A continued zoning dispute between Hillsborough County and the owners of a 9-acre island in Tampa Bay is raising a question about the future of the offshore bar and event venue.
Is this the start of the last call for the property formerly known as Beer Can Island?
The owners of the land, now marketed as Pine Key Tampa Bay, are seeking a change in the county’s land use plan to allow the facility to keep operating as it has for the past five years. Commissioners, however, again sent the owners and the City-County Planning Commission staff back to the drawing board to try to devise land use rules specifically for Pine Key.
The ownership group didn’t express confidence in eventually succeeding.
“It it is doubtful that a land use designation can be crafted that will be accepted by the (commission) which allows Pine Key to continue serving the residents of Hillsborough and Pinellas County as a popular family boating designation,” said Peggy Mathews, Pine Key’s environmental and governmental relations director.
“At this point, I’m not even sure what they want anymore,” said Jonathan McHenry, one of the owners.
The discord followed the commission’s unanimous vote Thursday rejecting a proposal to create a new land use category called island recreation. Pine Key is not covered by existing land categories, effectively prohibiting the bar and event center from operating legally. It has been allowed to remain in business while the owners try to comply with county regulations.
The Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission and the Sierra Club Tampa Bay raised environmental concerns about the proposal, and commissioners also questioned allowing up to 20,000 square feet of development and caretaker’s quarters on the island.
“How are we even thinking about caretaker residential housing on these islands two weeks after Hurricane Ian?” asked Commissioner Mariella Smith.
Last year, the owners asked the county to consider their property for public/quasi-public use. It’s a broad category that encompasses recreation centers and tourist attractions, but also churches and hospitals.
The possibility, remote as it was, of the county blessing an island-based health care facility 2½ miles west of the mainland at Apollo Beach didn’t sit well with commissioners. They instructed government planners and Pine Key’s owners to try again.
That result came to them Thursday — the proposal to add the island recreation designation. As proposed, It would have applied to Pine Key and other privately owned islands that could be developed in the bay and rivers within Hillsborough County.
Commissioners balked and said any change must be defined narrowly to apply exclusively to Pine Key.
“This is a radical break from the way the islands of Tampa Bay have been managed in our lifetimes,” said Smith.
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Adding the land category is a precursor to Pine Key’s owners applying for the proper county zoning to settle an earlier code enforcement case.
The appointed City-County Planning Commission signed off on the initial change last week. Two elected county commissioners, however, signaled their continued objections even after directions to rework the proposal.
“I am unlikely to support what comes back,” said Smith.
“I’m with you,” said Commissioner Pat Kemp.
Mathews said the group would continue to try to work with the planning staff. But, Cole Weaver, one of the owners, said commissioners should communicate better with the owners and with the City-County Planning Commission.
“More of (the board’s) questions and concerns could have been answered,” he said. “We keep going round and round.”