On Wednesday, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council and Local Planning Agency met in a two-hour joint workshop to discuss changes to the Town Floodplain and Survey requirements.
Council has met with the LPA before to discuss the current code pertaining to the 50% rule that includes a 5-year cumulative cost versus a possible 1-year cumulative cost of improvements or repairs to an existing home. Residents have complained that it is the main cause of the disappearance of many cottage grade-level homes.
The 50% Rule is a regulation of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). In a nutshell the 50% rule states that any repair or remodeling that equals or exceeds 50% of the market value of the building (not the land) is considered new construction and must meet current building codes, including elevation of the first livable floor. On Fort Myers Beach that elevation ranges from 10-17 feet depending on location.
LPA Chair Hank Zuba told the assembled boards that the LPA had determined that they were in favor of reducing the 50% rule requirement from 5 years to one year after learning from the Town’s former Senior Planner Megan Will that such a change would not impact the Town’s Community Rating System (CRS) rating for flood insurance.
LPA member Scott Safford said that he spoke with many residents and everyone he spoke to was in favor of reducing it to one year.
LPA member Jane Plummer urged the adoption of the 1 year period, saying that the group needs to decide if it represents FEMA and is only looking for when all homes will be elevated or whether it represents the many residents on the island with ground level homes who wish to improve and strengthen them.
Joanne Shamp, former LPA member and now council member told the group that the Town’s Comp Plan provides direction on the issue and referred to sections that encouraged preservation of older structures.
Council member Tracey Gore said she was hesitant to make such a change without seeking professional guidance. She said she had spoken to a FEMA representative and reminded the assembled group that the purpose of the FEMA rules was to promote safety.
Zuba reminded council members that they had asked the LPA to look at this issue and the LPA sought the expert advice of Senior Planner Megan Will who researched the issue before advising the LPA.
Kara Stewart, Director of Community Development added that she is a Certified Floodplain Manager and has been involved in floodplain issues for 17 years. She said she also plans to talk with the state CRS representative, Josh Overmyer, who is a former Principal Planner for the Town, about ways the Town could reduce their CRS rating.
Interim Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert added that she didn’t expect any difficulty with the change from 5 years to one. She asked about the possibility of allowing 50% worth of “hardening” improvements (roof, windows, doors, etc) and 50% of other improvements, but Stewart said that was not possible.
LPA member Jane Plummer’s issue throughout the conversation has been appraisals – how old can they be and how do they relate to the county assessor’s valuation.
“We need to educate the people of this town that they either need a current appraisal or they are tied to the assessor’s valuation.”
She asked that the requirement that an appraisal be less than one year old be changed, though Stewart said that was not likely to be approved. Any changes the Town makes to floodplain rules must be approved by FEMA in order to continue qualifying for reduced flood insurance rates. Stewart suggested the group consider a multiplier as other communities have done for post disaster build back.
Stewart clarified that there are two issues regarding appraisals. One for post disaster repairs and rebuilding and another issue for planned renovation. For a planned renovation, a private appraisal can be done prior to permitting. After a disaster, most homeowners do not have a recent appraisal, so the county’s assessed value is used. A multiplier can be applied to that value to determine compliance with the 50% rule.
LPA and council members asked Stewart to do some research and bring them information on what other communities similar to Fort Myers Beach have done in this area.
Improved education of the public and real estate agents was one area all agreed on. Shamp suggested a handout in layman’s terms be provided to agents to help educate new buyers once a new ordinance is passed.
In 2014, the LPA passed a resolution with new building survey requirements. Stewart expressed some concern about over-regulation due to the number of required surveys and council sent it back to LPA.
After discussion, council members expressed consensus that fences and accessory buildings should requires a survey before permitting. If the accessory building value is under $10,000, the Director of Community Development has the option of waiving the survey requirement. New construction, addition and substantial improvement would all require multiple surveys to confirm that the building is done as permitted.
A new resolution will be prepared for consideration and voting by Town Council.