The Local Planning Agency took the first step in an effort to obtain relief for homeowners from onerous restrictions on rebuilding or remodeling island homes in flood zones, which is to say, all island homes.
At their Tuesday meeting they voted unanimously to send a recommendation to Town Council to change the definition of “substantial improvement’ within the “50% rule” to reflect improvements made during a 1-year period rather than the current 5-year period.
During December, former Town Senior Planner Megan Will reported that her research revealed that the Town’s Community Rating System (CRS) rating would drop slightly with the rule change to 1 year, but not enough to effect flood insurance rates for island homeowners.
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.
The 50% rule can be applied to improvements made within a set period of time. Sanibel and Bonita Springs have changed their time period to 1 year. The Fort Myers Beach rule remains at 5 years and has been implicated in the increasing problem of deferred maintenance on local properties and the disappearance of smaller island cottages.
Were the Town to opt out of the NFIP and the 50% rule, affordable flood insurance would not be available within the Town. The Town and businesses and property owners in the Town would not be eligible for Federal grants, loans, mortgage insurance or federal disaster assistance. To read the Town’s “50% Rule FAQ” go to the Town’s website http://www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov/documentcenter/view/5882
Since Will’s report, Town Council has asked the LPA to recommend any changes in the Town’s policy regarding the 50% rule. On Tuesday, the LPA weighed in, recommending the Town drop the time period from 5 years to 1 year. They also recommended that the new rules provide for building value determination by a private appraisal done within 2 years. The third recommendation was that council consider the use of a percentage multiplier on building value established by the Lee County Property Appraiser when a private appraisal is not available. All changes were approved unanimously and will be sent to Town Council.
New Member Heil
The newest member of the LPA, Megan Heil, was welcomed to the dais by Chair Hank Zuba and spoke of her reasons for applying for the LPA seat.
“I moved here a couple years ago when my partner took a job at FGCU. I have a degree in Urban Planning from University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art, Architecture & Planning. I operate IT businesses and have done that now for 15 years. Love the Town; Love the island. This position came to light and with a little bit of my urban planning back ground and a little bit of my business background, I thought it would be appropriate to apply for it.“
Surplus Parking Redux
The other primary topic on the day’s agenda was a reconsideration of a surplus parking ordinance. In September 2016, the LPA rejected a proposed surplus parking ordinance, with one member deeming it “government intrusion.” The version presented this week had minor changes from that proposal, but the LPA now includes two new members.
Principal Planner Matt Noble explained that Town Council wanted the LPA to discuss the issue of surplus parking further.
“The issue has come up over time with a lot of businesses from (Town Hall) to downtown establishing parking lots,” said Noble. “Code, as it exists today, allows a business with more than ten parking spaces to rent excess parking that is ‘not in daily use.”
Community Development Director Kara Stewart explained that her office has begun an examination of 7-8 “surplus” parking locations in the downtown area.
“We’ve taken a step back. Are they lawfully existing or do we have a problem? We went to the (current) code. That code addresses more than 10 spaces and not in daily use. We are now preparing notices of violation for all but three of them. They don’t meet the threshold of ten.”
Considerable discussion was heard on whether businesses would rent out spaces to beach-goers if it meant that their business tenants lost customers who could not find a parking space. Most LPA members stated that would be a self-regulating issue, as landlords would eventually lose their tenants over $10/day beach parking. Renting out spaces when businesses are closed for the weekend or after hours was also discussed.
The proposed ordinance calls for a survey of the property, though Stewart said an aerial view could work. Town staff would then analyze the number of required spaces based on land use. Then the business would need to provide a parking plan that shows the total number of parking spaces, the required number for existing uses and the number of surplus parking spaces. Finally the signage would need to conform to the sign ordinance.
Noble added that businesses would need to apply for a permit only one time with Stewart saying that the cost was not yet set, but would probably be about $100.
After lengthy discussion the LPA voted unanimously to approve the ordinance with the removal of the requirements for a survey and the physical designation of excess spaces.
The next LPA meeting will be held at 9 am on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 in Town Hall.