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Hernando Commission to rule on shrimp business after community outcry

Residents don’t want shrimpers who violated land-use rules to continue operating in their neighborhood.
Hernando Stock Photo - Hernando Beach sign [MICHELE MILLER | Times]

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday agreed to take up the case of a shrimp wholesaler in Hernando Beach who wants to keep operating out of a storefront not zoned for the business. Residents said the operation damages the environment, conflicts with the residential community and is one more example of a county decision that helps local code violators.

S & T Boat Repair and Bait gained approval this month from the county Planning and Zoning Commission for a special-exception use permit to continue operating at 3209 Shoal Line Blvd. But a provision in the county’s land-use rules allows the County Commission to make the final decision if there is enough reason to do so.

Commissioners received more than a dozen letters in recent days urging them to take action, and commissioners voted unanimously to do so on Tuesday. They want to rule on the matter when members of the public can attend, but did not set a date. The meeting on Tuesday drew a small audience, after officials urged people to view online because of the need for social distancing.

Commissioner John Allocco said that even before the barrage of emails, he had discussed the matter with county staff, because of the split vote of the Planning and Zoning Commission and the ongoing community concerns.

The only commissioner to balk at the idea was Wayne Dukes, who lives in Hernando Beach. The planning staff already had recommended approval and had set conditions to allow the company to continue working, he said.

Residents want to shut down the business, he said, adding that "you have to understand the mentality you’re dealing with, and I don’t mean that in a negative way.''

S & T has operated at the site for five years. Owners Saul and Theresa Salas told planning commissioners they didn’t realize their operation violating the zoning.

The owners buy live shrimp from independent shrimpers, load them into tanks in their truck, then unload them into tanks in the shop, they said. They sell primarily to Asian markets in the United States and as bait shrimp for the Keys, producing approximately 82,000 pounds annually.

Shrimp boats

The couple said that Hernando Beach residents have been stalking them and photographing them.

Those who live nearby say they are not trying to close the business, but want it moved to where it belongs — at the northern end of the community.

“Hernando Beach by design has all the commercial seafood operations platted north of Flamingo Boulevard,” wrote Hernando Beach resident M. Marino, who lives near the S & T storefront. "This allows for a harmonious co-existence, whereby the seafood commercial industry can flourish in their designated area without affecting the quality of life of residents or the tax base value of surrounding residential homes.''

The Planning Commission approval “created a precedent for commercial seafood expansion to occur south of Flamingo Boulevard,” she said. “In previous years, we have seen numerous rezoning attempts by Daniel Ebbecke, Hernando Beach Seafood, and most recently, Sport Fisherman’s Landing.”

John Paul Reeve, who chairs the government affairs committee for the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association, also urged commissioners to hear the case.

"The majority of residents of Hernando Beach do not want S & T Boat Repair & Bait, LLC, to be given permission by the county planning and zoning committee to continue operating illegally in a building not zoned for their wholesale ‘live, wild shrimp’ processing business,'’ he wrote. "Their business may be cutting-edge technology, but my opinion is, it is in the wrong location.''

Hernando Beach resident Mark Lucas also took issue with the Planning Commission decision.

"It was not acknowledged that S & T has been operating their business in violation of the county’s zoning ordinances for the past five years,'' he wrote. "Moreover, the incriminating video footage presented, illustrating dumping of waste product/dead shrimp into the canal, should have been suffice to deny this permit.''

Others complained about the potential impact on their property values and how shrimp processing late into the night interrupted the peace of their residential neighborhood across the canal from S & T.

Others complained that S & T trespassed onto its neighbors’ property without permission to access the back of its building and had put a dumpster on neighboring property.