County seeks permanent injunction against Freezer

Chickee Hut in Old Homosassa

Chickee hut at 'The Freezer' in Old HomosassaCitrus County has filed for a permanent injunction against the Freezer's bar and restaurant operations.

The injunction request, filed on Oct. 27 at the 5th Judicial Circuit Court (5th JDCC), seeks to close down the bar/restaurant operation at what is also known historically as the Cedar Key Fish and Crab Company of Homosassa Inc.

The new filing does not seek any action against the traditional, historic use of the establishment as a fish house. It is also a new case, unrelated to the zoning request sought by owners John and JoAnne Lawson that could have allowed operation of the bar/restaurant, and also unrelated to the spat between the county and Lawsons over the establishment's beer and wine license.

As for the zoning and alcohol issues, their current status is as follows.

The state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR)'s Alcohol Division (DOAH) has not ceased its efforts to revoke the establishment's beer and wine license, which is a code enforcement case. Instead, the DOAH dismissed the case to revoke the license "without prejudice," which means it can come back. In its ruling, the DOAH said it reserved the right to renew the case as soon as the “zoning” issue was determined by the 5th JDCC. The county has since informed the DOAH that the issue was one of code enforcement, rather than zoning.

As for the zoning issue, the county commission voted on July 21 to deny the Lawsons' request to change the zoning from “Low Intensity Coastal and Lakes” to “Coastal Lakes Commercial” (CLC), which would have allowed a bar and restaurant to continue operation on the site. The Lawsons appealed that decision to the Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The DCA denied the request for a hearing “with prejudice,” meaning it is a final order and can not be amended for reconsideration.

In seeking a permanent injunction, the county asserts operation of the restaurant and bar violates the county's Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code and laid out the history between the Lawsons and county since the 2007 remodeling of the establishment which included the construction of a tiki-style hut, also called a “Chickee Hut,”  including tables and chairs, and the remodeling of a walk-in freezer to accommodate more space for patrons. These actions, the county contends, resulted in the creation of a bar and restaurant at the establishment.

In all, the county laid out 35 specific interaction milestones between the two entities since June 2007 in its request, ranging from the historical use of the fish house to the $25,000 fine and other subsequent financial penalties levied on the Freezer for being in violation of county codes.

The 5th JDCC has not yet issued a ruling on the county's request for a permanent injunction.