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HB residents urge meeting on multi-unit violations

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach city commissioners heard impassioned pleas of residents to address enforcement issues relating to multi-unit and short-term rental properties following a two-hour regular commission meeting Nov. 22.

A consensus of commissioners advised residents that new Commission Chair David Zaccagnino can be asked to set a single-topic work session to address the hot-button issue.

Commissioner John Monetti suggested Dec.13 as the date for such a meeting.

The multi-use complaints stem from the issuance of occupancy permits based on affidavits provided the city by the owner that the property being built will be for single-family use. Widespread parking problems, construction traffic and reports of numerous renters residing in the properties are some indicators of a higher multi-family use.

“Right now we have a serious problem,” Renee Ferguson of 77th Street said of the 22 properties under construction she had counted. She described the city as appearing “like a hurricane just went through” and “a war zone.”

While complimenting the city on the responsiveness of the code enforcement officer to complaints about parking and other violations, Ferguson said “he is only one man,” and the magnitude of the problem requires a group to address it. She said the city has “great builders, Realtors and residents with integrity” who want to attend a meeting to address the issue.

“We’re talking about total neglect from the commissioners to enforce these codes and municipal ordinances,” said Ron Travis of 68th Street, who identified himself as a real estate agent, developer and owner. Travis asked the commission to “stop these short-term party houses.” He asked the city to “close the barn door now.” He suggested the city begin revoking permits. “You know they lied to you.”

Commissioner John Monetti took exception to the commission being blamed for the code enforcement problem, stating all of its members want to help residents on this issue. He favored the single-topic work session to address the matter.

Mayor Rich Bohnenberger pointed to questionable builder affidavits as the root of the enforcement problem. The mayor also said city staff is combing rental property records, and letters are going out addressing known violations.

Additionally, he said, the city is researching a new ordinance that would require one parking space for each bedroom in a rental home.

Newly elected Commissioner Jean Peelen initiated talk on the multi-family issue, requesting that the commission set a special public meeting, publicize it and specifically ask residents to bring possible solutions to resolve the problem of “multi-family homes destroying Holmes Beach.”

City attorney Patricia Petruff advised that recent state legislation has preempted the local regulation of short-term housing with the exception of local laws already in existence. The city has such an ordinance, but “if we change the ordinance we will lose it all,” Petruff said. “Our hands are tied.”

Peelen also introduced the possibility of a city moratorium on construction until a solution can be found.

While some residents and commission members voiced support for a moratorium, Petruff suggested she should first research other ordinances that have been challenged and report back to the commission.

Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens favored a single-topic work session to address both issues, but warned, “We can’t take away people’s property rights,” and there’s not much the commission can do “if they are allowed by our comp plan and codes.”

Petruff agreed with Haas-Martens, saying “at the end of the day there may be little that can be done.”

But Petruff added, calling a topic specific meeting might elicit “some ideas out there” that hadn’t yet surfaced.

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