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HB candidate seeks answers to overdevelopment

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach city commission candidate Judy Holmes Titsworth maintains this duplex at 308 68th St. violates setback rules. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

Commission candidate Judy Holmes Titsworth is looking for solutions to residential overdevelopment in her push to improve building practices in Holmes Beach.

        Titsworth met with Mayor Rich Bohnenberger and public works superintendent Joe Duennes in late August after researching nine residential properties undergoing construction.

        A lengthy email on Sept. 4 summarized an Aug. 31 meeting with city officials on her most recent concerns regarding how the city’s land-development code was being interpreted and applied to construction projects.

        In her email, Titsworth identifies issues with new construction and remodeling, including half finished duplexes, encroachments in setbacks, short-term rental parking, buffering requirements, stormwater retention requirements and Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines.

        As to her observation of code violations, she asked, “What happens now?

        “It has been determined that we do currently have a number of half-duplexes permitted and given a certificate of occupancy in Holmes Beach,” Titsworth stated.

        For the past decade, builders have been allowed to construct two residences that look like single-family homes on one duplex lot without the required 20-foot spacer — usually an underground footer connection.

        Titsworth and others believe the city’s minimum spacing interpretation contributed to the proliferation of the multi-story rentals in the past, leading to citizen complaints about noise, garbage and parking that the commission has been attempting to address with focus groups and code changes this year.

        In the email addressed to Bohnenberger and Duennes, and copied to commission members, Titsworth asks questions for the city attorney.

        Where the second home has not yet been built, she asks whether it can be added, whether it will be required to be attached to the existing unit’s roof or by a partition wall. She also asks whether half-duplexes should be reclassified as single-family homes.

        Titsworth also questions about construction jobs lacking drainage plans to address stormwater runoff, as well as potential FEMA problems in Key Royale, where she alleges compliance problems with the 50 percent rule and the absence of V-zone breakaway walls and flow-through vents.

        “If violations are found by FEMA, not only can the city and its residents lose its flood insurance,” Titsworth wrote. “But all of the residents in the city can be fined as a result of this lack of playing by the rules.

        Her email also asks how setback encroachments will be treated.

        In previous correspondence with city officials, she identified two R-2 properties, one on 68th Street and one on 74th Street, with third-floor side setback encroachments.

        She also noted front yard setback issues at the 68th Street property, where 13 feet separates the building and the street, a violation of the 20-foot front-yard setback requirement that she says results in insufficient parking areas for the two five-bedroom units.

        At the most recent commission meeting, Bohnenberger denied there were setback violations. He said Titsworth provided examples, not specific cases in her previous email. However, after the meeting, Titsworth disagreed with Bohnenberger’s assessment, saying she had named actual violations.

        After the meeting, Bohnenberger said that while Titsworth has valuable contributions to make to the city, he believes new homes have been built according to code.

        He also acknowledged that if a home was mistakenly given a certificate of occupancy and had a violation, such as the setback, the liability lies with the city, not the homeowners.

        “Some of it I agree with,” Duennes said of the Titsworth memo. “Some of it I don’t.”

         Bohnenberger said he will be issuing a state-of-the-city report at the end of September that will further address some of  Titsworth’s issues.

        Titsworth is a candidate for city commissioner in the Nov. 6 election, and owns Shoreline Builders with her husband.

        Marvin Grossman also is a candidate for the commission, along with incumbents John Monetti and Sandy Haas-Martens.

        Titsworth’s email comes on the heels of resident Mary Buonagura’s release of a brief Aug. 28 memorandum that summarized her findings from a public records request and a review of some 25 properties under construction.

        Buonagura claims to have uncovered missing and incomplete inspection reports in some construction. She labeled it an “egregious lack of enforcement by the city,” but provided few details and no addresses of the subject properties.

        Similar problems were identified in Commissioner Jean Peelen’s Crisis in Holmes Beach Aug. 14 report, which pointed to a “lax” land-development code and blamed a builder, rental agents, the building department and inspector, as well as most of the city commission for creating an out-of-state, investor-driven rental market.

        “This election cycle is so ugly,” said Bohnenberger. “That they’re attacking city employees, it makes me think they don’t have anything constructive to say.”

        Bohnenberger also is facing re-election in November and has a challenger for his seat, Carmel Monti.

City responds with policies

        Land-development code policy changes are in the works at Holmes Beach City Hall.

        While some changes have been under consideration for some time, others may have been prompted by commission candidate Judy Holmes Titsworth.

        Public works superintendent Joe Duennes wrote a memo dated Aug. 30 in which he listed “new policies to be added to the land development code at its next writing,” including:

        • New construction on duplex lots will require simultaneous construction of both units through certificate of occupancy.

        • All structures must be shown on surveys and plans at the time of permitting, including building height, setbacks, pool, driveway and fences.

        • Living-unit to land coverage calculations will be required on as-built surveys before certificates of occupancy are issued.

        • Total impervious land coverage calculations must be shown on surveys before certificates of occupancy are issued.

        Duennes and Bohnenberger said they’d been working on drainage policy changes for some time, including requiring on-site water retention of 1-inch minimum for new construction on vacant lots; drainage plans with erosion control permits before construction; and compliance letters on drainage from engineers and surveyors before issuance of certificates of occupancy.

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