In an effort to bring Pine Island's Bob and Annie's Boat Yard into compliance, owner Chris Conover recently approached the county with a request for re-zoning. Currently the half-acre property located on Stringfellow Road in the heart of St. James City is zoned as commercial and Conover is requesting that it be zoned as Industrial Planned Development to bring existing use into compliance.
Bob and Annie's has been operating in the same manor in St. James City for more than years 25 and when the business changed hands three years ago, it was discovered that the property was not properly zoned. The boat yard is comprised of a 1,086-square-foot administrative office space and offers boat repair, a boat yard and other related uses. According to Conover, it was thought that the zoning situation had been resolved a number of years ago, but when he took over the operation of the business from his father, that was not the case.
"Somehow we got skipped over when zoning was done previously. It has been three years trying to get this straightened out and now it looks like we are getting close," said Conover. "I would like to think that the county commissioners would support us as, like so many other businesses in the county, there are fewer boat yards every year."
Bob and Annie's has five employees who work on boats owned by Pine Island residents as well as a number from out of the area.
"We get people from northern Florida to as far away as Canada who need work on their catamarans, which keeps my people very busy and fortunately still in a job," Conover said. "Even after the fire that did extensive damage to the boat yard in 2007 we were able to keep going thanks to the support of the community, and I hope we can continue to count on their support."
Conover also has worked closely with the EPA to ensure that his boat yard is as clean as possible.
"So far the EPA has been satisfied with the way we handle materials. We try to do our best to make this as clean an environment as possible," said Conover.
Conover also explained that the boat yard has a catch basin to prevent any water used on the property from flowing into the canal and has a grassy area around the perimeter to allow filtration of any run-off before it makes its way into the canal or ground water.
Conover also has made an effort to keep noise emitted from the boat yard to a minimum.
"We only work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and we no longer do any sandblasting on the property," Conover said. "We are doing our best to be good neighbors."
Currently Lee County staff is working on a report that it will present to the hearing examiner on Oct. 15.
"We are working on conditions of approval but aren't done yet drafting the report," said Tony Palermo, senior planner with the Lee County Department of Community Development. "I have heard from a handful of neighbors, concerned about the natural environment and their quality of life and are working to address these issues."
At this point, Conover has not been told of the possible conditions he will need to address before the re-zoning is granted.
"I have been told that there will be provisions, but I haven't been told anything specific yet," Conover said. "I just hope it will be possible for us to comply and stay in business."
The staff report will go before the hearing examiner on Oct. 15. After the public hearing, there will be a written recommendation from the hearing examiner to be presented to the county commissioners. Generally, this process takes a few weeks and after having presented the recommendation to the county, the commissioners will then hold another public hearing, however only those participating during the hearing examiner's Oct. 15 meeting will be allowed to speak at the county commissioners hearing. The commissioners will ultimately decide the fate of Bob and Annie's Boat Yard.