Senate passes bill easing replacement of old coastal buildings
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

Like the structures it concerns, opposition to the bill has eroded over time as its sponsors made changes to reflect community feedback.

Legislation that would make it easier for developers to demolish and replace old, coastal and sometimes historic buildings is near passage.

Senators voted 36-2 for the bill (SB 1526), which would preempt local historic boards from blocking property owners from razing buildings that no longer conform to flood zone standards.

Miami Springs Republican Sen. Bryan Ávila, the bill’s sponsor, said the changes contemplated are “very narrowly tailored to areas that desperately” need them. He pointed to the deadly June 2021 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside as evidence of that need.

“We saw, certainly not long ago, (the) unfortunate tragedy that occurred in Miami-Dade County,” he said before the vote Wednesday. “This bill really … is to prevent another calamity such as that one.”

SB 1526 and an identical companion measure (HB 1647) by North Fort Myers Republican Rep. Spencer Roach, which awaits a House floor vote, are dubbed the “Resiliency and Safe Structures Act.”

If passed, the legislation would prohibit local governments from blocking or restricting the demolition of buildings that intersect with the coastal control line that are either:

— Nonconforming with the National Flood Insurance Program’s flood elevation requirements for the area.

— Ordered unsafe by a local building official.

— Ordered to be demolished by a local government with jurisdiction over the property.

The property owner 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, structures on the National Register of Historic Places and certain buildings within a barrier island or a municipality with a population smaller than 10,000 residents would be exempt.

As it did last year, SB 1526 encountered public opposition at each of its stops in the committee process this Session, particularly from Miami Beach, which has some 2,600 buildings on its list of local historic structures. Many of those buildings would not be protected from the proposed law.

Miami Beach Commissioner Alex Fernandez, who was among the first to sound the alarm when Ávila and Roach filed the bills last year, said even with changes in this year’s version, the city risks negative transformation.

While there are carve-outs for the city’s more than 800-building Art Deco District that generates roughly $119 million yearly in state taxes, he said, the bill’s standards for “unsafe” are far from ideal.

“Not all unsafe structures are the same,” he said last month. “Some unsafe structures come out of a simple elevator violation, or someone might do work without a permit, or you have a leak in a building and a building official may use that as a method to achieve compliance. But that might not mean that the building is unsafe for occupancy.”

Opposition to the legislation softened this year as Ávila and Roach updated their bills to reflect community feedback. They substituted as a standard for ocean proximity the coastal construction control line, a shore-hugging boundary meant to restrict seaside development, rather than a more arbitrary half-mile distance from the coastline previously in the bill.

The flood elevation standard, meanwhile, replaced a far more wide-ranging one that encompassed any nonconforming structure within a Federal Emergency Management Agency-designated flood zone.

Miami Gardens Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones proffered an amendment Wednesday to address Fernandez’s concerns and those of other constituents in his district. It would have nixed the “nonconforming” standard from Ávila’s bill and combined the last two standards — that a local building official deemed the structure unsafe and that the local government ordered it toppled — to circumvent local historic protections.

Miami Beach Republican Rep. Fabián Basabe has filed a substantively identical amendment to Roach’s bill.

Jones explained that while the bill spares the Art Deco District, it would “disproportionately” impact Mid and North Beach, where many historically relevant structures stand. It would also interrupt and possibly upend revitalization efforts there.

Ávila said that while Jones is “a dear friend,” his amendment is “unfriendly.” The amendment failed.

Boynton Beach Democratic Sen. Lori Berman joined Jones in voting against the measure, which the House confirmed it received at around 7 p.m.

Roach’s bill, and presumably SB 1562, are on Thursday’s House Session agenda.

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.


  • Dont Say FLA

    February 29, 2024 at 8:38 am

    Would it cost taxpayers less to buy brand new, new construction, Hurricane proof, sea level rise proof condos for all of Florida’s GOP legislators regardless of whether they even own one of these older condos that apparently enough of them own to warrant their “concern?”

    • TR

      March 4, 2024 at 3:23 pm

      Florida needs more housing of all kinds, including condos. All increases in housing supply help to lower the costs at all levels. Legislation encouraging new supply is a good thing.

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