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Town Council approves amendment to 50 percent rule

June 21, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

It will now be easier for homes built before 1984 to be renovated.

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council voted 4-to-1 at its Monday meeting to adjust an ordinance, allowing homeowners to improve their homes on a permit-by-permit basis instead of every five years.

The legislation is known as the 50 percent rule. Homes built before 1984 do not meet current flood elevation standards for state and federal requirements on new buildings. The 50 percent rule allows homeowners to make renovations amounting to up to half the value of the home.

These are renovations that are defined as substantial improvements, such as a new roof or an addition. It does not include improvements of a building that are required to maintain compliance with health, sanitary, or safety code violations or to projects that serve to harden the home against future weather events.

If a qualifying project or projects exceeds half the home value, an owner was then required to raise the home to be compliant with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rules.

Before, those projects would be added up over five years. Now, with the council's vote, the 50 percent rule will apply permit by permit.

This change has been a long time coming. As council members began raising their concerns, Council Member Anita Cereceda reminded the board that the 50 percent rule had been debated for more than 2 years.

"I'm thrilled for the change, but my concern is to be cautious and judicious," Council Member Joanne Shamp said. "I think there will be a flood of applications, and I don't think your staff can handle it."

Community Development Director Kara Stewart assured her it was not going to be overwhelming - these applications are something she and her staff deal with on a regular basis. She's down one staff member after former Senior Planner Megan Will moved away, but she's already en route to hire a replacement.

"I don't think the doors will be broken down," she said.

Mayor Dennis Boback's concern was for the town's rating, which will decrease by 29 points with the change. However, Stewart told the council that the flood rating - which is used to calculate flood insurance costs - only affects the cost of flood insurance in 500-point increments. As long as the town keeps up other flood initiatives, premiums will not be affected by the 50 percent rule change.

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore continued to be concerned that not enough research had gone into any potential negative effects to the town and its residents. She has wanted to hire a professional consultant to do a thorough report for the town - something she's seen other communities, such as Sanibel, have done.

"All of these issues you've bringing forward have been discussed and brought up and up again by competent staff who have said your concerns have been addressed," Cereceda said. "You're implying that it hasn't been done correctly."

Shamp was also concerned that the change would allow people to alter the density of their homes with their renovations, such as turning a single-family home into a two-unit rental.

She said she knows of a home in her own neighborhood that is supposed to be a single-family home and is advertised on as fitting 16 people in three units.

"We need to allow people to improve their home while controlling density," she said.

Stewart said the code already has code rules that limit density; Town Manager Roger Hernstadt suggested adding language that already exists in the code to the ordinance to make it "crystal clear" that the ordinance does not allow density changes.



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