Florida bill will make it easier to demolish, redevelop coastal properties

March 11, 2024

Florida lawmakers have passed a bill that will make it easier for property owners to demolish and redevelop buildings in coastal areas without being stopped by city and county government ordinances restricting redevelopment.

The Resiliency and Safe Structures Act passed through the Florida house 86-29, and it passed the senate 36-2. The bill now heads to Gov. Ron Desantis’ desk for final approval.

The bill will target buildings along Florida’s coast where some counties and municipalities have passed ordinances that restrict demolition and redevelopment. The changes will apply only to buildings within the Coastal Construction Control Line that includes areas most at risk of flooding from a 100-year storm event.

If the bill becomes law, local ordinances will not be able to stop the demolition of a building if that structure is out of compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program’s height requirements for new construction, if the structure is deemed unsafe by government officials, or if another local government with jurisdiction has approved demolition of the structure.

One of the bill’s author’s, Rep. Spencer Roach, told the publication Florida Politics, “the problem is that we have some local jurisdictions where the governing body — and sometimes this is outsourced to a local historic board, which in some cases are acting as a de facto zoning commission — are arbitrarily denying someone’s permit to demolish a structure and rebuild a new one.”

Ever since the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium building in 2022, aging buildings have come under increased scrutiny for safety concerns. Hurricanes and flooding are another major risk, with new buildings needing to meet a higher standard of readiness than historic ones. At the same time, a hot real estate market makes redeveloping old properties lucrative business.

Critics of the bill say it is less about ensuring safe buildings, and more about giving a green light to denser development near Florida beaches at the expense of historical preservation. Daniel Ciraldo, executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League said it would unfairly take away the rights of local government such as the city of Miami to control how they approach city planning.

“For us our whole economy is within our beautiful, historic resorts and districts,“ Ciraldo said in an interview with Government Market News, noting that many resorts were built long before the National Flood Insurance Program’s height requirement existed, and they “might be considered now unsafe due to the arbitrary language of this bill.”

The bill does have exemptions for some types of buildings and geographic areas. Single family homes and buildings on the National Register of Historic Places are exempt. Exemptions would also apply to buildings on barrier islands, in municipalities with less than 10,000 residents. Additional carveouts in the bill would effectively exempt the cities of St. Augustine, Key West, Palm Beach, Tampa, Pensacola, West Palm Beach and Panama City, as well as some of Miami’s historic neighborhoods including the Art Deco District and Ocean Drive.

Under the new law, municipalities will be barred from imposing any additional public hearings or restrictions to redevelopment that would not apply to developing vacant lots. The new buildings that come in place of the old can be built up to the maximum allowable size. Local governments would not be able to require that the new building replicates or preserves any elements of the demolished structure.

“What we’re trying to get away from is the unfairness of a governing commission violating their own zoning standards arbitrarily and capriciously. That’s exactly what this bill seeks to do,” Roach said.

If the bill is signed, the changes will take effect immediately.

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