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Council, LPA seek additional discussion on floodplain regulations

December 7, 2016
Chuck Ballaro ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

About all the Fort Myers Beach Town Council and the Local Planning Agency (LPA) could agree upon during their one-hour discussion on floodplain regulations is that it will take much more than one hour to hash through it.

That was the verdict during the town council's work session Monday morning at Town Hall after certain elements to the plan produced more questions than answers.

The key issue was whether the town would change the regulations so that homeowners can do work on their homes up to half the assessed value of their structure every five years, like it is now, or annually, which has been proposed.

Currently, if you own an older home that doesn't meet flood standards, you are limited to the amount of improvements you can make on a five-year cumulative basis. If your home is worth $100,000, you have $50,000 to work with over the next five years, thus the "50 percent rule."

By the one-year standard, if you make $50,000 in improvements on that same home, next year, after an appraisal that upped the value of your home $50,000, you could make improvements up to $75,000.

Council member Anita Cereceda said she would like to see residents rehab their older homes to more modern standards.

"This helps us maintain the character of Fort Myers Beach. It's a better alternative to scraping it and building up," Cereceda said. "This encourages people to rehab their homes within the law."

Council Member Tracey Gore wanted more information on the pros and cons, while Council Member Rexann Hosafros said she understood both sides of the argument.

"We have many huge issues to grapple with and we just scratched the surface. I'm still undecided. I see both good and bad," Hosafros said. "If you go to one year, you've taken away the incentive for people to bring their homes up to code to elevate them."

When that possibility was discussed, many in the LPA said elevating homes was too cost prohibitive. Hosafros said flooding is an inevitability, as she believes in climate change.

Hosafros added many people who buy in Fort Myers Beach are unaware of the 50 percent rule, which she believes Realtors need to do a better job in explaining.

"I'd like to see people make improvements to their homes. We have a weird valuation system here where the land is worth so much and the structure so little," Hosafros said.

Will said the idea is to reduce the economic impact of flood damage.

"If you put a new kitchen in that's below flood standards and we had a hurricane and it gets damaged, that's going to be a higher insurance claim than if you hadn't," Will said. "They're trying to reduce flood damage."

The change to a one-year plan has some drawbacks. Fort Myers Beach gets a score in the community ratings system, and that score determines the percentage reduction on flood insurance premiums. The score is assigned based on the number of points the town gets with its plan. By having a five-year plan, the town gets 48 points. Those would go away if the town implemented a one-year plan.

Currently, the town has 1,771 points, which makes it a Level 7 community, which gets a 15 percent reduction in flood insurance premiums. The city has to be between 1,500 and 2,000 points for that status, so a one-year plan would not drop them down a notch, to a Level 8. The lower level, the better.

With very little to go by and with the pros and cons not quite hashed out, Mayor Dennis Boback, and the rest of the council decided there will need to be much more discussion, perhaps a workshop on just that issue.

Megan Will, senior planner and floodplain manager, said she will have further discussion with the LPA and council in hopes of reaching a consensus.

"We'd like for council to give instruction to staff on how they would like to see our regulations amended if they want that," Will said.



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