LPA Continues Survey and 50% Rule Hearings

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Thanks Bruce Butcher for Service

During Bruce Butcher’s last Local Planning Agency (LPA) meeting Tuesday, he was recognized for his years of service to the town and the LPA and wished well in his upcoming role as a member of Town Council.

This week’s LPA meeting included a lot of discussion on proposed changes to survey requirements in the Land Development Code (LDC), but in the end continued the hearing to their April meeting, asking LPA Attorney Jack Peterson to rewrite the verbiage to match the chart in the proposed Chapter 34 amendment.

A second hearing on floodplain regulations in Chapter 6 of the LDC was also postponed to a future meeting. If approved, the controversial 50% rule would change from a 5-year window to a 1-year window. The 50% rule requires that anytime repairs or renovations to a building in a set period of time (currently 5 years) exceed 50% of the building’s value, it must be brought up to current code, including elevation of the first habitable floor. The method of determining the base value that the 50% rule uses would change also. In the draft discussed at Tuesday’s meeting, anyone without a property appraisal that is less than one year old could use the county’s assessed value plus 20%.

Community Development Director Kara Stewart told the LPA that she spoke to someone at FEMA as well as eleven other jurisdictions and learned that the range of increased value used ranged from 0-20% when using the county’s assessed value.

Bruce Butcher asked if any research had been done on whether we could use a multiplier greater than 20%.

“Lee County really seems to kind of lowball values and 20% seems like a meager amount,” he said.

Stewart told the LPA that she planned to attend the Florida Floodplain Managers meeting in early April and would ask if a greater multiplier was possible. The LPA will discuss this at a future meeting.

Fire Safety Ordinance

LPA Chair Hank Zuba introduced Division Chief Ron Martin, Code Enforcement Officers Molly Jacobs and Joe Kontomanolis and Community Development Director Kara Stewart who were invited to speak about habitable areas under elevated homes, a topic that Zuba produced a white paper on in January.

Division Chief Ron Martin of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District shared information on the Fire District’s Fire Safety Ordinance enacted in 2016, explaining that it was a result of losing an island resident to a duplex fire in 2015.

“Currently under the State Fire Code, inspection of residential occupancies applies only to those with 3 or more units. One and two unit dwellings are considered exempt unless there is a local ordinance.

“You have people coming down here on vacation and sleeping in a structure they are not familiar with and that raises the threshold of life safety issues.”

With the district’s high number of transient, vacation and short-term rentals, the district approved an ordinance in February 2016 that took effect last summer. All transient rentals or non-owner occupied duplexes are required to register contact information and submit to a fire/life safety inspection. Martin explained that the district has been flexible with property owners and managers on scheduling inspections so as not to interfere with occupancy. To date Martin estimates over 90 inspections have been done wit 300 total properties registered. He said the district does 9-15 inspections each month with each one usually taking less than an hour.

Megan Heil asked how the district was finding the properties. Martin replied that in addition to the voluntary registrations, they monitor VRBO, Air BNB and the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation.

Jane Plummer, a local realtor, challenged the fire district’s ordinance saying the $25 collected per registration didn’t cover expenses. She also said that she was opposed to the Town’s staff accompanying the fire district’s staff on the inspections, as it was time-consuming.

Zuba led a discussion on cooperation between Town and Fire District that would notify the Town if violations were found.

Martin explained that if inspectors find structural concerns, electrical or construction without posted permits, he can request an inspection by the town as that falls under the district’s life safety mission.

Plummer repeated her disapproval of having town staff involved or looking for code violations, adding that code enforcement has always been complaint driven.

“We’re becoming a little bit big brother on things.”

Zuba surmised that there are about 1500 elevated homes on the island. He guessed that about 50% of those might have habitable living units, some of them illegal. “Perhaps our pool of habitable units might be 600-700, double what you’ve done,” he said to Martin. “We’re wondering how to get those units registered and inspected for safety.”

“Our partnership with town staff is incredibly important in enhancing life safety in our community,” Martin said. “You have phenomenal permitting and code enforcement staff. They are awesome folks who are always striving to serve the community first.”

Jacobs said the Fire District has been helpful. “They’ve been great, at least 2-3 properties were recommended to us. One was a possibly unsafe deck and another building without permits.”

Plummer said she had invited Rick and Amy Loughery of Distinctive Beach Rentals to speak on the subject. They described the process of getting their 90+ units registered and inspected. “We were 99% compliant,” Rick said adding, “It’s really about education at this point.” When Plummer mentioned that it cost about $100,000 to bring all units into compliance, Rick replied, “It wasn’t a problem.”

Historic Preservation Board

The Chair of the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) Suzanne Katt explained that all LPA members are also members of the HPB. In addition, three LPA members are members of the Historic Advisory Committee (HAC) – Katt, Dan Hendrickson and Megan Heil. The HAC also includes 4 members of the community. At their last HAC meeting A.J. Bassett, Fran Santini and Linda Meador indicated that they could not continue as members and resigned. Subsequently, Katt explained, the HAC asked Bassett and Santini to continue as ex-officio HAC members as “their expertise was really valuable.”

Responding to a call for members of the HAC, four residents asked to be considered for membership. The HPB voted unanimously to approve Betty Simpson, Russ Carter, Katherine Cantlon and Susan Dzyacky. Katt explained that members of the HAC are to be appointed annually in June.

The next LPA meeting will be at 9am April 11, 2017 at Town Hall. An agenda will be posted on the town’s website prior to the meeting.

 

Missy Layfield