BROOKSVILLE — Three zoning applications before the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday will have something significant in common.
All three come from Hernando Beach. Each is an example of what has become a controversial approach to dealing with property owners who violate their zoning. In recent years, Hernando County planners have recommended several zoning changes after-the-fact that bring the activities into compliance.
Together, the cases have stirred up opposition from Hernando Beach residents.
Two property owners want to expand commercial fishing operations on their parcels, a push that for decades has drawn strong resident opposition.
The third is Gordon Wolf, whose plan to build a tourism center and adjacent lodge six years ago inspired a large crowd of opponents who got most of that plan thrown out.
Wolf owned the Blue Pelican Marina, where the center was planned. After the center was stopped, Wolf soon filled the lowland property with dirt. But he hadn’t obtained the proper permits, which prompted code violations from Hernando County and complaints from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
But that didn’t stop Wolf. In fact, he started storing boat trailers, boats and shipping containers on top of the fill, again violating zoning and water management rules. The county fined him, and water management officials sent new notices.
Now Wolf is asking for a zoning change that would bring his misbehavior into compliance and also allow him keep the zoning that made way for the lodge. The county planning staff has recommended approval.
Wolf told residents in a public information workshop several weeks ago that he has been storing boats on the property for years and wants to continue using the site this way. Keeping the zoning that allows him to build the lodge was something the county wanted him to do, he said.
Outraged residents have sent letters to planning commissioners and the county commissioners who will make the final decision. They don’t want to let code violators get past their transgressions by getting formal permission to do things not previously allowed, they said.
"When the entry gateway to your community is a junkyard, it is difficult to embrace a long-term optimism for a better future and an improved quality of life,'' wrote Hernando Beach resident Jonathan Braden.
Wolf has violated environmental and zoning rules, Braden wrote, along with a basic tenant of zoning, which is “the hope that people will desire to improve their properties and elevate their land-use capacity, thereby increasing their land value and, presumably in doing so, the values of the lands around them.
"Every property owner expects their government to protect them from exactly the type of violations to the code of ordinances that the petitioner has willfully and openly displayed over the past several years on the subject property.''
Jodie Pillarella described the once pristine area that was the northern entrance to Hernando Beach and how it drew her to the area years ago. Wildlife that once lived on Wolf’s site has been replaced with "a massive junkyard of Walmart trailers, storage containers, junk boats, boat trailers, etc., and lines of old commercial barges trucked in from San Antonio, TX,'' she wrote.
She urged the planning commission to recommend denial and county commissioners to vote down the rezoning.
"Hernando Beach has been abused and exploited by these irresponsible and thoughtless activities for the past five years,'' she wrote.
"He opts to pay the fines in order to perpetuate illegal activities, knowing that his profits will exceed the amount paid out,'' wrote Hernando Beach resident Mark Lucas.
The other two rezoning applications before the planning commission on Monday relate to the expansion of commercial fishing in Hernando Beach.
Crabber Tommy Evans has spent months trying to get zoning permission to use his lot at Calienta Street and Gulf Coast Drive to continue processing fish products. The site doesn’t allow that now.
In December, the County Commission said no to his request. County planners also recommended denial.
After much back and forth with the county, Evans has retained an attorney, who is using a complex rule to push the rezoning forward. Even so, the case could end up in court.
The other fishing-related application is from S&T Boat Repair and Bait LLC, which is seeking a special-exception use permit for the light wholesale distribution of shrimp.
S&T has been operating a fish-processing business for five years in a rented storefront at 3209 Shoal Line Boulevard, well south of the area traditionally used for commercial fishing operations in Hernando Beach.
Business owners Theresa and Saul Salas say in their application that they didn’t know they were violating county rules and that they provide a service for independent shrimpers in the area. They say their operation produces about 82,000 pounds of shrimp per year.
The Salas also complain that Hernando Beach residents against commercial fishing have been stalking them, videotaping their operation and bullying them.
County planners recommended approval of their application.
Several Hernando Beach residents have written letters in opposition. An adjacent property owner complained that S&T had installed a dumpster on his property.
“S&T’s illegal operations have not been limited to this locale,” wrote M. Marino. "They were also offloading seafood product from their vessel, “Miss Susie,” onto a property located on Snapper 2 Canal that is not zoned for such purposes.
“Subsequently, the wrongdoings at the petitioned site were exposed, which prompted S&T to apply for a special-exception use permit.''
Gladys Moore, past president of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association, posted on the social media site Next Door last weekend that S&T was tossing water and shrimp into her canal. As a resident of Hernando Beach South, which has a closed canal system not connected to the Gulf, such activities can change the character of the canals, she argued.
Another neighbor echoed her concern.
“A huge concern is the operation of this company in ungodly hours, as well as the discharge of untreated water waste and dead shrimp waste into the canal, which borders my backyard,” wrote Christopher Thompson, who said he owns a lot on Rose Arbor Drive. "Something this disruptive will immensely lower the value of mine and neighboring properties, as well as the living quality.''