AM takes ‘time out,’ halts all building permits

After learning at their Feb. 6 meeting from building official Bob Welch that there are 15 building projects “in the pipeline,” which would qualify under an order for an administrative moratorium for building permits, Anna Maria commissioners voted 3-2 to halt the issuance of all building permits until a moratorium ordinance is enacted.

Commissioner Chuck Webb said this would stop builders from rushing to Welch to claim they are “in the pipeline” with their plans, whether or not plans had previously been submitted.

Welch said of the 15 projects, many are for five-bedroom single-family homes.

The commission, at its Jan. 31 meeting, voted for an administrative moratorium while city attorney Jim Dye crafted a moratorium ordinance. At that time, the commissioners allowed Welch to decide if a project was “in the pipeline” and warranted a building permit in spite of the pending moratorium.

Webb’s newest motion halts Welch from issuing any permits. Only contractors and owners with permitted projects will be allowed to build as the city “takes a time out,” Webb said.

Commissioner Nancy Yetter seconded Webb’s motion, noting she has previously had building projects that were “shut down” by an administrative building moratorium. She said the administrative moratorium is not the final word on the issue, and there will be several opportunities for commissioners to adapt the ordinance language. Adoption of a moratorium ordinance requires planning and zoning board review and public hearings before commission approval.

Yetter also observed every moratorium has an end date.

Commission Chair John Quam also supported the motion.

Commissioners Dale Woodland and Gene Aubry voted against the motion. Woodland said it would “not be fair” to people who have spent eight or nine months preparing a site plan to be halted at the last minute and told to put their plans on hold.

Mayor SueLynn noted that adoption of Webb’s motion removes Welch from the decision-making as to what is and isn’t in the pipeline.

Commissioners also discussed a draft ordinance lowering the height limit of new construction from 37 feet above the crown of the road to 27 feet.

Welch said the city currently requires the first floor of any living space to be 13 feet above the crown of the road, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s requirement is 9 feet above base flood elevation — sea level.

Webb agreed the commission could change the 13-foot rule and said there is a lot more discussion to come on the proposed height ordinance, including two public hearings.

City planner Alan Garrett noted Bradenton Beach measures from 9 feet above the base flood elevation. Welch said each property in Anna Maria would probably have a different base flood elevation.

If the city adopts a 27-foot maximum-height elevation, “You may not be able to have two habitable floors,” although the city could allow more building coverage if the 27-foot limit is adopted, Garrett said.

Resident Marie Franklin said the city should adopt the FEMA 9-foot rule and go from there, using base flood elevation for each new structure.

Woodland suggested allowing 45 percent for building coverage, but adopt the 27-foot limit. “That should give everyone enough flexibility,” he said.

Welch said lowering the start of a structure to 9 feet above base flood elevation requires adding 2 feet of crawl space, meaning the construction of livable space would start at 11 feet.

Webb asked if Aubry and Garrett could put together a Styrofoam scale model of a single-family home that had a 45 percent building coverage on a 5,000-square-foot lot and a maximum height of 27 feet. He said it was hard for him to visualize the 27-foot concept, but he could understand more from a model.

Aubry and Garrett agreed to bring a scale model to the Feb. 21 commission meeting.

Commissioners heard both sides of the height issue from the public.

Attorney Scott Rudacille of Blalock Walters, P.A., of Bradenton said he represents several clients with Anna Maria properties. He said his clients do not want a more restrictive height limit and suggested that the commission look at the concept of floor-area ratio and living-area ratio as a means to “get where you want.”

While former Anna Maria Mayor Gary Deffenbaugh said what’s happened to Anna Maria is “a shame.” He advocated a 27-foot height limit to retain what is left of Anna Maria’s ambiance.

“The word has gotten out that Anna Maria is a great place to spend a weekend,” and that’s ruining the city, he said. “Put the height limit at 27 feet,” Deffenbaugh said.

Mike Coleman said the real issue for the commission is how to regulate short-term vacation rentals.

Webb agreed and asked Dye to look at all city options to have vacation rental units register as a business with the city.

“I want to have this discussion,” Webb said. “I think we can require registration of all vacation rentals.”

Aubry agreed. In his opinion, a vacation rental is a business and all businesses should be required to obtain a city license. He added that whatever the city does with a building moratorium or change in height limit is likely to draw litigation from someone.

Webb asked Dye to “think about what we can do to register vacation rentals.”

Quam said discussion of licensing would be on the agenda at the commission’s Feb. 21 commission work session. The commission’s Feb. 14 meeting is a regular meeting, not a work session, Quam said.

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