SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) — Several local captains and fishing guides spent the day off the water to voice their concerns about possible changes to a county code relating to commercial activity at public parks.
For years, charter captains say they’ve picked up and dropped off customers at waterfront parks, such as Nora Patterson Park just off Siesta Key. Up until about a year ago, they never had any issues doing it.
“Many of us have used it for decades, no issues and so now we have been, it has been brought to our attention that parking is an issue. None of the charter captains that I am aware of utilize the parking for any of their guests, we all utilize things like Frog Hop and Johnny’s Free Ride. We are trying to figure out what the actual root of the problem is, and come up with a permitting solution here,” said Claire Kobza with Low Tide Tours.
County officials say conducting business at a county park without a permit has been prohibited for a long time. That’s why staff proposed updating language in the code to clarify the restrictions.
“The prohibition of commercial activity has to do with all parks, it’s not just about boat captains, it is about any business in parks. If you are operating a business out of a county park without a permit, you are breaking the county code,” said Director of Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources for Sarasota County.
Kayak businesses at Ted Sperling Park and Turtle Beach currently have a permitting system through the county that allows them to operate, however, captains say there’s nothing in place for them to do the same. It’s something they’re hoping to see changed.
“It is very frustrating that they have allowed a medallion system for kayak companies and for other companies, but not anything for the charter boats, the fishing boats, the sunset cruises, the tiki bars.. all those companies have been excluded from this. We feel like we are just been shut out completely from the county and there’s again and not an option for us to choose from. Give us an option that we can choose from so that we can pay our dues and be legal for the county,” said Captain Matt Fueyo with Reel Tight Fishing Charters.
Commissioners heard testimony from numerous business owners Tuesday and ultimately decided to table the discussion until after the first of the year. The county administrator will come back before the board with a list of options including a possible task force to address the issue. At that time, the board will give direction on how to move forward.
In the meantime, enforcement will be limited to warnings and voluntary compliance until any official changes are made to the language of the ordinance.