City board says no to weddings at St. Augustine property
Posted: April 13, 2016 - 9:34pm | Updated: April 13, 2016 - 9:45pm
By SHELDON GARDNER
St. Augustine’s code enforcement board has ordered no more weddings at the Sanchez House, a property in the city’s historic area — but the property owner plans to appeal.
Property owner Blake Deal III, of Ponte Vedra Beach, said he’s been renting out the property and allowing weddings, which he says was OK’d by the city’s previous planning director. But a complaint filed about an events venue recently led city officials, and the current planning director, to order events stopped at the property.
Local residents spoke at the code enforcement meeting on Tuesday, citing concerns over the use of the property, including the impact on the neighborhood such as with parking.
“We have a lot of infrastructure problems, and certainly he’s not paying his fair share for the amount of use that he’s giving this area,” said Marlene Piriz, who filed the complaint in late 2015.
The code enforcement board found that Deal was operating a business without a license because of the weddings being held there, and going against allowed zoning. They also decided on a $250 per day fine if he receives another violation.
Deal’s options with the city are limited now.
He can’t get a business license for weddings because special events are not allowed in the property’s zoning district, Historic Preservation-One, but he can try to rezone the property or change city code, officials said. Deal said he doesn’t want to rezone, and he’ll appeal the code enforcement decision. He doesn’t need a license to rent for more than a month at a time.
Deal, a land use attorney who bought the house in 2004, said he started having weddings at the property after an employee’s relative hosted a wedding at the house. Construction on the house was started in the late 18th century, according to the historical record from the state Master Site File.
Deal said he plans to live in the house and doesn’t want a lot of wear on it.
“The place sits empty 90 percent of the time,” Deal said. “If it was a family living in there with four or five kids and a couple parents it would be way more use and intensity than what it gets with what I do.”
The first code enforcement complaint about the weddings came in 2012 and was cleared up after Deal met with Mark Knight, former Planning and Building Department director. Deal said Knight told him his options were rezoning the property or renting the property out for 30 days or more at a time, and renters could have an event if they wanted so desired. The case was closed.
Knight was at the code enforcement meeting and verified what Deal said.
Birchim said rentals are allowed in HP-1 for 30 days or more at a time, with other restrictions.
Residents questioned the length of rentals being offered, suggesting Deal has been renting more frequently. Some pointed to a listing for the Sanchez House on Airbnb, a home rental listing website, which shows a two-night minimum stay requirement at $500 a night.
Deal also owns the Sanchez House website, which advertises the site as a wedding and special events venue.
“I think ... there’s ample evidence to find, again in my opinion, that he has violated the code cited that he’s engaging in a business without a receipt. ... based on his own testimony and what we have here, he’s going out and soliciting business to have weddings there,” said board member John Capra.
The discussion also turned to the Llambias House, which is nearby. Deal said the property also hosts weddings.
But Birchim said the Llambias House is a different matter because it’s been hosting weddings since before the city’s zoning codes were in place, so the use can continue. The city is reviewing documents provided by the Llambias House ownership to verify the use was in existence before the zoning codes were in place.
At the meeting, residents spoke in support of the city enforcing the codes that are on the books, and doing so fairly.
“It’s not allowed for a reason,” said Susan Rathbone of the special events hosted at Deal’s property. “He’s in HP-1. He can go through the same process everyone else goes through. In fact, to not to have him go through that process is a disservice to every other business that’s had to shell out the money and go through the process.”