County cracking down on illegal coverings on docks

DADE CITY — County residents who have illegal covers and canopies on their boat docks will have to remove them, the Pasco County Commission ruled on Feb. 9 in a 4-1 vote.

Commissioner Jack Mariano cast the dissenting vote.

Surveys in July and August 2020 and January 2021 found 89 illegal canopies on docks in canals in unincorporated Pasco County, said Nectarios Pittos, the planning and development director. The staff found six illegal covers in Gulf Harbors, one in Killarney Shores, 24 in Leisure Beach, 11 in Pleasure Isles, 23 in Sea Pines, 20 in Sea Ranch and four in Vista Del Mar.

“Those were all done without permits?” asked Commissioner Ron Oakley.

“Yes,” Pittos said. “These are the 89 that are pre-existing, so to speak, and as you can see, they’re kind of spread across the county.”

The current code prohibits roofs, canopies, and other overhead structures on all bodies of water, except for privately-owned, inland bodies of water, the agenda documentation noted.

The three main issues, Pittos said, are that there are unpermitted structures out there, they offer no safety or guarantee of safety during storms, and there is no guarantee of compliance with canal navigability standards “in terms of how far out they are projecting” into the canals.

As for enforcement, Pittos offered four alternatives:

• Maintain the status quo. Residents will continue to install covers, and the problem will persist, Pittos said.

• Enforce the existing provisions that are in the code prohibiting roofs/canopies over boats/docks, except on inland lakes. Residents would be required to remove the canopies to improve safety and navigability.

• Enact new provisions and grant amnesty over the pre-existing canopies. This wouldn’t require removal, Pittos said. This allows the illegal canopies to continue to exist, and allows residents without them to apply for permits. The safety and navigability issues would remain the same because the pre-existing conditions would continue, but there would be improvement over time as new, permitted structures came online.

• Enact new provisions and then proceed with enforcement actions with a new ordinance in place. Some existing canopies could be brought into compliance, but some may not be able to be brought into compliance and would have to be demolished. Residents could apply for new permits for canopies.

County attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder advised commissioners that what they should be discussing is “what the ordinance is that you want brought forward.” He added that there shouldn’t be a discussion of amnesty. “If they’ve been built illegally, they’ve been built illegally,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Moore was blunt.

“Either enforce the current ordinance,” he said, “or move on to something else. There’s your choice.”

Mariano said he thought people should be able to protect their property.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she lives on the water, and that most people don’t want these canopies. She met with civic associations, and they are concerned.

“If you want to cover your boat, all you have to do is put a cover on it,” she said. The vast majority of Florida coastal towns do not allow canopies on docks.

“It’s pretty clear the majority do not want it,” Starkey said.

Kristi Sims of the County Attorney’s Office said the county knows where the illegal covers are.

“We have not given out any permits for any of these canopies or covers,” she said.

Her office will work with Building and Construction Services staff to get the illegal canopies taken down. Sims said they just needed authorization from the board to take enforcement action.

In other news

• County Administrator Dan Biles said an agreement was reached with the Florida Turnpike Authority on the Ridge Road interchange, and “they fully funded it as they agreed to 24 years ago.” It should be open to traffic by July, he said.

• County Clerk Nikki Alvarez-Sowles said the courts will be resuming trials on March 15.

• Commissioners heard about Senate Bill 62, which could allow counties and cities to pull out of regional planning councils. There isn’t a companion bill in the House. Moore said the county needed to get away from unfunded mandates and being forced to be part of something that costs taxpayers money.

• The commission discussed the collection of internet sales taxes. Moore said many large organizations are not paying their fair share. The commission voted 5-0 to write a letter to support a bill that’s in committee.