At this Monday’s Council meeting, there will be public hearings on two ordinances that may seem a bit confusing when Islanders first see them. And, though they are both actually ‘housekeeping’ items on the part of Town staff – meant to clarify language in the Town’s codes – they represent much bigger issues in relation to our community’s growth.
The first ordinance – 16-02 – deals with the Town’s floodplain regulations.
“This is to bring the Town’s floodplain regulations into compliance with the State of Florida’s building code,” said Principal Planner Megan Will. “The new building code came out in 2014 and became effective in June of 2015. Since that code governs anything that is being built, it trumps local regulations. “
Will told us that the state incorporated floodplain issues into their building code in 2010, and since that time they have been asking all local municipalities who participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) to pass resolutions updating their own regulations to become simpatico with the state.
“They want us to adopt the new code because they specifically wrote it to comply with federal NFIP regulations,” Megan said. “It’s kind of a ‘hey, we did all the work for you, now go adopt it’ kind of thing. Here on the beach, it’s not going to be much different that what we already have because we did an update in 2013, so we’re pretty much on the same page now – this just solidifies it.”
The underlying issue for our town is not the ordinance, but what the talk of flood insurance brought up. At the last Council meeting, Council member Anita Cereceda asked if anything could be done to help people who want to keep and remodel their old beach cottages – fearing, like many others, that the island is losing its personality in the face of the 50% rule and new, higher elevation requirements.
“The 50% rule is the amount the NFIP requires participating municipalities to cap improvements to non-flood compliant structures at,” Megan explained. “Basically, if you have a home – this doesn’t include the land, just the building – that’s worth $100,000, you can only spend $50,000 on renovations to it in any one-year period.”
But in order to lower the Town’s insurance rating – a number on which everyone’s flood insurance costs depend – Fort Myers Beach goes a bit further than that.
“We have elected to adopt a higher regulatory standard – our rule is a 5-year cumulative total, meaning if you do 50% renovations in year one, you have to wait another five years to do more renovations instead of just one.”
Other communities go even further, with 10-year cumulative totals or even lifetime cumulative totals. Others have adopted a 1-year standard.
“There are many types of things that municipalities can do to knock points off their ratings,” Megan continued. “For instance, a year and a half ago (former Principal Planner) Josh Overmyer started working on a project that will earn us a whole new mess of points off our rating, which is now a 7.”
The question being bandied about by Council is how much it would effect the Town’s rating should they decide to scale back that 5-year cumulative regulation to the required one year or possibly three years in order to encourage people to renovate those old cottages rather than sell them or tear them down.
“This is something that Council has asked staff to look into, and we are doing that,” Megan said. “If it won’t affect our rating much one way or the other, it might not be that big of a deal to change. But if we’re close to going down to a 6, that’s another thing entirely – that’s what we need to find out.”
The second ordinance – 16-03 – deals with the Town’s policy regarding Special Events.
“This is what we came up with after Council asked us to look into streamlining the special events process to make it fair for everyone,” Megan explained. “For instance, a previous council asked why reoccurring annual events had to come before them every year. This ordinance makes this possible to be done administratively so long as they are not asking for open container and deviation from the sound ordinance.”
The new language reads: “To qualify as a recurring event, the event must be the same type of event and must be held in the same location. Examples of a recurring event include, but are not limited to farmers’ markets, “sunset celebrations,” and music or art themed events.”
The new ordinance sets application deadlines of 60 days before the event should it need Council approval and 15 days if it does not, all of which is subject to the discretion of the Town Manager.
The new ordinance also removes special exemptions for non-profits – including churches – something Megan says brings the Town in compliance with a 2000 Supreme Court ruling that churches must be treated the same as other entities in regard to special events.
Currently, Chapter 22-3 of the Town’s Code of Ordinances: Special Events – Exemptions from permit requirement – states the following: “Events conducted by religious entities, provided such events are conducted entirely on property owned by the religious entity.”
“The Supreme Court says differently,” Will said. “This ordinance will get us into compliance.”
And for those wondering why this ordinance is going directly to Town Council without first being discussed by the Local Planning Agency, Megan explained that’s because it deals with changes to the Town’s code of ordinances, not the Land Development Code (LDC).
“The LDC is a subset of Town code,” she said. “Since the LPA deals with the LDC only and Special Events are not part of the LDC, this ordinance is going directly to Council.”
To view both ordinances in their entirety, along with the rest of Monday’s agenda visit www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov.
The Stormwater Facilities Plan, which was tabled at Council’s August 8th meeting, will also be on the agenda Monday evening.
Keri Hendry Weeg