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Date of Issue: March 12, 2008

Hold remains on Holmes Beach building permits

Holmes Beach continues to turn away applications for building permits in the floodplain while the city’s ordinance governing such construction gets an update.

“It’s everything in the floodplain,” said building official Bill Saunders, assistant superintendent of the city’s public works department. “We’ve had several contractors who would like to continue with their projects but until this is resolved - no.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials paid a visit to the city at the city’s invite - Holmes Beach is working to bring up its rating in the National Flood Insurance Program so property owners enjoy lower insurance rates.

“We were trying to improve our standing,” Saunders said.

A chief concern during the visit was construction work at a home on 83rd Street and the city’s rules and guidelines for renovations below the floodplain.

“As is the case with all communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, FEMA is concerned that floodplain management is occurring as agreed and according to Section 44 of the Code of Federal Regulations and local ordinance requirements,” said Jody Cottrill in external affairs with FEMA’s Atlanta headquarters. “In Holmes Beach, there was an indication that something may be out of conformance with requirements.”

FEMA allows for ground-level homes to be remodeled up to 50 percent of the structure’s market value. In the simplest form, a home valued at $300,000 can undergo a $150,000 renovation and the living space can remain at the ground level.

But the application of the 50 percent policy is not simple, Saunders stressed. Property owners may hire an independent assessor to provide a value to be used in the calculation or the formula can use a market value based on the property assessor’s amount plus 20 percent.

FEMA, Saunders observed, doesn’t always agree with the values used in the application of the 50 percent policy. Lately the difficulty has come with the skyrocketing values of property - cement-block cottages valued at $80,000 as recently as eight years ago selling for $500,000.

The building permit hold was enacted at the request of Mayor Rich Bohnenberger during a Feb. 12 city commission meeting.

Commissioners endorsed a review of the city’s regulations pertaining to construction in the floodplain and put a hold on granting “any application, petition or request which concerns the location, construction, reconstruction or improvement of buildings or structures within the flood hazard areas of the city.”

“The ‘moratorium’ was enacted because Holmes Beach was concerned that their permitting procedures and resulting development weren’t appropriately addressing flood risk reduction. The enactment of the moratorium was strictly the city’s option and FEMA had nothing to do with this local action,” said Cottrill.

The city attorney currently is comparing Holmes Beach’s floodplain regulations with model ordinances from state and federal governments, as well as an ordinance enacted in Longboat Key.

“FEMA is working with Holmes Beach to assure that identified ordinance deficiencies are rectified,” Cottrill confirmed.

“We’d like to be in step up and down the coast,” Saunders said, adding that Holmes Beach officials may talk with Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach officials about “getting on the same page.”

“We’re going to come out all right, it’s just a slow down in things,” Saunders said. “We have been very timely in issuing permits out here. Now, it’s just going to take longer.”

For now, work has stopped at the home on 83rd Street and attorneys and the government are discussing whether new construction must be torn down.

“Our attorney is working with FEMA on that,” Saunders said, adding that no decisions have been made about the fate of the project.

Meanwhile, the Holmes Beach building department is not accepting applications for substantial improvements - remodeling or reconstruction work - on structures at the ground level.

FEMA has raised questions about the process in Manatee County and St. Petersburg.

“FEMA has similar concerns - in a broad sense - with all NFIP participating communities,” Cottrill said. “There are a few similar issues in the area that are currently being addressed by each community.”