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Wednesday, May 11, 2016
$12k wedding fine, $3600 fine for destroying history
Destroy a historic building, get fined only $3600 for working without permits.
Hold illegal weddings in a historic building, get fined $12,000.
On May 10, 2016, St. Augustine's Code Enforcement Board voted a $12,000 fine against a corporate lawyer for holding illegal weddings at historic Sanchez House, 7 Bridge Street.
In 2014, it approved a $3600 fine for ex-Mayor CLAUDE LEONARD WEEKS, JR. for working without permits, destroying 211-year old DON PEDRO FORNELLS HOUSE (after which maladroit City Attorney ISABELLE CHRISTINE LOPEZ publicly hugged LEN WEEKS).
Denial of equal protection of the law?
You tell me.
This wedding fine case is heading to Circuit Court.
St. Augustine code enforcement board: $12K fine for Sanchez House wedding
Posted: May 10, 2016 - 10:31pm | Updated: May 11, 2016 - 5:01am
St. Augustine’s code enforcement board voted to fine a property owner $12,000 after finding that another wedding was held at 7 Bridge St. in a another violation of city code.
The fine was the total of $500 per day from April 16 — the date of the wedding that sparked the violation at the Sanchez House property — up to the date of Tuesday’s hearing.
Board members discussed penalties for property owner Blake Deal III ranging from $250 for just the event day, but they settled on a bigger fine after some indicated a smaller fine wouldn’t stop the events — and wouldn’t get the message across.
Deal, who was not at the meeting, maintains he’s not running a wedding business but is simply renting the home as allowed by city code, and letting renters do what they want as long as it’s legal.
But the city sees it differently.
“It’s operating for the purpose of holding special events, in my opinion,” said board member Clyde Taylor, adding that charging $250 or $500 just for the day an event occurs would be “gutless.”
“He will keep doing it because it’s the cost of doing business,” Taylor said.
The board had already voted on April 12 to find that Deal was operating a business — a wedding venue — without a license. And he was also found in violation of the city’s zoning code because wedding businesses aren’t allowed in the district. He was told to cease having weddings at the property.
Four days later, another wedding was held at the property, and a code enforcement officer took pictures. That led to another notice of violation and Tuesday’s hearing before the board.
Assistant City Attorney Denise May said Tuesday that the code enforcement board had the authority to fine Deal up to $500 per day for a second violation. The vote to fine Deal $12,000 was 6-0. Board member CeCe Reigle was not at the meeting. Deal has 30 days to appeal the latest decision once the official order is signed.
He’s already said he’ll appeal the April 12 code enforcement decision this month. The city has not received notice that an appeal had been filed as of Tuesday, officials said.
Deal sent a letter to code enforcement officer Curtis Boles in response to the latest notice of violation.
The letter says that Deal is “not operating a ‘wedding-hall, chapel with exterior garden, reception area’ as stated in [the notice of violation]. 7 Bridge St. is a residential home and contains no accoutrements or modifications of any sort that would indicate a wedding hall or chapel is being operated.”
Deal has said that he rents the property in accordance with city code for one month or greater at a time, and city officials have already said that doesn’t require a business license.
He has said tenants can have events if they want to, including weddings.
“It is not my place to tell you how to do your job,” the letter reads, “but considering that the findings of the [code enforcement board on April 12] are being appealed to circuit court, I would strongly suggest that you come to the [Tuesday] hearing prepared to present evidence that the subject matter of your notice did not occur within the confines of a one-month or more rental of the property.”
Deal’s paralegal Nancy McAlum represented him at Tuesday’s meeting, and she requested the hearing be postponed. She said Deal had already scheduled a vacation prior to getting notice of the meeting.
People who live near the Sanchez House spoke at the hearing too, saying they saw evidence of a wedding on April 16, as well as other issues.
“There were trucks and laborers blocking Bridge Street,” said Earl Stratton, who added that a trolley was involved in a wreck on the street.
Wendy Gowen said concerns about the use of the site include traffic congestion brought on by events. She also said the fine should be “something substantial,” since a wedding was hosted at the site just days after the board had told Deal to stop allowing weddings.
“If we want to change the rules, change the rules,” Gowen said. “But if these are the rules, we really need to follow them for the residents of St. Augustine. I live here hoping that people all up and down the street from me aren’t going to have weddings at their houses.”