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Central Beach home seems like 'Motel 6' to angry neighbors

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of June 13, 2013)

For marketing purposes, it’s dubbed the Eagle Drive Delight: A sunny yellow house, just three lots from the beach, with an inviting backyard complete with pool, spa and hammock in a tropical Vero setting.

To the neighbors of the four-bedroom, three-bath Central Beach home which since at least 2011 has been fetching upwards of $2,780 a week when rented, the property may as well have a Motel 6 sign in the front yard.

For the past year, neighbors have meticulously jotted down license plates of the cars that come and go at the house and have called Vero Beach officials to inform them that once again the owners appear to be renting the home unlawfully because city codes do not permit rentals under 30 days.

“In Central Beach, this is becoming a problem,” said resident David Hunter of his neighbor’s property at 3625 Eagle Drive. “This is just like allowing a Motel 6 to operate with strangers coming in and out.”

Hunter unleashed his concerns during a planning and zoning board meeting called last week to discuss code changes to address an equally frustrating boarding house issue at two other island properties in Central Beach.

After more than a year, the city finally cited the owners of the home, Soren and Tina Barrett, and fined them $50.

The problem on Eagle Drive is that the fine equals about  four hours of rent at the house’s top weekly rate.  It’s six times less, in fact, than the weekly fee they pay to have the home cleaned.

“A $50 fine? That is ludicrous,” said Hunter. “That’s like a $10 fine for a streetwalker. Right, that’s gonna keep her off the street.”

Hunter said the Barretts clearly have the upper hand on this one in a city that has a hard time enforcing its own rules.

Armed with a handful of advertisements about the property, Hunter marched into City Hall last week and peppered the city’s planning and zoning board as well as Planning Director Tim McGarry about the lax enforcement that he says is causing major headaches for his neighborhood.

Parties are frequent, he said, with many guests having no pride of ownership and littering his garden with beer cans they saunter up the street to the beach.

McGarry said he’s doing his best with a two-person crew on staff to investigate the complaints.  The problem, he said, is actually catching the offenders in the process.

When the Barretts were warned last August they were in violation of city code, Tina Barrett sent a letter to the city saying that all of their internet advertising was changed to reflect a 30-day minimum.  That wasn’t the case. Hunter repeatedly called city code enforcement officials and pointed out the Barretts still were accepting online reservations for weekly rentals.

On March 24, Hunter noted there were renters from Texas and 10 cars parked in the driveway at Eagle Drive. He gave city officials a printout from the website with notes about which weeks were booked and which ones were still available.

Aware that the city was on her tail, Tina Barrett sent the city another letter in April denying that she was renting out the property at all.

“I am in receipt of your letter dated 4/4/2013,” wrote Barrett. “Our family has adult children and they have friends from around the country that visit Vero Beach frequently. We are not advertising the property as available for transient rentals (and) are not violating any zoning codes. We personally use the property and share it from time to time with friends which complies with all of the City of Vero Beach regulations.”

Again, Hunter said, that is not the case.

City officials now agree with him.

Last Thursday, on the eve of the deadline to pay their $50 fine, Vacation Properties issued a check to the city.

“Now they are admitting it,” said McGarry.

A check of websites Sunday evening that list vacation rentals still lists the Eagle Drive home as available weekly.

One website said the sunny yellow, tropical property has had 3,492 page views since it began being listed as a vacation rental in August 2011.

“These are not friendly tourists,” said Hunter. “They are invaders in our neighborhood. They do not belong there.”

Hunter got the attention of the planning and zoning board and its members appeared frustrated with both McGarry and City Attorney Wayne Coment.

“To be frank, it doesn’t seem like you are going after anyone,” said board member Mark Mucher.

The board never completed its review of the boarding house issue which prompted complaints earlier this year from residents on Banyan Road and Shore Drive about homes in their neighborhoods where the owner was renting multiple bedrooms to multiple tenants in her two properties.

The board will take up the rooming house issue again at its next meeting.