Holmes Beach planner says newer homes ‘out of character’

Asked by Holmes Beach city commissioners in August to begin a comprehensive study to support future possible living- area-to-lot-size restrictions, the city’s contracted planner, Bill Brisson — senior planner with LaRue Planning & Management Services — reported Sept. 25 that homes built since 2008 appear to be out of character for the beach community.

        Commissioner Jean Peelen and two other commissioners, David Zaccagnino and Pat Morton, previously favored a .30 floor-area ratio, considered equivalent to Brisson’s preferred living-area ratio, at their June 12 meeting. Morton has since wavered in his support. Commissioners John Monetti and Sandy Haas-Martens have continuously opposed adding FAR or LAR to the building code.

        Such restrictions are being proposed to limit the size of homes in proportion with lot sizes. The proposed restrictions were first recommended to the commission by a city focus group headed by Peelen.

        “We believe the character of single-family development in the R-2 District can reasonably be described as having a living area ratio of .34 or less,” Brisson said, adding that development after 2008 occurred at a rate where “the occupancy potential of such units is out of character with the historic single-family development pattern in the R-2 District” of the past.

        Zaccagnino asked whether Brisson’s study would support a city ordinance on living-area ratios.

        City attorney Patricia Petruff responded, saying the study would give the city a rational basis if challenged in court. While it wouldn’t guarantee results of a lawsuit, she said, it documents the thought process behind the ordinance.

        She warned commissioners, however, to watch for unintended consequences in such an ordinance. She said thwarting expectations of investors, such as those developers who might expect to build a second home on duplex under the current rules, would “guarantee a lawsuit.

        “I think his document shows that there is a trend going on,” Petruff said. “And if you don’t do something about that trend, 10 years from now it will have flipped.” Eventually, the present R-2 development will turn into the majority, she added.

        Peelen called Brisson’s report “timely” in view of the recent Manatee County Tourist Development Council’s rebranding of the island, Bradenton and other Manatee County areas.

        “We are authentic Florida. So what we’re saying is that this trend is against authentic Florida,” she said.

        Monetti disagreed with the premise of the study, aimed to support an ordinance that addresses what he says are perceived R-2 problems.

        He asked Brisson if the trend is similar to others in upscale communities where land is a premium.

        While the large houses in beach communities are common, according to Brisson, the duplex issue is unique, adding that his work for other communities has not been challenged.

        “There are probably a lot of people out there who don’t view there is a problem,” said Monetti.

        Monetti said the FAR/LAR issue has become a major component of the campaign for the Nov. 6 city election.

        “Let the citizens of Holmes Beach decide. There are huge polar opposites in their vision about what should be allowed in their community,” Monetti said.

        Brisson responded, “First of all, you’ll notice the big word draft.

        “I would not expect you to adopt it until sometime after the elections,” he continued.

        Zaccagnino favored continuing to work on establishing a LAR ordinance.

        Brisson’s research indicates homes are getting bigger, Zaccagnino said.

        Brisson said he will be provide options other than LAR, including daylight plane, potential third-story setback changes and common foundation changes as alternatives to reduce the scale of homes.

        Zaccagnino said Brisson’s study will be continued on future work session agendas.

        But Holmes Beach commissioners don’t plan to change the controversial common footer building interpretation that allows what appears to be two homes on a duplex lot.

        The common footer allows a builder on duplex property to avoid the 20- to 30-foot setback between units required for residential homes.

        Zaccagnino led the discussion, but found no consensus Sept. 25 to overturn the current practice of two units with a superfluous common underground footer.

        Commission candidate Judy Holmes Titsworth has called the practice a misinterpretation of the code and the cause for the continued loss of ground-level homes in the Residential-2 district.

        Brisson addressed the issue, saying he dislikes the practice, because of the increased density encouraged by marketing of the homes that look like single-family homes, but doing away with it could result in a situation “where you’ll end up with the more overpowering mass.”

        A disadvantage of a common footer, according to Brisson, is nobody keeps track of what is built by one owner on half of the lot, and the other owner “can take all of what’s allowed,” such as the amount of impervious surface on the parcel.

        Brisson suggested the city could require the space now left between the two structures be included as part of the lot calculation, thereby reducing the overall size of the allowable construction.

        Haas-Martens said, “So you have to sit back and say, would I rather look at one huge structure, owned by two different people and they have a common party wall, or do I want to look at two structures that look like one single-family home, but they’re connected however precariously?”

        Haas-Martens said she prefers the aesthetics of the two-structures.

        Zaccagnino agreed, saying two separate buildings on a duplex lot allows for more landscaping.

        “I’m not willing to go back to the shared wall and the big monstrosity,” he added.

4 thoughts on “Holmes Beach planner says newer homes ‘out of character’

  1. Peter

    Let me be more specific in my setback suggestion.

    I am not in favor of reduced setbacks (meaning, closer to the property lines) unless they are part of a package that includes a larger footprint, reduced height and better living rations. The end result is an style of architecture that more approximates the style of old, even when lifted to meet flood plain requirements. Think of it this way: tall and boxy or low and broad?

    I think there needs to be an objective system that gives owners options. You cannot force a living ratio on every property – it simply won’t work. Forget developers suing for monetary reasons – I will probably sue because it makes my home less livable than it could be (using current setbacks and other zoning rules).

