HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. – The owners of Pine Key Tampa Bay, commonly known as Beer Can Island, say a proposed land use designation for the 9.2-acre spoil island puts its future as a recreation spot in question.
“This is a passion project from the beginning,” said co-owner Russell Loomis. “It’s always everybody’s dream to own their own private island, but this is a private island that we share with everybody. So, the dream is to keep this alive, keep this place beautiful, preserve it for the community.”
At a March 7 land use meeting, Hillsborough County Commissioner Michael Owen proposed creating a spoil island land use category for Pine Key. He said it would resemble the natural preservation land use category but recognize private land ownership, like in a nature preserve. Owen compared Pine Key to other spoil islands that he said are more appropriately preserved.
What You Need To Know
- Owners of Beer Can Island say a proposed land-use designation by county commissioners threaten the island's use as a recreation spot
- At a March 7 land use meeting, Hillsborough County Commissioner Michael Owen proposed creating a spoil island land use category for the island
- It would resemble the natural preservation land use category but recognize private land ownership, like in a nature preserve
“When I was a kid, we used to take lumber and mattresses and build forts in the woods. We thought it was really cool. It looks like it’s just been done all over this island. It’s an eyesore,” Owen said.
Appearance isn’t the only issue.
Commissioners also discussed a report from the Development Services Department and Planning Commission that mentions safety concerns from Hillsborough County Fire Rescue, the sheriff’s office, and the Tampa Bay Pilots Association.
On the public safety side, it noted agencies said calls for service to Pine Key would require a boat to access the island and would take a fire rescue engine out of service for one and a half to three hours for an advance life support call. It said medical support should be provided on the island by two off-duty fire rescue members, and a helicopter landing zone should be provided for emergency transportation.
“Really, a helicopter pad on this small, tiny island, it sounds borderline ridiculous to me, but a necessity,” said Owen.
According to the report, concerns from the Tampa Bay Pilots Association include its proximity to two nearby shipping lanes, which maps show are about 390 ft. and 2,505 ft. from the island, respectively.
“Public safety is important to this board – I know that,” said Owen, noting the board could be held accountable if something happened on the island.
Loomis said there are at least two off-duty EMTs on the island and all staff are CPR and first aid certified.
“They want a natural preserve with private owners’ rights,” Loomis said. “We want it as a natural preserve with amenities for humans.”
According to information from Hillsborough’s development services team, a draft of potential zoning for Pine Key will address permissible uses and activities, but that hasn’t been prepared yet.
Loomis said it’s hard to know what it will mean for the island.
He said one concern is that it could be restricted to only owners being allowed on the property. Loomis also said it’s unclear what the category would mean for alcohol on the island. He said their catering liquor license allows them to cater events anywhere in Florida, as long as they have the land owners’ permission.
Right now, the island has no land use designation.
“We’ve spent over three years trying to get zoning and going back and forth and back and forth with them,” said Pine Key Tampa Bay Co-Owner Cole Weaver. “So hopefully, this time around, we’ll be able to come to an agreement.”
A petition on Change.org to “Oppose the shut down of Pine Key” had more than 1,900 signatures as of Friday night.
Kaitlynn Diaz said her family are longtime regulars on Pine Key. She’s also one of the island vendors, renting beach chairs to visitors. She said any change that could deter people from venturing out to Pine Key would be upsetting.
“It would be devastating. That’s the only word I have is just devastating, and it’s not just for us,” said Diaz.
“So many people have invested not only their money, but their time,” said Diaz’s boyfriend, Joseph Huerta.
Patrick McCluskey said he comes out to Pine Key once or twice a month.
“The vibes are awesome,” McCluskey said. “I think it’s honestly awesome. The whole experience is awesome.”
He called any change that could prevent the public from visiting “ridiculous.”
“I want this place to exist down the road,” McCluskey said.
According to development services, the Pine Key zoning proposal will most likely be included in the July cycle of comprehensive plan amendments, and public hearings will be held to give the community a chance to weigh in.