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Holmes Beach ‘beats’ builders on FEMA 50 percent rule

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

A mostly demolished house at 531 Key Royale Drive, Holmes Beach, pictured March 7, illustrates the problem city building officials have enforcing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s 50 percent rule. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell

Work progresses in June at 531 Key Royale Drive.

As an update to the recent crackdown in Holmes Beach on policing residential remodels that exceed the 50 percent Federal Emergency Management Agency rule, the city has succeeded in reigning in two demolitions.

        According to Mayor Rich Bohnenberger July 10, the city has been combating fraud in applications to remodel ground-level homes.

        The single-story homes are referred to as pre-firm homes by FEMA, having been built prior to the 1975 regulations that required newly built homes be elevated above flood levels.

        Finding discrepancies in two recent permit applications for remodeling from two separate contractors, the city denied the permits, Bohnenberger told the city commission.

        Bohnenberger previously warned that the FEMA violations could jeopardize the city’s insurance rating.

        “Their permits were denied and (the applicants) came back with modified permits,” and they weren’t allowed to demolish as much of the structure as originally planned, he said.

        “We beat them,” said Bohnenberger.

        FEMA requires the city monitor construction projects so that homes are built with safeguards against hazards due to flooding.

        The mayor issued a memorandum June 26 about the violations of the FEMA rule, including a permit application for substantial improvements at 303 68th St., which was denied.

        A second permit application for a demolition and remodel at 111 49th St. also was denied, according to building inspector Bob Shaffer.

        FEMA guidelines and the city’s ordinance limit the cost of pre-firm remodeling projects to 50 percent of a structure’s appraised value.

        Replacement is permitted under the rules if a home is rebuilt with all living areas elevated above the base-flood level.

        City permits for the remodeling work are issued based on appraisals in addition to owner and licensed contractor affidavits attesting that the cost will not exceed 50 percent of the structure’s value.

        In the recent cases where the city challenged the applicants, the city hired an independent appraiser and cost estimator to review the permit packages.

        “We’ve been struggling to find a strong legal basis to turn these down,” said Bohnenberger. He said the problem started years ago after FEMA recommended the appraisal and affidavit ordinance. It “just wasn’t working.”

        With the independent review, he said, “now we have enough documentation to support it,” he added.

        To prevent future remodeling violations, the city will be using a FEMA consultant, requiring a demolition permit and implementing a new rule prohibiting contractors from demolishing more than 50 percent of a residential structure as part of ground-floor remodeling.

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