Dad creates Christian Airbnb to help grieve child's death. SR commissioners shut him down.
After his 21-year-old daughter, Jolisa, died in a car accident, Joseph Roadcap struggled with his grief and stopped really interacting with the world.
"I would come home and I locked the gate. I'd retreat from the world because my 'give a damn' button broke," Roadcap said. "It was one of those things where I just couldn't handle any extra load other than the load that I had to handle, just to go get on my feet and go to work and come home."
Roadcap said he lived that way for several years before he used his daughter's life insurance money to purchase a property on Grove Street in Garcon Pointe, where wildlife like glass lizards, bald eagles and black bears are common sights. For the last year, Roadcap has been living in a house on the land and renting out the back portion of his property, which he turned into a Christian Airbnb campground with two small pre-built cabins, a bathhouse and a tent site.
"I buried her in Pennsylvania, got on the airplane and just cried six months straight. So this property was how I became able to talk about it, and how I was able to live and deal with it," Roadcap said.
But now what Roadcap calls his daughter's legacy may be in jeopardy. Zoning code for his property, currently designated as residential, only allows for one secondary structure and his request last week to rezone to an active park designation was denied by Santa Rosa County Commissioners.
Only one cabin can be reopened after building inspectors ensure it's up to code and Roadcap must wait a year before reapplying for the rezoning again, which could allow the second cabin, bathhouse and tent site to reopen, said Shawn Ward, planning and zoning director.
Roadcap said he contacted the county before purchasing the cabins but believed they were allowed on his land. He insisted he was told by county staff that he could worry about compliance after he got his rezoning.
It wasn't until neighbors called the county health department, asking staff to check on the sewer that they discovered Roadcap's property wasn't in compliance. They found no sewer leaks but did find the second cabin, Roadcap said.
Now, commissioners say he has to get in compliance with his residential zoning before taking any other steps.
"Everything has to be in compliance before you take in another dime from anybody or let people stay in those facilities," said Commissioner Bob Cole during last week's meeting. "I'm not here tonight to say that you've already (met requirements), but according to what we have been told by our staff, you have not."
Neighbors both in support and against the Airbnb attended the meeting. Some expressed concerns about how it affects traffic counts on the dead-end street, property values and wildlife.
The property, which Roadcap called Malakai, includes campfires, a pond with ducks to feed, a goat and wide range of wildlife to observe, as well as easy access to 10 acres of walking trails at the neighboring property. Roadcap is in the process of purchasing those 10 acres, which the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension Office uses for classes, with the hopes of preserving it, he said.
Ward said it's "very uncommon" for a property like Roadcap's, which is about 1.35 acres, to seek park zoning. The designation is usually reserved for something like an RV park or larger grounds, Ward said.
Malakai and Roadcap have 46 reviews on Airbnb from visitors, with an average 4.89 rating out of 5. The large cabin was listed at $52 per night at most, with prices for the smaller cabin and tent spots going down from there.
"I don't know why there was any pushback at all. I mean, it's benefiting the college. It's benefiting the community. It's benefiting people that need to get away to that special place because it's definitely unique," Roadcap said.
Roadcap said his Airbnb is Christian because it accepts everybody of "any nationality, color, creed," as long as they meet Airbnb guidelines. He pointed to numerous instances of conversations about God and faith that he's had with guests around the campfire.
Roadcap has already requested a visit by the county's building department to make sure the first cabin is up to par with hurricane preparedness requirements. Ward said during the commission meeting that Roadcap also has to work with the state and county health department to make sure his septic system can handle infrastructure.
Cole said Roadcap had 30 days to start the process of compliance and show he's working with the building appointment. Once the first building is in compliance, he can continue to use it as an Airbnb.
"(I) suggest that you get everything in place, rent the one out. If you buy more acreage in the future, come back and follow through on that," Cole said. "I think you have all the ground rules to get into compliance."
Madison Arnold can be reached at email@example.com and 850-435-8522.