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Date of Issue: May 25, 2006

Porn party sparks call for code education, public awareness

Holmes Beach Mayor Carol Whitmore wants to keep Holmes Beach from being known as a "swingers location," following the discovery two weeks ago that a local vacation rental house was being used by an adult entertainment club for sex parties (The Islander, May 17).

But that could be easier said than done.

Whitmore said that according to an opinion from the city's attorney, "there's nothing that can be done unless they break a law."

While no law was apparently broken in the incident at 5601 Flotilla Drive, what may have been broken was the Holmes Beach code, which states that vacation units can't be rented to businesses.

The owners of the property rented the house to a business and they shouldn't have, Whitmore said.

"It was being advertised and rented as a party spot," which is potentially a code violation, not a law enforcement issue, said Whitmore. "So the people renting their property have to be educated on the code. In fact, all owners need to be educated on whom they can rent to.

"Unfortunately, we have no way of finding out when this is going on unless someone files a complaint," the mayor added.

She also noted that the Flotilla Drive home had a rental license for three bedrooms, when it is listed for sale as having seven bedrooms.

But using a Holmes Beach residence for explicit sex parties and photo shoots that are promoted on the Internet is something new in the city, at least to Whitmore's knowledge.

"This has never happened before. We have to prevent this from happening again. I just don't want Holmes Beach to be known as a place for swingers. We are obviously going to be more pro-active on rental issues, but we need help to know when this is happening," the mayor said.

"It's definitely an enforcement issue," she added.

Commission chairperson Rich Bohnenberger agreed.

"I want to avoid a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "It's an enforcement issue, but it's likely something that will come up for discussion on a future commission agenda."

Commissioner David Zaccagnino agreed that the incident appears to be a code enforcement problem.

"I need more information, but this looks like it was rented to a business. Maybe we should bring this up at a commission meeting to discuss how to prevent this from happening again."

Code Enforcement Officer Nancy Hall moved swiftly last Monday, May 15, to correct the problem with owners Scott and Deanna Hopp following the May 12 incident.

The Hopps have a license for a single-family vacation rental, but had been advertising the property for parties and wedding receptions.

Hall called the Hopps and told them to remove the advertising on various Web sites and instructed them to file a new application for a rental license stating the correct number of bedrooms.

It's not the first time the Hopps have run afoul of the city code.

Hall said last year the Hopps were marketing the property in the same fashion, but stopped after a phone conversation with Hall about the advertising.

The Hopps are on Hall's watch list after this latest episode.

"I'm going to be monitoring their ads on a monthly basis," she said. At this point, there is no code violation complaint against the Hopps, Hall added.

She did note that according to a city commission vote several years ago, single-family homes in this residential area can be rented to families on a weekly basis.

Hall agreed with Whitmore that without a specific complaint, it's difficult to monitor every single-family home for deceptive advertising or being rented to a business.

In a related move, Longboat Key Mayor Joan Webster said her town's planning and zoning board had been discussing an ordinance to allow single-family home rentals for less than 30 days, but following TheIslander story, discussion now seems in favor of maintaining the status quo.

"After hearing about Holmes Beach, some board members said ‘See, this is what can happen,'" Webster said.

In Anna Maria, Mayor SueLynn said after reading what the Flotilla Drive home was used for, it may be time for the commission to discuss a revised rental ordinance for the city.

Operators of the "club" that rented the Flotilla Drive residence said they have held "parties" in the past on Anna Maria Island, but not on Longboat Key.

That person indicated a site on Anna Maria Island was used for a similar event in 2005. She said they host three to four parties a year.

Swingin' Holmes Beach hits local television

Holmes Beach gained some publicity on Fox News, WTVT-13 last week, but it was likely unwanted.

The station interviewed Mayor Carol Whitmore for a story on the Flotilla Drive incident and the sex parties that were apparently held there.

Whitmore said the station asked what she thought about pornography in Holmes Beach.

"I told them that nothing like this had ever happened here before, to my knowledge. I said it was a bit embarrassing, but we will deal with it and we already have," she said.

The station's news story on the Holmes Beach sex parties aired on the evening of May 17.  

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