ST. PETE BEACH — Ron Holehouse, a longtime political power and member of the city's Planning Board, was cited last week for violating the city's land development codes.
At issue is whether he illegally rents part of his home on 12th Avenue to tourists.
Holehouse flatly denies it, but the city's code enforcement officer, Heidi Hartsock, says she has proof.
The code violation notice was sent to Holehouse on Wednesday, demanding that Holehouse allow the city to inspect both the inside and outside of his home.
"We have information that you have converted your single family home and added an additional unit or units," Hartsock wrote in the code violation letter to Holehouse.
The city is not disputing the two licensed garage apartments that Holehouse rents out to tourists.
He also owns the Inn on the Beach, at 1401 Gulf Way. The Pass-a-Grille tourist lodging has 12 rooms and five cottages that are rented out year-round.
Holehouse has been active in city politics for years, serving on a variety of committees and boards, including the city's Board of Adjustment.
He also was among a group of Pass-a-Grille residents who fought to stop rezoning of the nearby Coconut Inn.
That matter is still pending while the city considers a development plan for the historic hotel. Eventually, that plan could go back before the Planning Board for review.
At issue is whether any tourist redevelopment would intrude onto 12th Avenue, the neighborhood street where Holehouse lives.
Now Holehouse himself is being accused of operating illegal tourist rental units.
"I have never rented the interior of my house, ever," Holehouse said Tuesday.
He said he had been out of the city over the weekend and did not receive the citation until Monday.
"I was totally surprised," Holehouse said. "Something has stirred the pot. I need to find out what the problem may be."
Hartsock specifically cited Holehouse for installing exterior doors without obtaining a permit. She believes those doors may lead to rental tourist units.
She said Monday that she has a sworn affidavit from a tourist that says there are rental units inside Holehouse's home.
"We have information he is renting illegal units and didn't pull a permit to have those units in there," Hartsock said.
Both Hartsock and City Manager Mike Bonfield said the city has received similar complaints about Holehouse for years.
"Without proof, I couldn't do anything. Now I have proof," Hartsock said.
Bonfield said he has asked Community Development director Karl Holley and Building Code administrator Bruce Cooper to look into the matter.
"We are looking at the case a little closer," Bonfield said. "We are reviewing it to see if we need to do anything differently or clarify anything better."
Holehouse purchased his home in 1996 after the city had condemned it for demolition.
The home, one of the earliest concrete block structures on the beach, was built in 1915 and was once named the "Silver Sands."
After the original owner, Vashti Bartlett, died in 1969, the house became a rental property frequently known for weekend beer parties.
Instead of tearing it down, Holehouse renovated the house and it became his home.
Bonfield said Holehouse, at one point, wanted to install an extra kitchen but was turned down by city officials who were concerned it could be considered a separate unit, not allowed under the city's residential zoning code.
"There is a letter in his file where he acknowledges he won't rent it, that he intended it for use by his parents when they visited," Bonfield said.
If the code enforcement case goes forward and Holehouse does not allow city inspectors into his home, Hartsock said the city would then have to decide whether to seek an administrative search warrant from the Circuit Court.
And if Holehouse has been renting out part of his private home to tourists, Hartsock said he must stop.
"He is not grandfathered to rent out part of his home. He will have to come into compliance," Hartsock said.