PORT RICHEY — Fearing a lawsuit, the City Council has reversed course and will issue a post-construction permit for a dock built by the owner of a popular waterfront restaurant.
During its meeting Tuesday, the council ended months of wrangling over the 680-square-foot dock, built in February, that juts into the Pithlachascotee River from Whiskey River Sports Bar & Grill, at 5245 Limestone Drive.
The dock has been a source of controversy since city officials discovered it when a contractor Whiskey River owner Ed Burbach hired applied to dredge around the structure. Burbach previously told the Times that a different contractor out of Pinellas County didn't know he needed a permit from the city before he built the dock. Burbach could not be reached for comment for this story.
With the dock already built, and permits in place from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the city's building department fined the contractor and issued an "after the fact" permit, pending approval by the City Council, which must approve all commercial docks inside the city limits.
But on June 23, the council shot down the post-construction permit 3-2, with those in opposition — then-Mayor Eloise Taylor, Vice Mayor Bill Colombo and council member Nancy Britton — citing a 2010 court order involving Whiskey River.
That order was in response to a lawsuit filed by several Port Richey residents who opposed two variances the city had granted to expand Whiskey River's building and parking. The court reversed the variances and deemed Whiskey River a non-conforming use because it sits in a residentially zoned area, effectively banning any expansion.
The controversy, however, didn't end. Burbach informed the city he would sue if the council did not reverse course. Fearing litigation, council member Terry Rowe asked City Attorney Joseph Poblick to offer his opinion. Poblick determined that the 2010 court ruling did not have any bearing on the dock, only on the main structure and its parking.
That interpretation led Britton to reverse course two weeks ago and vote along with Rowe and council member Steve O'Neill to rescind the June 23 vote. During the ensuing hearing Tuesday, Colombo remained the only opponent to issuing the permit for the dock, maintaining that it is an expansion of a "non-conforming use."
Some in the audience questioned why the city continues its struggles with the restaurant.
"Whiskey River is an asset to the community," resident Matthew Todd said. "It's been there; it's staying there. Get over it."
Rowe summed up his support for allowing the dock permit: "As a resident, I'm tired of paying for lawsuits because of stupid decisions."