    All this talk of developing a “rational basis” ignores the fact that even under such a low legal standard there must be more than an acorn of contempt for those looking to build on the island. Florida law is pretty clear on matters of rentals, and the existing legislative history is sure to be replete with significant material ripe for discovery. If a court decides that our laws are an attempt to side-step state restrictions on municipalities, then the island governments will lose. And those losses could include damages for monetary loss.

    My suggestion is to avoid the mess and work with people who want to do good things on the island. Create incentives to get good architecture.

    As for rentals, that ship has sailed. It’s just too expensive to do anything around here and not rent the places out. This is not the land of rich people able to build nice homes without supplemental income. We are decidedly upper-middle-crust on that front. Our real estate may be pricey, but our island won’t compete with South Beach for the high-dollar stuff. Face it, if you got a trailer park nearby (nothing against them) you are not going to have the kind of money move in that is required to have nice homes and no rentals.

    We need to get our police in line and make them respond to calls. Running the idiots out of town is a great idea. Punish the person and the behavior, not the inanimate house.

  2. Peter

    “Authentic” Florida was killed years ago by the Feds and the State. The beach cottages of old can never be re-built, nor can they be remodeled and repaired.

    Storm mitigation and modern flood-plain elevation requirements call for first-floor living levels to be built starting at significant distances above the ground – in some cases over 13 foot above sand. This reduces the claims for damage from the national flood program, and for damages from Citizen’s Insurance (keep in mind that is a quasi-state company). Additional construction requirements add significant cost. But it comes at a cost to the people who live here in terms of dollars and changing neighborhoods.

    I’m not saying all the storm protection is bad. Rather, it lowers the chance that a single storm will wipe out the whole island.

    What I don’t get, though, is the whining of local council members about people building homes that are not “Old Florida”. I suggest those councils members get out a pad of paper and draw up an “Old Florida” home on the average 5000 foot lot. Those old cottages were built on shoestring budgets. Try doing that when you need reinforced piles, concrete beams and columns capable of supporting a home 13′ above sand and yet able to withstand sheer forces exerted by a tropical storm. If it sounds like I’ve had this talk…that is because I have been trying to save my old Florida home for a few years now. Not gonna happen because the gov’t won’t let us.

    I have no choice but to rebuild. My Old Florida home is coming apart. I have three engineers who tell me it soon won’t be safe in even modest storms like we had last summer.

    Florida changed and we cannot change it back. The game is over. It is impossible to do the things they want us to do. I have tried to remodel our old cottage back to life, only to be told that I must tear it down and replace it with the exact type of home that the council members hate.

    As for over-crowding of rental units…there is good reason for it. I wanted to fix up the old cottage for personal use only. It is illegal to do so (50% rule, FEMA, State, set-back limits, etc.). Replacement is the only option, but meeting the requirements just to get to the first floor (piles, foundation, etc.) is more than the cost of the existing structure.

    All that extra cost leaves our family in a bind. We cannot fix the home because that is illegal. We must replace the structure, they say. We don’t want to rent our home, but we cannot afford to build the new mandated style unless we subsidize the construction with the additional income that rentals provide. It is simple math, even if we don’t like it.

    We have worked to avoid this end-game, but the deck is stacked against Old Florida. The significant cost of rebuilding to new standards – standards that outlaw the old architecture, by the way – require people who would not rent to do so anyway. Even those who might rent on occasion are being forced to rent near full-time, just to pay the bills.

    The local cities could do some things to make the new places look better. Scale back setbacks for places that voluntarily meet a FAR or LAR standard. Today’s new homes look like big blocks on stilts. Building a broader house would keep things looking less blocky, and by making the lower setbacks contingent upon meeting a LAR, you will create an incentive for homeowner to build nice homes that are more than just bedrooms. We cannot change the flood requirements, but we can adopt sensible alternatives to the high-rise lego-blocks on stilts.

    Just because the old architecture style was made illegal does not mean we cannot embrace a new style that compliments our character. Unfortunately that would require some creative solutions and new thinking from a bunch of people who want the rest of us to cling to a past that can no longer be.

    1. Nancy

      Extremely well written and thought out Peter.
      I wish your comments would be published in the paper for all to see and ponder over.

      We all want to keep the character of the island and with the government regulations in place, residents and rental owners will just have to start thinking outside the box to get it done.

      My friends, family and I love the character of the island and have purchased homes to retire to for the future. Unfortunately, for now we have to rent them out to keep up with the costs of island ownership. Keeping in mind our neighbours best interests and wanting to be treated the same way when we live there full time, we are extremely, prudent in screening and providing guests the bylaw codes to abide by. Renovations and improvements to our homes are kept by the book with the proper permits and designs have followed the direction of the city’s desire to market it’s Old Florida charm. We’ve tried to keep in mind what’s best for the environment (adding back native plantings and greenery, etc…) while leaving a legacy to our children and their future. It’s a legacy that we are all responsible for and we hope that others will follow.

  3. Islam

    I own a rental poperrty (with no sign in front) and am a frequent guest in my own poperrty. Although I own the poperrty and visit often, I do consider myself a guest to the Island. I am concerned that if the vacation rental owners do not self-regulate and work with the residents, we will all lose. If Anna Maria becomes less desirable, rental income will fall, local shops will lose business, restaurants will no longer be full, poperrty managers, housekeepers, lawn and pool service companies will suffer and Resort Tax will be lost. Instead of the rental owners and full-time residents having a GO’ at each other, we should try to work together to continue to provide the benefits we currently offer each other. Perhaps the local mayors could organize a team for each city, comprised of rental poperrty owners and local residents, to identify problems and create solutions.


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