JUPITER ISLAND — For at least seven years, Dr. Marc and Janna Ronert repeatedly drove past 310 South Beach Road, eyeing the dream property where they envisioned building a beach house for themselves and their 13-year-old twins.
For almost a decade, they knew they couldn’t develop oceanfront land since town code prevented construction on the eastern slice of the property. But that changed in 2020 when they learned Jupiter Island had moved the construction line closer to the ocean.
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They bought the vacant 3.7-acre property for $4.2 million in June 2020, records show, eager to be part of the island’s private, genteel lifestyle. But more than two years later, neighborhood disputes, appeals and legal battles have kept the Ronerts from breaking ground.
On the wealthy, discreet Florida island of about 800 residents that’s drawn celebrities such as Celine Dion and Tiger Woods, their attempt to develop on a stretch of untouched, oceanfront land has escalated into lawsuits costing them “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in legal fees, according to Marc Ronert.
“I grew up on a farm in Nebraska, very small community” Janna Ronert said. “It was always my dream to someday live on the ocean … to be able to let our kids play, to enjoy the things that we never had.”
For Janna and Marc Ronert, of Palm Beach Gardens, success stems from the beauty industry. Janna is founder of Imspange Skincspanre; Marc is founder of supplement company Hush &spanmp; Hush. Marc Ronert, 48, is a European board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon; Janna Ronert, 57, is an esthetician.
Approvals and appeals
The wave of opposition from neighbors began to swell about a year and half ago, just before a vote on their construction plans was initially delayed on Feb. 4, 2021.
The plan to build their 9,747-square-foot primary residence — with an infinity lap pool and jacuzzi, gym and tennis court — on the west side of the public road and a 2,697-square-foot accessory beach house on the east side, along the ocean, has partially gained traction.
The Ronerts declined to reveal cost of the houses.
They finally broke ground on the main house in June 2021, but a challenge to a state environmental permit for the beach house has kept that groundbreaking on hold.
The Ronerts envision it as a place for visiting friends and family to stay, including Janna Ronert’s 89-year-old mother, who would “see our dream come true.”
A four-day hearing in October by the state Division of Administrative Hearings could determine its fate.
Construction of the main house, on the west side of South Beach Road, was approved by a town review committee March 4, 2021 — on its second try — but the beach house went before the board twice more before it barely was approved, 3-2, three months later.
Neighbors’ appeal to the Town Commission was upheld in August — then reconsidered and rescinded in December.
It took 10 months for the town to approve the beach house. During that time, moreover, in an attempt to appease neighbors, the Ronerts shrunk the beach house from two stories to one and reduced its size by 161 square feet, among other concessions.
But opposition from neighbors remains unshakable.
The unexpected backlash against the project, both publicly and privately, didn’t explode into the open until the full scope of development plans became known.
Throughout January, February and March last year, Town Hall received more than 90 letters opposing construction on the Ronert property.
Neighbors in the 300 block, near the Ronerts’ parcel, raised concerns about noise from the tennis court and objected to a two-story beach house. Others zeroed in on environmental aspects, such as turtle nesting and the change of natural scenery along South Beach Road.
But private emails presented at a Town Commission meeting in November by the Ronerts’ attorney revealed an organized effort to thwart construction.
The emails, according to attorney Ethspann Loeb, reveal neighbors’ plans to create “headaches” for the Ronerts in February and March 2021.
Loeb also represented the owners of the Lake Point rock quarries in the lengthy 2018 lawsuit against environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla.
“We should think about the cause of action and who would be the defendant,” wrote 300-block resident Dena Testa. “I would prefer the Ronerts. Speaking as someone who knows nothing about this area, I don’t think we would prevail, but it certainly would cause a meaningful delay.”
Testa declined to comment on the emails.
Additionally, an email from Kay Phillips to Anne Geddes, both island residents, on March 5, 2021, contrasted the Ronerts’ situation with Celine Dion’s move to the island. Dion, Phillips wrote, was “a dream to work with” and someone who “cared what the neighbors thought.”
“This couple does not give a rat’s (expletive), and if they were sincere about what they say … they would care,” she wrote. “I smell a rat just like you do, and do not let up!”
Geddes declined to comment. Phillips could not be reached for comment, despite an attempt by email.
The still-to-be-built beach house has ignited three lawsuits involving the Ronerts, the town and opposing neighbors since June 2021. David Testa, husband of Dena Testa, filed the first one, claiming the town failed to give proper notice before moving the waterfront construction line.
The Ronerts, and other neighbors who want to build in the same block, joined the lawsuit as intervenors with stake in the outcome.
Jesse Pspannuccio — the Testas’ attorney and former acting associate U.S. attorney general — maintains the town left residents in the dark about the potential for new development.
At the same time, state organizations have weighed in, with The First Amendment Foundation filing a brief in support of David Testa and the Florida League of Cities backing the town of Jupiter Island.
The multiple lawsuits speak to a bigger issue of keeping residents involved in the Democratic process, Panuccio said.
“(The Testas) truly are just trying to do what they think is right for the community,” Panuccio said. “A lot of this also is about whether the residents of the town have a proper say in advance about what the rules are going to be for how the town changes over time and how it gets developed.”
Another lawsuit filed by David Testa calls on the court to reverse the town’s approval of the beach house on the grounds it affects the public interest. Moreover, the lawsuit claims, the town’s decision was not based on competent evidence, the lawsuit claims.
“Major changes to our waterfront deserve major public attention, study and discussion,” the Testas said in a statement. “We are standing up for the rights we all have to participate in government decisions about dramatic changes to our pristine beach.”
Dena Testa argues that the effort to stop development stems from preserving the island’s natural beauty and preserving “the right to public notice and participation before major policy changes are made,” she said.
“This isn’t personal in any way, shape or form,” Dena Testa said. “We know the world changes, but we want the changes to reflect the spirit and values of our community, especially the shared commitment to preserving the delicate balance of nature that exists on Jupiter Island.”
When it comes to development on Jupiter Island, both sides of the issue say they have no intention of backing down until they get what they want.
“We’re not going to allow them to win,” Marc Ronert insisted. “We’re going to build a beach house. We’re going to live there. 100%.”
As delays continue to be drawn out for the beach house, construction on the main house is underway. The Ronerts hope to move in by Nov. 1, in time for the Christmas season.
Despite the obstacles and stress, the Ronerts say they’re still excited to begin their residency on the island, where they plan to retire.
“We’re very grateful and extremely privileged to have an opportunity in our lives to have something like this. We don’t take it for granted,” Janna Ronert said. “We’re involved in our community … We know what it means to give back.
“It’s shocking to me that they wouldn’t want to have upstanding people like us and our kids part of the community to make it better,” she said. “That’s the shocking part about the future there for us.”