Miramar residents unhappy with local estate used for short-term rentals

Miramar residents unhappy with local estate used for short-term rentals
Front view of the Kelnepa Drive home advertised as Tuscan River Estate (Photo from tuscanriverestate.com)

The riverfront Mediterranean estate on the St. Johns River gets raves reviews from visitors. The four-bedroom gated estate has a dock, swimming pool and summer kitchen. It sounds like a great, though pricey ($650 a night), getaway. Sunsets are spectacular and privacy is guaranteed in the quiet Jacksonville neighborhood.

The quiet neighborhood is Miramar and it’s been in an uproar since discovering the riverfront estate being marketed as Tuscan River Estate on HomeAway.com is at the end of Kelnepa Drive.

Tuscan River Estate LLC paid $1,350,000 for the 5,412-square-foot home at 4424 Kelnepa Dr. this past June. It was built in 1924 and last sold for $930,000 in 2000.

The property had been a short-term rental for 1½ years until the sale, but in July neighbors complained to the city about traffic on the short dead-end street.

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, who represents the area, alerted the Code Enforcement Division, which issued a warning citation for unpermitted land use. City code prohibits single-family homes being used commercially as a special events venue, such as weddings.

The estate manager, Michael Johnigean, said the estate is not a commercial operation. He said he has eliminated references to the property as a wedding site on HomeAway and tuscanriverestate.com.

But the controversy hit social media and brought unfavorable publicity that riled Johnigean. 

“This has been so unfair. This is mostly for people who come in from out of town. They’re nice people who can pay this kind of rent. It’s a $3.5 million home. It’s not cheap,” Johnigean said. “If people want to have a party, that’s their business as long as they’re not bothering the neighbors.”

Johnigean hired an attorney to sort things out with the city. He added this proviso to the website: “Parties/events/gatherings need prior approval and there is an additional fee based on the number of guests.”

But the neighbors aren’t satisfied.

Allan and Bonnie Biats have lived at the end of Kelnepa since 1999. They say the quiet, tree-shaded atmosphere has been shattered by the procession of as many as 50 vehicles, including delivery trucks, some weekends. Kelnepa is a narrow street with a 15 mph speed limit the Biats say the visitors ignore.

“People are using Kelnepa like it’s a driveway,” Allan Biats said. “In their minds, they’re going to a commercial venue, not driving through a residential neighborhood.”

People who rent the estate are supposed to park inside the gates, but sometimes they don’t and park along the road instead, the Biats said.

The estate is rented through HomeAway.com, a short-term rental site like Airbnb through which homeowners rent a spare room, a condo in the city or a cottage in the country for a day, a week or a month. There are dozens of choices in San Marco and Riverside.

Biats said they would be okay with the estate being rented to people who want to spend a week or a weekend on a riverfront estate.

“We’ve seen a family with kids riding their bikes,” Bonnie Biats said. “We’re okay with that. It’s the big shindigs that are a problem. It’s not about the noise, because we usually can’t hear them. It’s the traffic.”

Kelnepa Drive has 20 single-family homes. “Sometimes people on this street will have parties, but they’ll only have four or five cars. They don’t have the capacity for major events like the estate,” Bonnie Biats said.

“We want the events stopped and the chaos eliminated,” Allan Biats said.

The Biats also are worried that a commercial operation at the end of the street will increase the crime rate and lower property values. Already, there’s been minor property damage. Someone drove into their yard and destroyed a solar light and their house number. Another neighbor had their street-front basketball hoop knocked down and another neighbor’s gazebo was damaged by a tree that fell on the estate, Allan Biats said.

“We feel like they’re laughing at us. They’re coming in right under the wire. They say they’re not doing anything wrong but they know they are,” Bonnie Biats said.

The controversy is being reviewed by the Code Enforcement Division and the General Counsel’s Office.

By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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