popular 'Beer Can Island' off Apollo Beach

The bigger issue stems from the fact that Beer Can Island exists within a loophole because it lacks a zoning designation of any kind.

Code Enforcement records say the owners are in violation of “operating a beach/membership club on the island without first seeking approval” and of constructing structures that include a “two level structure used for storage and sleeping quarters” without obtaining permits.

Loomis said the county gave them 90 days from Dec. 18 to remove the structures and cease activities or prove that they cannot comply.

“There is no process to get a site development plan, nor permits for construction on unzoned property,” Loomis said.

In 2018, Code Enforcement demanded that the owners cease all enterprises — which include hosting events and concerts for those who purchase an island membership — because no activities are allowed on properties without a zoning.

The owners prevailed in January 2019 by successfully arguing that the county doesn’t have jurisdiction on un-zoned properties.

The county wrote an ordinance in 1977 giving it the jurisdiction over property without a zoning, but the ordinance was repealed in 2012 with plans to add replacement language in another government document — the county’s underlying land development code.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.

It is believed that Beer Can Island is the only county property without a zoning designation.

Loomis said that they have “attempted to submit a site plan. However, since the property is not zoned, the county will not even accept the application.”

The island was cited for the current violations in January 2020. A hearing Friday centered around how the island can receive zoning. Attorneys for both sides expressed a desire for a resolution.

The island owners and the county now must “sort out whether or not we can get the property zoned as the land owner or if the county is required to give us that initial zoning,” Loomis said.

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. Campers and partiers used it at will and with little regard for its cleanliness. Trash littered the island. Bushes doubled as toilets.

For $63,650, Loomis and his friends Cole Weaver, James Wester and John Gadd purchased the island with no roads, drinking water or electricity.

They installed toilets and trash cans, built a small concert stage and anchored their floating tiki bar.

That tiki bar plus the two-story structure that Code Enforcement cited have been removed, Loomis said.

They still have five sheds that are each under 150 square feet but those “do not require a permit to build,” Loomis said.

“I fully expect” all “violations to be dismissed,” Loomis added, “as they were by the board in 2019.”