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Charter boat regulations still adrift in Crystal River

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


CRYSTAL RIVER -- After months of discussing revisions to the city's home occupation ordinance, officials still cannot agree on how to regulate charter boat captains running fishing operations from their homes.

Instead of approving a ban tentatively set two weeks ago, council members Monday night heard a flood of opposing viewpoints from residents, most of them from Woodland Estates. Members eventually voted to table the issue until they could review the comments.

"I've been confused about this all night," council member Ray Wallace said. "I just don't feel I can vote yet."

The proposed ordinance changes would regulate many aspects of the growing home-occupation industry, such as parking, advertising and what can and cannot be sold. But charter fishing has drawn the most intense debate.

Several boat owners in Woodland Estates operate charter fishing businesses from their homes. They dock their boats in the canals and allow customers to park on their property.

After approving the proposed ban, city staffers promised to return with options.

Bud Kramer, who is fighting an unlicensed scuba diving operation on SE Fifth Avenue, liked the proposed ban. He was flustered by the indecision. "I think the citizens have wasted our time coming here talking to you because you're not listening to us," he said.

But some advocated a softer approach.

"I don't think we should ban all charter boats," Gayle Balint, a Woodland Estates resident, said. "I think if they picked up somewhere else, people wouldn't mind."

Charter boat captains clearly resented criticisms they are disturbing the quiet neighborhood.

"I think . . . there are some people who want to make Crystal River look like Better Homes and Gardens advertising," said Richard Yant, who came with an attorney, Jim Neal of Inverness. He also presented petitions from neighbors supporting his right to operate his business.

Wallace, a former fisherman, disagreed with fellow council member Paula Wheeler, who said charter businesses would spread without regulation. "You can rest assured there won't be commercial fishermen up and down the canals because there's no money in it," he said.

In other business, City Manager David Sallee issued a call for peace at the end of a meeting where council members were testy with one another. Struggling with a new round of job searches, Sallee asked members to be more conscious of the image they project to the city staff. After going nine months without a permanent finance director, Sallee is trying to find a replacement for department Public Works Director David Locke and just learned Assistant Finance Director Amarjit Gil is resigning.

"This council and this city and this body need to think about retention," he said. "It's getting more difficult to hire people. Let's get back to that unanimity" from the annual goal-setting session. "I would appreciate that."

Wheeler suggested Sallee draw up recommendations for stability, saying the city should be open to raising taxes to address pay and staffing issues.

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