Asked by Holmes Beach city commissioners in August to begin a comprehensive study to support future possible living- area-to-lot-size restrictions, the city’s contracted planner, Bill Brisson — senior planner with LaRue Planning & Management Services — reported Sept. 25 that homes built since 2008 appear to be out of character for the beach community.
Commissioner Jean Peelen and two other commissioners, David Zaccagnino and Pat Morton, previously favored a .30 floor-area ratio, considered equivalent to Brisson’s preferred living-area ratio, at their June 12 meeting. Morton has since wavered in his support. Commissioners John Monetti and Sandy Haas-Martens have continuously opposed adding FAR or LAR to the building code.
Such restrictions are being proposed to limit the size of homes in proportion with lot sizes. The proposed restrictions were first recommended to the commission by a city focus group headed by Peelen.
“We believe the character of single-family development in the R-2 District can reasonably be described as having a living area ratio of .34 or less,” Brisson said, adding that development after 2008 occurred at a rate where “the occupancy potential of such units is out of character with the historic single-family development pattern in the R-2 District” of the past.
Zaccagnino asked whether Brisson’s study would support a city ordinance on living-area ratios.
City attorney Patricia Petruff responded, saying the study would give the city a rational basis if challenged in court. While it wouldn’t guarantee results of a lawsuit, she said, it documents the thought process behind the ordinance.
She warned commissioners, however, to watch for unintended consequences in such an ordinance. She said thwarting expectations of investors, such as those developers who might expect to build a second home on duplex under the current rules, would “guarantee a lawsuit.
“I think his document shows that there is a trend going on,” Petruff said. “And if you don’t do something about that trend, 10 years from now it will have flipped.” Eventually, the present R-2 development will turn into the majority, she added.
Peelen called Brisson’s report “timely” in view of the recent Manatee County Tourist Development Council’s rebranding of the island, Bradenton and other Manatee County areas.
“We are authentic Florida. So what we’re saying is that this trend is against authentic Florida,” she said.
Monetti disagreed with the premise of the study, aimed to support an ordinance that addresses what he says are perceived R-2 problems.
He asked Brisson if the trend is similar to others in upscale communities where land is a premium.
While the large houses in beach communities are common, according to Brisson, the duplex issue is unique, adding that his work for other communities has not been challenged.
“There are probably a lot of people out there who don’t view there is a problem,” said Monetti.
Monetti said the FAR/LAR issue has become a major component of the campaign for the Nov. 6 city election.
“Let the citizens of Holmes Beach decide. There are huge polar opposites in their vision about what should be allowed in their community,” Monetti said.
Brisson responded, “First of all, you’ll notice the big word draft.
“I would not expect you to adopt it until sometime after the elections,” he continued.
Zaccagnino favored continuing to work on establishing a LAR ordinance.
Brisson’s research indicates homes are getting bigger, Zaccagnino said.
Brisson said he will be provide options other than LAR, including daylight plane, potential third-story setback changes and common foundation changes as alternatives to reduce the scale of homes.
Zaccagnino said Brisson’s study will be continued on future work session agendas.
But Holmes Beach commissioners don’t plan to change the controversial common footer building interpretation that allows what appears to be two homes on a duplex lot.
The common footer allows a builder on duplex property to avoid the 20- to 30-foot setback between units required for residential homes.
Zaccagnino led the discussion, but found no consensus Sept. 25 to overturn the current practice of two units with a superfluous common underground footer.
Commission candidate Judy Holmes Titsworth has called the practice a misinterpretation of the code and the cause for the continued loss of ground-level homes in the Residential-2 district.
Brisson addressed the issue, saying he dislikes the practice, because of the increased density encouraged by marketing of the homes that look like single-family homes, but doing away with it could result in a situation “where you’ll end up with the more overpowering mass.”
A disadvantage of a common footer, according to Brisson, is nobody keeps track of what is built by one owner on half of the lot, and the other owner “can take all of what’s allowed,” such as the amount of impervious surface on the parcel.
Brisson suggested the city could require the space now left between the two structures be included as part of the lot calculation, thereby reducing the overall size of the allowable construction.
Haas-Martens said, “So you have to sit back and say, would I rather look at one huge structure, owned by two different people and they have a common party wall, or do I want to look at two structures that look like one single-family home, but they’re connected however precariously?”
Haas-Martens said she prefers the aesthetics of the two-structures.
Zaccagnino agreed, saying two separate buildings on a duplex lot allows for more landscaping.
“I’m not willing to go back to the shared wall and the big monstrosity,” he added.