Pirates Cove Letter

June 18, 2017.  My following letter was sent to county and state officials on this date, and an abbreviated version of it was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on July 5, 2017.

To:

Scott Carnahan, Citrus County Commissioner; Ronald Kitchen,       Citrus County Commissioner; Brian Coleman, Citrus County Commissioner;  Jimmie Smith, Citrus County Commissioner; Jeff Kinnard, Citrus County Commissioner;  Wilton Simpson, Florida State Senator;  Ralph Massullo, Jr.  Florida State Representative

Cc:  Randy Oliver, Citrus County Administrator;  Mark Green,                 Director, Growth Management Department;   Joanna Coutu,             Director, Land Development Division;   Laura Marley,              Principal Planner, Land Development Division;   Adam Thomas             Director, Visitors and Convention Bureau;   Bruce McLaughlin     Bruce McLaughlin Consulting Services, Inc.;   John Green                    Committee to Save Ozello

From:      Gary Rankel,    Retired, Citrus Hills, Florida

Subject:  Pirate’s Cove Development Application CPA/AA/PUD-17-05

Since 2012, Mr. George Decker of Kodak, Tennessee has submitted applications to develop a resort condominium complex on his 3.6 acres of mostly vacant property known as Pirate’s Cove in Ozello (www.ozello.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Attachment-4-Zoning-and-ELU.pdf) .  This property once housed a restaurant, tavern and 10-unit motel / RV complex that was destroyed by the “no-name” storm in March 1993.

The property rests a few feet above sea level in the ecologically sensitive St. Martin’s Marsh and Aquatic Preserve, and adjacent to the county-owned Ozello Community Park.  Surrounding navigable waters support a broad array of fish and wildlife, including manatees and other species listed and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Having failed to win county approval of past proposals, Mr. Decker has submitted the new subject application for consideration (www.ozello.net/pirates-cove-land-owners-plans/ ).  To proceed with his plans, the acreage would first have to be re-zoned from Coastal and Lakes Residential to Coastal and Lakes Commercial, to conform with the two small parcels already listed as CLC on the county’s Current Zoning Map.  These same two parcels, however, are listed as CLR on the county’s Future Land Use Map, which seems puzzling.

The community of Ozello has consistently opposed Mr. Decker’s proposals, continues to believe that his current application is incompatible with the area, and has formed the Committee to Save Ozello  (www.ozello.net) to organize resistance to his ideas.  I’d like to join the community in recommending rejection of subject application, and propose doing so in conjunction with a follow-up plan to expand the tourism and outdoor recreation values of the area for the overall benefit of the county.  Simply rejecting the application without following through would leave the property vacant, thereby inviting future development proposals in this environmentally sensitive areas.

As an avid angler and retired biologist with more than 30 years of experience managing and developing fish, wildlife and outdoor recreation resources, I have long felt that kayak fishing has received short shrift in the county’s tourism program, and that Pirate’s Cove should serve as the centerpiece in a series of eco-tourism destinations for paddlers, anglers, picnickers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts to enjoy (http://fishingkayaks.us/no-motor-zone/) .  The larger and better known paddling sites in the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoons on the Space Coast, and Tampa and Sarasota Bays to the south may remain more popular, however, they can’t begin to provide the same uncrowded “Old Florida” experience of the relatively unspoiled Nature Coast.

Within a short paddle of the Pirate’s Cove property, folks can encounter manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, rays, a variety of shorebirds and other marine life in gorgeous backcountry settings.  Excellent fisheries habitat exists around miles of mangrove shorelines, extensive salt marshes, sea grass beds, oyster bars and hard bottom substrates, all of which serve as nursery areas for fish and and the critters they feed on.  Seatrout, redfish, snook, flounder and other species are there for the taking.

Paddlesports, including kayaking, paddleboarding and kayak fishing are the fastest growing outdoor recreation activities in the country, with Florida and California leading the way in numbers of users.  The suitability of  Ozello to host such activities is nicely depicted by the Kayakbeach folks at http://kayakbeach.com/ozello/ozello.html and on my website (http://fishingkayaks.us).

Anglers and eco-tourists in their plastic vessels can paddle west three miles to the Gulf and search for shell middens on Mullet Key, which was inhabited by Native Americans in pre-Columbian times and added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1986.  From there, it’s a short paddle to the adjacent Sandy Hook Key for a swim in the expansive sandy area on its north side, and to the nearby Bird Keys, a popular bird nesting area.  Others may want to head east to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the remote Salt River backcountry, where you can paddle for hours without seeing another soul.  Anglers looking to bring home a fresh fish dinner are rarely disappointed, and are assured of quality experiences even on slow fishing days.

An eco-tourism oriented park at Pirate’s Cove would offer the perfect complement to the county’s headline attractions including manatee interactions, scalloping, biking and offshore fishing.  Such an area would have broad local and regional appeal, require minimal maintenance and provide solid benefit-cost rewards. Overnight camping, parking and launching fees could be considered to generate revenue if desired.  Lots identified on the County Owned Parcels map at the Northwest and Southeast edges of Sanddollar Lane might be incorporated into the park.  The site would undoubtedly be included on popular kayak fishing tournament circuits.

Mr. Decker’s condominiums, sewage system and other structures would, no doubt, end up in this pristine marine ecosystem during the next “no-name’ storm or hurricane, resulting in significant impacts to both the environment and listed species.  Doing nothing more than rejecting his re-zoning request would still leave the property subject to being divided into six or more lots for six or more residences, six or more septic tanks and numerous related structures, possibly causing as much damage to the environment as the condo complex.

Conversely, an eco-tourism park would require only portable and easily transportable structures such as porta-jons, picnic tables, stationary grills, and, perhaps, a small kayak rental and food service trailer, all of which could be secured in place or safely cleared from the site before arrival of the next “big blow”, leaving it in its natural state.  Related service and caretaker jobs could be made available to the community.

For a Pirate’s Cove park to become reality, Mr. Decker would have to become a partner or willing seller, an unlikely result if his property is re-zoned for commercial purposes.  Commission support, along with that of Senator Simpson and Representative Massullo, would be required to rank this park project high enough to compete successfully for a portion of the $4 million in RESTORE Act funds assigned to the county from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement, or to warrant an earmark in the state’s budget, as occurred with recent set-asides for Riverwalk and land acquisition for a park in Homosassa.

Stranger things have happened as when the former owners of the Three Sisters Springs property agreed to sell for a more noble cause.

Nothing will happen without your support and leadership.

Mr. Decker’s representative is Mr. Bruce McLaughlin; Bruce McLaughlin Consulting Services, Inc.; Indian Rocks; Florida.