Holmes Beach commission focus: fixing problems

At their Dec. 20 work session, Holmes Beach commissioners explored illegal lot splits, underground footers, noise problems and other rental issues with an eye to fix problems as soon as possible.

They outlined objectives to accomplish during the expected six-month building moratorium in the R-2 zoning district, and talked about implementing a living-area ratio — an ordinance set to be reviewed by the planning commission in January — as a solution.

They also recognized that some problems, such as alleged abuse of the Federal Emergency Management Agency remodeling guidelines, stretch beyond the rental district.

“We still have Realtors on this island who are selling half of duplexes,” said city attorney Patricia Petruff, adding that many of the lot splits are illegal.

Commission chair Jean Peelen and Commissioner Judy Titsworth said they suspect that condominium ownership is being used to circumvent illegal splits.

“My first thought is with all of these FEMA renovation duplexes that have just popped up, I’m wondering if they’re in condo ownerships and they do not have the two-hour fire separation,” said Titsworth.

Petruff said the fire district had inspected the duplexes for the required separation and they passed fire codes.

But interim building inspector Tom O’Brien disagreed with Petruff, saying fire inspections are only performed on commercial properties.

“Are they condominiumizing them or are they selling them to one buyer?” Titsworth asked.

Petruff said the city would only become aware of condominium ownership if it is identified on business tax receipts.

Mayor Carmel Monti asked O’Brien about his interpretation of the slab used as the underground connecting footer.

O’Brien said the building code defines a footing as a structural member, and the piece is not “structural.”

He also told the commission that setbacks between the duplex units could be changed “to define what you want” and “let that be an affirmative statement.”

Commissioner Pat Morton called the city’s use of the “so-called footer” an “atrocity,” and said a couple builders have told him “there’s really nothing there.”

Commissioners also discussed changing the definition to allow no longer private appraisals on renovations, and imposing a formula based on that used by the county property appraiser’s office.

Titsworth favored changing the fee structure for building permits to be based on square footage because affidavits on cost “were not passing the smell test.”

O’Brien suggested the re-activation of the board of adjustments, which looks at variances, and an additional review board for building code appeals.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino turned the discussion to LAR.

“I really think that the LAR, for me, accomplishes what we’re trying to accomplish, the smaller sizes of house regardless of whether they’re connected by a shared party wall or footer,” he said.

“What I don’t want to see happen is limiting the looks and architectural style,” he added, pointing out the added green space the underground footer separation affords.

He also feared losing affordable housing.

Titsworth said, “I think that’s the problem. Mr. Wooten’s house ‘was’. . .  Mr. Kittle’s house ‘was.’ All over the R-2 district is where a resident’s house ‘was.’ And now it’s been replaced. Everything has turned into short-term rentals.

“That’s why the underground footer has to go away. It’s changed the face of the R-2 district,” she added.

Peelen said she didn’t want the commission to focus on solutions aimed at resort housing because that runs up against state law. She viewed LAR as a solution. “I think it takes us a long way down the road,” she said.

Resident Maggie Plath pointed out that the R-2 zone doesn’t require a duplex. “There’s been single-family homes that are torn down and two go up in their place,” she said, which adds to the city’s density.

Petruff suggested commissioners consider a Fort Lauderdale case that she previously cautioned a prior commission about, and was told “it won’t happen here.” Dock owners started renting their extra dock space, and people began living aboard their boats.

Then, “there was a problem with sewage,” and “then there was a problem with parking” and “then a problem of more children in their schools than they expected. And it just mushroomed like crazy, and by the time the problem was noticed, it was pretty much too late to do anything about it,” Petruff said.

Titsworth said she continues to be a believer in the one-pool-per-lot solution to discourage investors and bring back residents, and Morton agreed.

Zaccagnino said, “I’m the only one who lives in a rental district” and, in his experience, he said if they share a pool or have separate pools, they make just as much noise.

Peelen directed the clerk to add the one-pool-per-lot issue to the Jan. 8 meeting agenda.

She also introduced her draft objectives to be accomplished during the moratorium. After discussing them, commissioners identified the following as R-2 issues:

• Size of houses.

• Underground connection of duplexes.

• Number of pools per lot.

• Building department written policy on docks.

• Building department written policy on corner lots.

• Building department written policy on elevator shafts.

• Appraisal methodology changes.

The following were identified as citywide issues:

• Trash procedures.

• Code enforcement.

• Police procedures for noise complaints.

• Policies for ticketing/fining for noise complaints.

• Legal construction workers.

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