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HB rental focus groups make recommendations

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

the Holmes Beach City Commission rental focus groups now reporting — except an administrative/tax related group not yet formed — the city appears to be close to a seventh-inning stretch.

        Group leaders — commissioners — shared their recommendations April 10 on the rental debate that’s been ongoing in Holmes Beach since late last year.

        “We’re probably in the fifth or sixth inning,” said Commission Chair David Zaccagnino at the work session where members spoke about how to fix city permit issues, building codes and code enforcement problems associated with short-term rental housing.

        Zaccagnino said he’s next looking to receive input from the city planner, attorney, mayor and city building officials before considering how to address the situation.

        Sandy Haas-Martens submitted her code enforcement group’s recommendations at the March meeting. She recommended a public education campaign on how the city handles complaints, including citizen seminars, newspaper articles and a city website link.

        Her group favored citations to offending renters, owners and rental agents, with substantial fines to deter repeat violators, she said. She also suggested best practices policies be part of the city’s business fee requirements, and a city resolution or ordinance to ensure best practices are followed by property owners and rental agents.

        Commissioner John Monetti reported his zoning/permitting focus group’s recommendations:

        • Posting of permits near the street for better public access.

        • No inspections performed without a properly posted inspection card — which already has been implemented by the building department.

        • Performance bonds on construction sites.

        Zaccagnino agreed this could address abandoned construction sites and prevent eyesores such as one at 28th Street and Gulf Drive.

        Monetti and a member of his group, long-time resident Mary Buonagura, said they were still researching possible solutions.

        • Outside contractors to replace staff inspectors. Monetti noted, however, city staff doesn’t believe they’re overburdened. Discussion ensued about the possible difficulties with that practice.

        • Posting of construction permits for the public. Monetti said the group suggested a list of new permits could be posted “just like home sales” are now in local newspapers.

        Commissioner Jean Peelen announced her building code group’s recommendations.

        • Keep most current building requirements, such as setbacks, height limits.

        • Add floor/area ratio (FAR) requirements for the R-1 single-family and R-2 duplex districts — R-1 FAR of .35 and R-2 FAR of .30.

        By adding FAR to the land-development code, Peelen said, floor space would be limited by lot size and help keep Holmes Beach “the way we know and love it.”

        • Create a requirement for a minimum 10-foot separation between duplex units that are joined underground.

        • Increase the minimum size for a duplex lot from 8,712 square feet to 10,100 square feet.

        Peelen said increasing the lot-size requirement would help prevent the trend of demolishing single-family homes built on duplex lots.

        • Establish a 10-foot setback for pools from adjacent property lines.

        • Discourage the demolition of ground-level houses by relaxing setbacks.

        Haas-Martens and Zaccagnino warned that some proposed changes may create non-conforming uses.

        Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said the variance process is “never easy,” and warned the commission should be careful not to do something that might “bite you in the end.”

What’s FAR?

        Limits on “floor area ratio” are being recommended as an answer to the “huge houses” being built “completely out of scale and not in harmony with the neighborhoods,” according to Peelen’s memorandum on the building code focus group.

        Peelen headed the group, and told commissioners at the April 10 meeting that the FAR concept may be “very, very useful” for Holmes Beach.

        According to the group report, “hundreds of communities across the country, including a number of Florida beach communities” facing similar problems of preserving a balance between tourism and residents have adopted FAR “as a useful tool.”

        FAR ties lot size to the structure floor space. The group recommended a .30 FAR in R-2 zoned areas.

        “Of course, the larger the lot, the more square footage would be possible.” For instance, with the .30 recommended FAR on a 10,000-square-foot lot, “one could have a 3,000-square-foot house,” according to the report.

        The focus group report also recommended FAR be applied to the R-1 district, stating “to discourage the building of enormous rental houses in R-1, yet recognize that in general houses are larger in size, the city may wish to adopt a FAR of .35 for the R-1 district.

        In practice, this would allow a 2,628-square-foot house on a 7,510-square-foot lot.

        Public works superintendent Joe Duennes, who heads the building department, said “If they’re looking for a way to control the duplex zoning, (FAR) would certainly do it.”

Builder says code enforcement needed

        “Please consider enforcement of the current code,” Steve Titsworth urged Holmes Beach city commissioners at their April 10 work session.

        Titsworth, a local builder, 29-year resident and member of the zoning/permitting focus group, recommended the city re-examine its interpretations of the current land-development code.

        He questioned past interpretations that allow just the kind of “building we’re having issues with now.”

        Builders in Holmes Beach, according to Titsworth, have been allowed to construct two single-family homes on a duplex lot — the second home often times many months or years after the first — with the addition of an underground footer providing a contrived “structural or architectural” dependence and common foundation — in order to skirt the 20-foot setbacks for single-family homes.

        “My argument is that if it is structurally dependent, then why didn’t the other building fall down?” Titsworth said after the work session.

        The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 50 percent rule is another city enforcement issue, he said.

        The rule governs the cost of renovations to 50 percent of a home’s appraised value. An exception to the rule allows replacement if a builder elevates the home above the base flood level. And FEMA requires the city to police permits to ensure compliance.

         Permits are issued based on appraisals and contractor’s sworn affidavits.

        Titsworth claims some contractors are submitting questionable affidavits, nearly demolishing the structure and re-building without elevating the structure.

        Titsworth asked commissioners to “take out the greed factor” and “enforce the land-development code.”

        Public works superintendent Joe Duennes said, “If you’re driving down the street and there’s a house with three walls left, you wonder how they can be rebuilding within the rule. It doesn’t make sense, does it?”

        However, Duennes said, when he looked into the practice, the city attorney has consistently advised the building department “to go with the affidavit.”

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