TAMPA — Hillsborough County is ready for Round Two with the owners of Pine Key, the boating and camping destination better known as Beer Can Island.
Six months ago, the Hillsborough County Code Enforcement Board — appointed by the County Commission — dismissed a notice of violation issued to the owners of the island by the county’s Code Enforcement department.
Then in January, the Code Enforcement department issued four new notices of violation against the owners. The owners will appeal these before the board.
“At this point they are throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks,” Russell Loomis, one of the owners, said.
But a Code Enforcement report contends that the owners are running a business “without due care to the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Hillsborough County.”
Most recently, they brought in an inflatable, four-story water slide, adding to amenities that include portable toilets, trashcans, a small stage and a floating tiki bar the size of a tennis court. They also sold memberships for access to private parties and a cash bar.
About two years ago, Loomis and three friends bought the 11-acre island spoil island at the southern edge of Hillsborough Bay, between Apollo Beach and MacDill Air Force Base. There was nothing there but sandy beaches, thick trees and bushes and piles of trash left by boaters.
Code Enforcement cited the owners for developing without a site plan, allowing debris and trash to accumulate, “nuisance conditions” such as plastic drums containing human waste from portable toilets, and building without a permit.
Loomis dismisses the allegations.
“I am 100 percent confident that we are operating within the legal limits of the law and they have no case whatsoever,” he said.
The barrels of human waste are properly sealed and stored back in the woods behind fencing and “No Trespassing” signs, he said.
"We transport these barrels to the marina for pump-out. We cleaned up everything, including the things that washed into the woods that weren’t ours — hundreds of plastic and glass bottles, cans, etcetera.”
Loomis said the owners don’t even need a site plan or permits because the structures cited, including the tiki boat and a chickee hut, aren’t permanent.
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Code Enforcement disagrees.
“Our observations show they aren’t temporary,” said Jon-Paul Lavandeira, executive manager with the department.
The previous attempt at shutting down the operation was tied to the absence of any zoning designation for the island. Code Enforcement argued that this means no activity is permitted on the island and ordered the owners to stop.
But, in June, the Code Enforcement Board dismissed the violation, finding that the burden is on Hillsborough County to establish a land-designation for the property. Until then, ruled the board, the county holds no jurisdiction over the island.
The county has yet to follow up and seek a designation.
Still, Lavandeira, said, “No designation doesn’t mean someone can do whatever they want. That cannot be allowed to happen. That would be the Wild West.”
Meantime, the owners continue adding to their offerings
A vendor is expected to start renting personal watercraft, jet packs “and other water toys” within the next few weeks, Loomis said.
“We have already planted several citrus trees,” and they plan to add a vegetable garden, he said.
“What we produce will be sold with meals and beverages prepared on the island.”
The previous owner used the island as a place to dump sand dredged from their marina basin and for decades, boaters took advantage of the growing land mass. Alcohol flowed freely.
The new owners promised to bring order when they purchased the island in December 2017 for $63,650.
So far, Loomis said, the owners have spent more than that on legal fees in their battle with the county.