October 31, 2018

KEY LARGO — A final order on the code violation case against Key Largo Lighthouse Beach was handed down by Special Magistrate Judge John Van Laningham last week, giving the property owner a grace period of about 10 months to button up affairs and stop hosting weddings.

The case has been held up in court since April after neighbors lodged complaints of loud music from a single-family home running a commercial wedding business in their suburban-residential neighborhood.

Of the four alleged code compliance violations against the wedding venue, Van Laningham and the county cited the land-use violation as the most egregious and the basis for the ensuing complaints of the property functioning as an unpermitted short-term rental, lacking the required license and violating the noise ordinance.

Van Laningham first heard the case facts in April, presented by county attorney Steven Williams and by Russ Yagel, on behalf of the wedding business owners, 2 Thurmond Street Partners. After the attorneys failed to reach a stipulated agreement, the case was presented to Van Laningham at the beginning of September for a ruling.

At that hearing, it was revealed that property owner David McGraw had met compliance by obtaining the required short-term rental license, leading to a dismissal of that violation.

Key Largo Lighthouse Beach, which is located at 2 Thurmond St., also operates a second home on the two-acre property, which is zoned as suburban commercial.

In 2015, the property owner formed a homeowner’s association in order to exempt the property from having to secure a vacation rental permit. Because of this, Van Laningham found no violation.

However, he was critical of Thurmond Street Partners for expanding and intensifying this particular use by purchasing the adjacent property with the single-family home in order to nearly double their wedding bookings.

From 2017-18, there was an average of 137 weddings hosted at Key Largo Lighthouse Beach, a 64 percent increase from its 2015-16 average of 87 weddings, according to court paperwork.

“As of the final hearing, each parcel contained a ‘main house’ and a ‘guest house’ for a total of four separate dwellings located on the property,” the order states. “The typical wedding event entails a 4-day, 3-night stay, at approximately $7,000 per night for the accommodations, and brings an average of 60 guests (although the property can accommodate parties of up to 150 people.)”

Van Laningham ordered that the wedding venue cease and desist all vacation wedding use of the property by Aug. 31, 2019, book no more vacation weddings as of last Friday and provide the county with scheduled events up until the compliance date.

Under the order, the property may be advertised as an ordinary vacation rental, but the use of the property for a wedding event under a rental agreement will be a flagrant violation subject to a one-time fine in the maximum amount of $15,000 for each event, the order states.

If the property owners do not meet compliance within the granted grace period, a fine of $500 a day will accrue.

As for the complaints about noise, Van Laningham did not find a violation due to the subjectivity of the witnesses who testified and the lack of objective evidence.

2 Thurmond Street and the adjacent lot are listed on the market for $15 million. The sales description includes two homes, two guest houses and one commercial building on Florida Bay.

tjava@keysnews.com