Tampa Bay’s Beer Can Island recycled into Pine Key, seeks okay for additions

Hillsborough County commissioners will decide whether to designate the land for public use
A tiki bar floats offshore during low tide at the popular boating destination known as PIne Key or Beer Can Island.  (Times 2018)
A tiki bar floats offshore during low tide at the popular boating destination known as PIne Key or Beer Can Island. (Times 2018)
Published Aug. 25, 2021

The owners of a 9-acre island west of Apollo Beach are trying to put a lid on the beer can.

They announced last week on social media they were officially retiring the Beer Can Island name in favor of Pine Key Tampa Bay, and shutting down the Facebook page carrying the beer can moniker. The hats and other merchandise will now carry a PKTB logo rather than BCI.

“It’s Pine Key Tampa Bay. We’re getting away from the connotation of a wild, crazy island,” said Peggy Mathews, a marine biologist heading up government relations and environmental management for Pine Key Project LLC.

Toward that end, the owners are seeking to amend the Hillsborough County land plan to designate Pine Key Tampa Bay for public/quasi-public use. That’s a broad category that encompasses hospitals, churches, recreation centers, tourist attractions and other uses. Obtaining the land plan designation is a precursor to applying for the proper zoning, a category known as a planned development,

That’s government vernacular for getting permission to add tiki huts, a small stage, restrooms and other potential amenities for a private party/event center on the spit of land 2.5 miles from Apollo Beach.

The approvals are required because the apostrophe-shaped island was never assigned a land-use category by the county, and the owners ran afoul of code enforcement officers after they installed tiki huts, a stage and other improvements without county permission.

Wednesday afternoon, county commissioners were briefed on the proposal during a workshop on pending amendments to the land use plan. But the first question indicated the rebranding will take some time.

“Is this Beer Can Island we’re talking about?” asked Commissioner Stacy White.

Related: Owners of floating bar needed home port so they bought Beer Can Island

The ownership group of Russell Loomis, Cole Weaver, James Wester and John Gadd purchased the island in 2017 as a landing spot for a floating tiki hut bar. It had no running water and no electricity, but it came with the moniker Beer Can Island and a reputation as a spot where boaters could drop anchor and enjoy a cocktail while youngsters played on the sandy shore.

But, in 2018, Hillsborough County Code Enforcement demanded the owners cease all enterprises, including events and concerts for paid members, because no activities were allowed on properties without a zoning.

The owners prevailed in January 2019 by successfully arguing that the county doesn’t have jurisdiction on unzoned properties. A 1977 county ordinance gave it jurisdiction over property without a zoning, but the ordinance was repealed in 2012 amid plans to place the controls within Hillsborough’s underlying land development code. The addition never happened and the island became a loophole in the county’s zoning laws.

Related: Hillsborough County tells Beer Can Island to shut don the party

Code enforcement issued additional citations for “operating a beach/membership club on the island without first seeking approval” and constructing structures including a “two level structure used for storage and sleeping quarters” without obtaining permits. That case remains open and the current land use applications are an attempt to resolve the dispute.

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Currently, the island is accessible to members and offers food and beverages, camping, fishing, swimming, an inflatable water slide and beach games. The July 4th weekend featured DJ performances.

Prefab storage sheds measuring 10 by 14 feet are the only man made structures on the island, according to documents submitted with the land use application.

“The island is open to members now. It’s safe and family oriented,” said Mathews.

If the county approves the land plan amendment and rezoning, construction on the new amenities could begin next spring, she said.

A public hearing and commission vote on the land amendment is scheduled for Oct. 21.