HB commissioners air FAR concerns

While more discussion is expected on focus group recommendations, the concept of floor-area ratio to stem the proliferation of mega-homes and duplexes in Holmes Beach appears to be coming under the most scrutiny by city commissioners.

Commission Chair David Zaccagnino tasked the commissioners at the end of a work session May 22 to “think about your FAR number and do the research” before any future meetings.

First, though, commissioners aired their opinions on the concept of FAR.

“There’s nothing to prevent the Island from becoming an Island of big houses and big rentals,” said Commissioner Jean Peelen, who chaired the building focus committee recommending FAR, which sets square footage for a home in relation to lot size.

Zaccagnino appointed commissioners to lead focus groups to address the short-term rental issues after residents made complaints about problems relating to duplex parking, garbage and noise.

Commissioner Sandy Haas-Martens said incorporating FAR as part of the building code will be opposed by those planning to develop or sell property. She used an example of people who might inherit property, saying if FARs are imposed, people may discover they can’t develop according to their expectations because of changes in marketability.

Peelen countered that investors have been “busting neighborhoods” with the duplexes.

Commissioner John Monetti said he didn’t think the answer was “slapping a blanket on all of Holmes Beach,” when the party houses are small in number. “If we enforce our codes, you’ll get rid of 95 percent of the problem,” he said.

“I don’t believe it’s an issue of our tourists,” Peelen said.

Commissioner Pat Morton agreed.

“I’m in favor of FAR,” he said. “I hear this thing, property rights. It’s not just for developers, but also for people who’ve lived in the neighborhoods.”

But the R-2 area is the city’s rental district, Zaccagnino said.

“There’s another issue,” Peelen said. “It’s called huge houses,” and the city’s comprehensive plan and community vision plan say “we do not want that.”

City attorney Patricia Petruff said FAR could be ripe for unintended consequences, including nonconformities.

While her previous advice was that new regulations should be imposed citywide to avoid legal challenges, she said the city could apply different FARs per zoning classification.

Haas-Martens asked if a house gets damaged, can it be rebuilt without a non-conformity arising?

Petruff said “if it’s an act of God” involving “a nonconforming structure on a nonconforming lot,” a FEMA provision allows rebuilding within the same footprint “if more than 50 percent is destroyed.”

Peelen suggested commissioners first agree on the concept of FAR, but commissioners next delved into a database of some 758 properties, representing 80-85 percent of R-2 properties.

Zaccagnino and Haas-Martens pointed to several examples in the 21-page database that appeared mistakenly entered, but Terry Parker, building focus group member responsible for creating the database said, “by and far these are pretty accurate numbers.”

Monetti next led the commission through the permitting recommendations from his focus group committee, including changes to improve procedures for posting inspections cards on job sites and inspection boxes that are more visible and closer to the property line.

Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said the posting is already regulated by city code.

Monetti said “our public asked for it” and “builders are on board” with putting inspection cards in accessible window boxes for the public to view.

Monetti also reported he was dropping a recommendation on demolition or performance bonds, saying research showed they usually don’t apply to residential, and it’s an unnecessary cost.

Petruff was opposed to Monetti’s group recommendation for an outside engineering firm to review plans and inspection.

“I don’t believe our department made any errors,” she said. “I don’t know why you would want this unless there’s an issue. I believe (public works superintendent) Joe (Duennes) has more certifications and licenses than anyone on the Island.”

She also said the building department has recently adopted a policy change, and now the public works superintendent goes to all construction sites. She said building inspector Bob Shaffer does the initial inspection, Duennes does the second and both do a third.

The next work session when short-term rental recommendations will be on the agenda is following the regular commission meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 5, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

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