Iconic Bearss Groves food stand faces county fines

The owner of a historic Tampa business has now found itself in the middle of a legal battle with Hillsborough County. 

Barry Lawrance says the fines on his farmers market are unfair, and could drive him out of business.

"I started (here) when I was 13 years old, working for Martin and Louise Bearss," he said.

According to Lawrence, Hillsborough County told him in November that because he doesn't have permits for the buildings where he grows lettuce, stores equipment, and runs his market, he could face $75 a day in fines.

"It depends on how long it goes, but eventually it would shut us down."

Lawrance farms four parcels in Hillsborough County, which during the season supply more than half of what he sells. 

He insists his non-residential buildings are crucial to his farming operation, which is the basis of his lawsuit to get the county to drop the fines. Further, he says state law exempts him from building codes because he sells directly to consumers.

"They are out of their minds," he said of the county. 

The county motioned to drop the lawsuits, saying the issue is one they handle routinely. They would not comment directly on the pending litigation.

Lawrance says this all likely came up now, after decades in business, because of a new neighbor that complained over the businesses presence. 

He employs 11 people, who are all watching the fight over fines closely.

"It is their livelihood too. It is not just affected me. Most of my employees have worked six, seven, eight plus years."