HB prepares for moratorium, honors police chief

    By a 4-1 vote, Holmes Beach commissioners stayed on course to enact a moratorium effective Dec. 25 to halt new permitting for construction, demolition and substantial rebuilds for up to six months in the city’s rental district.

    A motion by Commissioner Marvin Grossman and second by Commissioner Judy Titsworth led to a Dec. 18 vote on the moratorium’s first reading. Commissioner Pat Morton and Commission Chair Jean Peelen joined Grossman and Titsworth in favor, and Commissioner David Zaccagnino dissented.

    The moratorium, which has been debated and studied for more than a year, is aimed at putting a halt to the large rental homes and related noise, garbage and parking problems in the city’s Residential-2 zone.

    Zaccagnino asked city clerk Stacey Johnston to add to the city website the land development code definition section on substantial improvements — the limit to which construction will be impacted by the moratorium — for easy reference.

    A substantial improvement is when future construction or replacement costs 50 percent or more of the structure’s market value.

    According to the proposed ordinance, exceptions to the moratorium are “interior demolition for purposes such as remodeling” and “maintenance of existing houses which does not result in total demolition such as replacement of siding or windows.”

    Interim building inspector Tom O’Brien wrote a memorandum Oct. 16 pointing to state laws that provide repairs are considered substantial improvements or damages regardless of the actual repair work performed if major components are replaced, such as the roof or exterior walls.

    City attorney Patricia Petruff said for “the purposes of the moratorium” the limit of improvement or damage will be the 50 percent mark, despite O’Brien’s interpretation. She noted he is checking on the interpretation with a state building official.

    Petruff also advised the legally effective date will be the end of business following the Dec. 25 holiday.

    The commissioner’s vote to approve its first reading of the proposed six-month moratorium, which drew a roomful of owners and builders to a prior meeting, saw one proponent and one objector speak.

    Dave McKeever of Marina Drive told commissioners, “After watching a sea of green-shirt people derange you publicly, I felt that someone needed to speak up on your behalf.

    “There will always be unfortunate individuals caught up in the timing of municipal ordinances,” he added. “I sympathize with them. But I have no sympathy for speculative carpetbaggers who hope to make a quick buck by building a rental McMansion.”

    McKeever said the builders “remain focused on the R-2 district for one reason. It’s ripe for picking.”

    Builders have other options off the island and in other Holmes Beach districts, he added.

    One-time resident and planning and zoning commissioner Joe Kennedy first asked whether the proposed moratorium is applicable to single-family homes on R-2 lots, and what it is based upon.

     Peelen told Kennedy, yes, and the basis is city land planner Bill Brisson’s study.

    Later in the meeting, Kennedy voiced his opposition, saying he still owns waterfront property on a small lot that can only be developed with a single-family home — not a duplex, and he suspects others are in the same category. He said a sale of his property was supposed to close by Dec. 31, but it fell through because of the moratorium.

    “A moratorium that would include these particular R-2 properties, improved or vacant, is unwarranted and unjustified since they can have a single-family home built upon them or remain upon them,” Kennedy said. “These are not the properties that are causing the problems, and you are inadvertently targeting them.”

    He called the moratorium’s findings of fact “findings of opinion,” and said problems involving parking, noise, safety, flooding and privacy are caused by people, and could be solved with existing laws.

    “There will always be rude and inconsiderate people to exacerbate these problems,” he said.

    Before the second reading and final vote at the hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 8, the public will be allowed to comment.

        The moratorium, if approved as proposed, will be retroactively effective, as allowed under a 1980 case, Smith v. City of Clearwater, according to Petruff.

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