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Parties argue that controversial rezoning should stand for marina in Hernando Beach

HERNANDO BEACH — Hernando County and the owner of Blue Pelican Marina argue that the controversial rezoning at the marina should stand because the attorney for residents who have challenged it used improper legal filings and arguments.

In court papers filed this week, deputy county attorney Jon Jouben and marina attorney Joe Mason detail why they believe arguments that Hernando County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes had a conflict of interest because of a business relationship with the marina and that the commission ruling was tainted by the information commissioners had on the rezoning before the hearing fall flat.

They state that Dukes had no conflict because there was no evidence he benefited personally when he bought a boat from the marina and had warranty service work done there. Mason's filing states that, while commissioners agreed they had been contacted about details of the case before the hearing — information they are not allowed to consider when making their decision — the residents' attorney never questioned the board about the nature of that information.

Removing the controversial Nature Coast Education and Tourism Center and an attached amphitheater from the application during the hearing should also not be grounds to send the rezoning back through the approval process or overturn it, Jouben and Mason argue.

In addition, they both make the case that the particular legal remedy sought by Ralf Brookes, the attorney for the residents, was not the proper one to file if he wanted to argue that the rezoning was not consistent with elements of the Hernando County comprehensive plan.

Mason further argues that Brookes disregards a major tenet of land use law, which is that the rezoning should stand if there is any competent substantial evidence to support the rezoning, even if the residents have more evidence on their side.

The County Commission approved the rezoning for 5000 Calienta Street LLC in June, allowing an expansion of the marina and the addition of a lodge.

Hernando Beach residents packed the hearing to argue against expansion in a largely residential neighborhood. They also raised concerns about traffic congestion at the Hernando Beach boat ramps, the stress on infrastructure and destruction of the environment. More than 100 pages of emails opposing the rezoning were received, but those were excluded from evidence after Mason called them hearsay.

Brookes has an opportunity to respond to the counter-arguments before the judge rules.

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