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HB attorney to answer candidate, FEMA questions

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach commission candidate Judy Holmes Titsworth should be getting answers soon from city attorney Patricia Petruff on her questions about past building department practices.

Commission Chair David Zaccagnino directed Petruff to respond to Titsworth following a request to do so by Commissioner Jean Peelen at the Sept. 11 commission meeting.

Titsworth submitted her questions to city officials in a Sept. 4 email that criticized building department practices resulting in half completed duplexes, setback encroachments, site plans without stormwater retention and ground-level remodeling in violation of local and state building codes. “They were all good questions,” said Peelen. “They were solution kinds of questions, not objections, but how-can-we-fix-this kind of questions and legal questions.”

Peelen posed a question about construction that may have mistakenly been approved, asking, “Could anything be done to stop the house from being rented and making money on the house?”

Anticipating a new city policy where the first of two units on a duplex lot is built will no longer be allowed, Titsworth asked whether a second structure can be added and whether it would be required to be attached to the existing unit. She also asked whether half-duplexes should be reclassified as single-family homes.

Titsworth also sought answers about properties where homes were built without drainage plans to collect stormwater, but a new department policy will require drainage plans with erosion control permits before construction.

And she asked about a new affidavit policy in light of the city’s problems enforcing Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines, such as the 50-percent rule and V-zone breakaway walls and flow-through vent requirements. Commissioner Pat Morton joined Peelen and Zaccagnino, agreeing that Petruff should respond to Titsworth’s questions. Commissioner Sandy Haas-Marten was absent. Commissioner John Monetti said he had no comment.

Titsworth is a candidate for city commission in the Nov. 6 election and owns Shoreline Builders with her husband. Marvin Grossman also is a commission candidate, along with incumbent Commissioners Monetti and Haas-Martens.

How FEMA’s 50 percent rule works in Holmes Beach For coastal cities such as Holmes Beach, FEMA issues guidelines to ensure homes are built with safeguards against flooding.

“There are some who think that FEMA’s the law. FEMA is not law,” said Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger. “The city adopted its guidelines to provide flood-insurance discounts for residents.”

According to building inspector Bob Shaffer, FEMA doesn’t mandate what the city regulates, but “does an end-around,” tying a city’s insurance rating to enforcement of FEMA guidelines.

The city of Holmes Beach adopted a new FEMA flood plain ordinance in 2007 after FEMA visited the city for an audit, according to public works superintendent Joe Duennes. The so-called 50 percent rule is based on FEMA guidelines in the ordinance — now part of the Holmes Beach land development code.

An exception to the rule allows replacement if a builder elevates the home above the base flood level.

In implementing the 50 percent rule, Holmes Beach permits remodel projects if the cost does not exceed 50 percent of the home’s appraised structure value based on market value. That value is determined either by an independent certified appraisal, actual cash value or adjusted tax-assessed values and the owner’s and contractor’s affidavits attesting to project costs.

City FEMA consultant John Fernandez said there’s probably no two cities that use the same procedures to implement the 50 percent rule.

Holmes Beach provides remodelers a packet with affidavit forms and instruction sheets, including:

• Federal Guidelines for FEMA Improvement/Repair Applications, specifying items to be included and excluded in calculations.
• FEMA Permit Application Cost Breakdown Example.
• FEMA Improvements/Repair Application and Instructions, specifying how to fill out required affidavits attesting to costs by property owners and licensed contractors.

Cost affidavits have been criticized as unreliable and unrealistic.

Over the past year, Bohnenberger has been telling commissioners the 50 percent rule procedures are not working, and that when he’s asked FEMA for assistance, he is told to “just enforce your ordinance.”

Bohnenberger sent two sets of renovation plans out for independent review in July. Based on the reviews, the building department recommended denials at 303 68th St. and 111 49th St. The construction projects, however, have since come into compliance and remodeling has been allowed to continue, according to Shaffer.

City attorney Patricia Petruff told the commission in June that building officials should deny permits if cost affidavits do not appear correct.

The issue of whether a building department can question a certified appraiser was the subject of recent litigation in Sarasota County.

Due to variable appraisals, Petruff and others have suggested Holmes Beach consider eliminating the private appraiser option and use the county appraiser’s value in the calculation with a modifier to adjust for market conditions. Petruff told commissioners in June, however, that such a move would be a major policy decision.

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