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Zoning change allows marina expansion
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Screenshot by SUZETTE PORTER
Approval of a request for a land use change and rezoning allows Speckled Trout Marina to expand its operations off Bayshore Drive in Ozona.
CLEARWATER – The Speckled Trout Marina in Ozona can expand its operations – thanks to Dec. 10 decision by the Pinellas County Commission.

The commission approved, 4-3, a land use plan amendment and rezoning from R-4 Family Residential to CR Commercial Recreational, and a land use change from residential low to commercial recreational with a Development Agreement.

Commissioners John Morroni, Norm Roche and Karen Seel voted no.

John Cueva, zoning manager with the county’s Planning department, explained that the request encompasses three parcels totaling 3.25 acres on the east and west side of Bayshore Drive. Approval will allow the existing marina to use an additional parcel of land recently purchased to store customers' boats and boat trailers.

Ozona is one of the county’s earliest established communities, a fishing community dating back to the late 1800s. In 2010, residents requested an Ozona Community Overlay, which was approved by the county commission. The overlay recognizes that the low-density residential community is unique and that “marinas provide an ambiance that is consistent with the waterfront heritage of Ozona.”

Speckled Trout has been in operation for more than 100 years. It is surrounded by residential uses. Four marinas are located nearby and all are close to low-density residential uses, according to a report from the Local Planning Agency, which recommended approval of Speckled Trout’s request – with conditions that shield neighboring residents from the day-to-day operations.

It was after 10 p.m. when the agenda item came up. A number of people remained to testify for and against the change. Those in support praised the owner – T. Richard Bennett – and the way he conducted business. They said there was a need in Pinellas for his services, especially the boat ramp. More than 220 signed a petition in support of keeping the marina’s ramp open to the public. Those in support traveled to the commission meeting from Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Safety Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater and Ozona.

They said while it was true that a number of marinas operated in Ozona, there was a need for more boat storage. They said the public boat ramp was very important as very few exist in Pinellas that provide access to the Gulf of Mexico. They pointed out that Ozona’s commercial establishments, such as neighboring restaurants, benefit from those who use Speckled Trout’s facilities.

However, not everyone supported the marina’s plans. Brian Smith, former head of the county’s Planning department and current president of Ozona Village Improvement Society, wrote a letter to the commission that said the Ozona community “is a careful balance of mixed land uses.”

“We (OVIS) believe introducing the concept of rezoning properties will dramatically affect this harmonic balance,” Smith said.

OVIS is concerned that approval of Speckled Trout’s request will open the door for other marinas to ask to expand into residential areas.

Several neighbors of the property objected to the rezoning due to a potential increase in noise, traffic and a lack of restroom facilities. Some said the change would adversely affect the historical significance of the community. More than 60 signed a petition in opposition.

Katie Cole, an attorney representing the applicant, explained that the marina had sued the county in the 1990s and won allowing it to continue operating under a nonconforming use. In August of 2012, the property was cited for using land zoned residential for boat storage, which led to the Dec. 10 hearing.

She said Bennett would be willing to file a deed restriction to ensure the property was not developed for other uses. Some in opposition were concerned that the rezoning would allow Bennett to expand commercial uses on the property.

“This would restrict the use to what is today as has been for 100 years,” she said.

Bennett told the commission that he had purchased the additional land to help alleviate crowding and help with the lack of parking. He said he had a waiting list of people wanting to store their boats. More land would allow him to store more boats – about twice what he can store now.

Cueva said staff had been working with Speckled Trout since March to come up with a solution that would work best for everyone, including the neighbors. He said the list of conditions was “pretty extensive” and had been “thought out very intensively” with public safety in mind. An added benefit will be an improvement to the sewage system.

“Staff believes this is the best scenario … it will benefit the property owner and the surrounding residents,” he said.
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