Punta Gorda changes rules requiring homeowners to rebuild
Arcadian (Arcadia, FL)
PUNTA GORDA — Following Hurricane Ian, most municipalities addressed the Federal Emergency Management Agency's 50% rule, which can require some homeowners to tear down their homes and rebuild at a higher elevation.
At a recent meeting, Punta Gorda City Council members learned the federal regulation impacts its homeowners — and they decided to do something about it.
The Building Department proposed reviewing homeowner permit repair requests individually instead of the last five years of permits.
Council members learned the change helps homeowners avoid penalties for making home repairs in the last five years — otherwise they may have reached the 50% rule for construction and have to follow current flood regulations.
While keeping FEMA's 50% threshold in place, the City Council voted for an emergency ordinance for the assessment to be based on individual reviews of a property's damage rather than a "five-year lookback" of permits regarding substantial improvements of structures.
Charlotte County and North Port also passed similar ordinances in the wake of Ian.
Building Official Kathy Croteau explained the reason for the emergency ordinance is the city participates in the National Flood Insurance Program and the Community Rating System. She said the city maintains a Class 5 rating, which allows homeowners a 25% discount on their flood insurance for properties within the special flood hazard area, and a 10% discount for properties outside that area.
Croteau said staff recommend the change to the minimum FEMA requirements 50% Rule regarding substantial improvements because it will not impact the FEMA regulations — but it will help residents in need of repairs. Otherwise, some can't afford to totally rebuild their home.
According to FEMA, the National Flood Insurance Program prohibits improvements to a structure exceeding 50% of its market value unless the entire structure is brought into full compliance with current flood regulations. Homes that were built decades ago don't comply with the current or new flood regulations.
FEMA determines substantial damage as any combination of repair, reconstruction, rehabilitation, addition, or other improvement of a building where the cumulative cost equals or exceeds 50% of depreciated market value of the structure before the improvement or repair begins.
If improvements meet the definition of substantial improvement or substantial damage, it's considered new construction. Then the entire building/home must be elevated or above the base flood elevation to become fully flood compliant.
Substantially improved structures must meet the floodplain management regulations and BFE effective before building permits are approved.
Croteau said making the change to the ordinance wouldn't impact the city's Class 5 rating because it participates in several other requirements to reach the points needed to qualify for the high rating.
City Attorney David Levin said FEMA's 50% rule was created "to reduce the number of non-conforming structures, and its impact on property owners."
Mayor Lynne Matthews asked if the change would be permanent.
Levin said the emergency ordinance "should return" for adoption under normal procedures.
"The change would be permanent, unless subsequently amended by the City Council," he said.
Several times Croteau told the council if residents need more information on the "sometimes confusing" 50% rule, they can call the city's building department for help.