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Panel hops onboard marina plan

Planning and zoning officials back docking fishing boats at Sterling Marina. But some residents and county commissioners disagree.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 9, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- The battle over commercial fishing boats that has consumed Hernando Beach for a year spilled into the County Commission chambers Monday.

This time, residents who want to strictly limit commercial intrusion into their neighborhoods walked away empty-handed. Counter to their pleadings, the Planning and Zoning Commission recommended rezoning Sterling Marina's expansion to permit the docking of fishing boats.

The battle has only begun, though.

Members of the Concerned Homeowners Alliance said they would hire an attorney and heavily lobby county commissioners to press their point. Commission Chairman Paul Sullivan said he would carry their banner when the matter comes up in a month.

Planning and Zoning commissioners, who are appointed by county commissioners, do not have to justify their votes, Sullivan said. The elected County Commission faces a tougher standard.

Twenty people spoke out during the 90-minute public hearing. Their comments illustrated a deep divide that has split the coastal community.

A petition against the marina expansion had 170 signatures. Folks on that side of the argument talked about "noisy," "smelly" boats roaring in at 3 a.m., waking neighbors and degrading the area's value.

"When they get back to the docks, the noise is horrendous," said John Cox, who lives nearby. "I don't think that Mr. Sterling is going to be able to control these people."

A separate petition supporting the marina contained 125 signatures. Backers spoke of the need to support growth and business in Hernando Beach.

"Only a small minority are against shrimp boats," said Gene Caples. "The Concerned Homeowners Alliance don't represent my family or anyone I know. . . . These people scare me more than having additional boats in Hernando Beach."

Kenneth Warnstadt, an attorney for James Sterling, argued that the Planning and Zoning Commission should consider only the land use and avoid the emotions surrounding the larger issues. He noted that the community has battled over the placement of commercial fishing vessels for the most of a year without resolution.

More important, he said, the commission should look to the state Department of Environmental Protection, which has permitted the expansion and given the marina a grant for clean operations. The addition of 24 slips will benefit the county, he said.

Planning commissioners asked questions about the need for added slips and the value of changing the zoning. Without a change, they noted, charter boats and day-trippers could moor at the marina -- just not fishing boats.

Commissioner Al Sevier contended that the marina stands in a commercial area and offers boaters a clear, straight shot into the Gulf of Mexico. No reason exists, he said, to deny the request.

"I don't know why I always disagree with Mr. Sevier," said planning Commissioner Anthony Palmieri.

He said that allowing loud commercial fishing boats to motor past predominantly residential neighborhoods would disrupt the tranquility of peoples' homes. He also questioned the need for another commercial fishing marina, suggesting that Hernando Beach has enough slips.

He and Commissioner Nick Nicholson opposed the change, but their position did not prevail. The matter goes to the County Commission in June.

About a year ago, the commission said all commercial boats 26 feet long or longer must be out of residential areas. Those boat owners have until August to comply.

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