Bill easing replacement of old coastal buildings advances with sponsor’s promise to soften impacts
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 11/8/23-Sen. Bryan Avila, R-Miami Springs, talks about Senate Bill 10C his bill on scrutinized companies doing business with Iran, Wednesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. The Senate took up and passed the House version of the bill and it now moves to the governor for approval. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Not one public speaker advocated for the legislation.

A bill abandoned in the final days of Session last year amid opposition from historic preservationists is again advancing in the Legislature.

Opposition to the bill (SB 1526), dubbed the “Resiliency and Safe Structures Act,” appeared not to have waned since last year, based on a one-hour debate over it at the Senate Community Affairs Committee.

Members of the panel voted 5-2 for the measure after its sponsor, Miami Springs Republican Sen. Bryan Ávila, confirmed that he plans to adopt the less controversial language its House analogue (HB 1647).

Both versions of the legislation would block local governments from prohibiting or restricting the demolition of the following structures other than for safety purposes:

— Buildings no longer conforming with the local building code that are located within a certain distance of the coastline.

— Any structure deemed unsafe by a local official.

— A structure ordered to be demolished by a local government with proper jurisdiction over it.

The owner of the structure would then be able to construct a new building on the site at the maximum height and density for which the area is zoned.

Single-family homes and structures on the National Register of Historic Places are exempted in both versions of the bill. HB 1647 also includes exceptions for certain buildings within a barrier island of a municipality with a population smaller than 10,000 residents.

Ávila’s bill, which in its current state is a near-carbon copy of the legislation he filed last year, would impact buildings a half-mile from the coast and within Federal Emergency Management Agency flood zones.

HB 1647, sponsored by North Fort Myers Republican Rep. Spencer Roach, would only apply to structures seaward of the coastal construction control line — a standard, Miami Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo said, that would spare many areas in and around Miami Beach.

Asked by Pizzo whether he was open to swapping out the language of his bill for that of HB 1647, Ávila said he is “committed to going in that direction and working with the House sponsor” to do so.

As was the case last year, representatives of coastal governments, their officials and lovers of historically relevant architecture turned out by the dozens Monday to speak out against Ávila’s bill. Many said that while Roach’s version of the bill is better, it’s still “bad.”

Not one public speaker advocated for the legislation.

Miami Beach Commissioner Alex Fernandez noted that visitation to his city’s historic districts generates around $119 million yearly in sales taxes to the state. That could be undone by the measures contemplated, which could encourage the owners of historic properties to “neglect maintenance hoping to bypass local preservation regulations.”

Daniel Ciraldo, Executive Director of the Miami Design Preservation League, said some local governments in Miami-Dade County incentivize historic preservation by granting landowners increased zoning to build new developments while also funding restoration efforts.

“Historic preservation is economic development,” he said. “We think zoning is just a basic, democratic principle that we’d like to preserve.”

Representatives from the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, 1000 Friends of Florida, Miami-Dade County, Florida League of Cities, St. Augustine, the town of Palm Beach and the Florida Chapter of the American Institute for Architects and many others — including former Rep. Joe Saunders, who is running this year to represent Miami Beach in the House — spoke or signaled opposition for the measure.

But none, Lady Lake Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley said, included consideration for a figure key to the matter: the owner of the property.

“Everybody else has a claim to somebody’s property but the person that owns it, apparently. I don’t share that viewpoint,” he said. “A property owner has the right to make some decisions about what to do with their own property. That may be old-fashioned, but that’s the world I live in.”

Pizzo, who voted “yes” on the bill based on Ávila’s promise to adopt Roach’s language, said it will still need work before earning approval from him on the Senate floor. However, he agreed with its spirit, arguing that if local governments are so concerned about historic preservation, perhaps they should buy the properties they want to protect.

He also recommended removing the carve-out for single-family homes. Homeowners, he said, “have an interest in the highest and best use of what they could do (with their property), especially for climate change reasons.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • PeterH

    January 23, 2024 at 8:11 am

    Depending on how this bill is enacted…… it’s possible that the State could change the historical face of Key West, South Beach and St. Pete.

    Developers are salivating!

Comments are closed.


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