HERNANDO BEACH — More and bigger shrimp boats could be headed to a portion of Hernando Beach, and neighbors are in an uproar.
Daniel Ebbecke has told county planners that he wants more intense commercial zoning for his one-third-of-an-acre lot "to eliminate the confusion regarding the use of this property.''
His site, on Calienta Street at Gulf Coast Drive, was limited to two shrimp boats years ago by the county, and the current zoning limits the size of boats to 26 feet.
Ebbecke is asking for a zoning change to allow up to six boats of up to 45 feet, a request the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to hear Monday.
Neighbors are opposed to the commercial boat expansion for reasons ranging from noise to seawall and dock damage, traffic issues at Calienta Street and Shoal Line Boulevard, and navigational problems.
Currently, only a few small shrimp boats operate regularly in Cheeks Creek Canal, the second residential canal south of the main Hernando Beach Channel, where the county's boat ramp and the commercial shrimping and crabbing fleet are located.
The lack of commercial intrusion is part of the reason Forrest Bennett and other residents bought homes on Cheeks Creek Canal and why Bennett, president of the Nature Coast Action Team, was alarmed when he saw a legal notice in the newspaper last week announcing the planning and zoning hearing. He immediately notified his neighbors through the community's blog.
"This will damage the value of approximately 395 waterfront properties on Cheeks Creek Canal and will disturb these residents daily, especially between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. when the boats return,'' Bennett said.
Given that, he said, he does not understand why the county didn't arrange a community meeting to allow an early discussion of residents' concerns before scheduling the planning and zoning hearing.
Such community meetings are commonplace for controversial projects.
Cheeks Creek Canal lies between Gulfview and Gulf Coast drives. Increasing commercial activity there "would have devastating impacts'' since the canal is the back yard to the waterfront homes, he said.
The application as it stands would be tripling the number of commercial fishing vessels and "nearly doubling the size of the boats from a maximum of 26 feet as it is now to 45 feet ... and a 45-foot commercial boat is a massive vessel,'' Bennett said. "This is also at a major and congested intersection, and adding shrimping and commercial fishing at this location adds truck traffic and blight."
Philip and Linda Rubin live within 250 feet of the property and are urging the county not to allow any expansion of the commercial fishing fleet in the area due to the problems of noise from the diesel engines and workers shouting over the engines and the disrespect already shown by some of the existing shrimping operations.
"The county does not have the waterway personnel to monitor the existing issues, let alone to add to it,'' they wrote in a change.org petition established to encourage the county to reject any change in the zoning. The petition had dozens of signatures by the middle of this week.
"The introduction of larger commercial vessels is dangerous to the residents of Hernando Beach,'' resident David Sarkis wrote to county commissioners, who have the final say in the rezoning. "Certain captains of commercial vessels currently operating in this area are notorious for their blatant disregard of standard navigational law, no-wake rules and signage, causing extensive and ongoing property damage and placing human lives at risk."
While Ebbecke has asked for a zoning change from Commercial Marine 1 to Commercial Marine 2, which allows boats over 26 feet, the county's planning staff says that is inappropriate and is not recommending it. Instead, planners have proposed a compromise that would allow the county to limit the number of boats at the site to three boats under 26 feet and three boats over 26 feet.
"That's not a compromise,'' Bennett said. "That's a tripling of the number and a massive increase in the tonage of industrial boats currently allowed.''
Marisol Calzadilla wrote on change.org that she is already affected by commercial boats. The diesel fuel smoke soot coats her pool, boat, house exterior and outdoor furnishings. The smoke makes it impossible for her to open her windows to enjoy the fresh air.
"Any increase in commercial vessels and rezoning . . . will make an existing problem even worse,'' Calzadilla wrote. "I am concerned about the negative impact to the quality of life that this will bring upon my family as well as my surrounding neighbors.
"Please, no more commercial vessels and no rezoning.''
Contact Barbara Behrendt at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.