Legislature passes bill easing demolition, replacement of old buildings with bigger structures
North Fort Myers Republican Rep. Spencer Roach hopes to deliver relief to the Barnetts through claims bills he and Miami Republican Sen. Alexis Calatayud are carrying this year. Image via Florida Politics.

The bill exempts St. Augustine, Key West, Palm Beach, Tampa, Pensacola, West Palm Beach, Panama City and several Miami Beach neighborhoods.

A bill that will make it easier for developers to raze coastal and sometimes historic buildings and replace them with far larger structures is soon heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.

The bill (SB 1526) cleared its last legislative hurdle after a final plea from St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Lindsay Cross, who outlined the inadvertent but negative impacts it could have on Florida’s oceanside communities.

Her argument proved insufficient, however, as House members voted 86-29 for the measure.

Five Republicans — Thad Altman, Fabián Basabe, Linda Chaney, Patt Maney and Cyndi Stevenson — joined their Democratic colleagues in opposition Wednesday.

The bill, dubbed the “Resiliency and Safe Structures Act,” prohibits local governments from blocking or restricting the demolition of buildings that intersect or fall within the coastal construction control line (CCCL) and are either:

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

— Ordered unsafe by a local 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.

Miami Springs Sen. Bryan Ávila and North Fort Myers Rep. Spencer Roach, the bill’s Republican sponsors, maintain that the bill has been narrowly tailored to only apply to areas that need it. The goal, they said, is to prevent a tragedy similar to the Surfside collapse by unshackling them from the whims of local historic preservation boards and the city and county governments to which they answer.

Speaking about the bill this week, Roach noted that changes he and Ávila made to the bill fully exempt the cities of St. Augustine, Key West, Palm Beach, Tampa, Pensacola, West Palm Beach and Panama City.

Several Miami Beach neighborhoods locally designated as historic, including Ocean Drive and the Art Deco District, among others, are also carved out.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

As was the case with more expansive legislation Ávila and Roach unsuccessfully carried last year, SB 1526 and its House analog (HB 1647) ran into opposition at every committee stop and on their chamber floors. Critics included the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, 1000 Friends of Florida, Miami-Dade County, Florida League of Cities and the American Institute for Architects.

None were more vocal than representatives of Miami Beach, including City Commissioner Alex Fernandez, former Democratic Rep. Joe Saunders and Daniel Ciraldo, Executive Director of the Miami Design Preservation League, all of whom appeared at numerous meetings to warn lawmakers that the bill would help demolish thousands of otherwise safe structures of local historical relevance.

Fernandez said the city’s historic districts generate almost $120 million yearly in sales taxes to the state. The bill could slash those revenues, he said, and encourage owners of historic properties to “neglect maintenance hoping to bypass local preservation regulations.”

Ciraldo pointed out that some local governments have incentive programs to help property owners preserve their buildings.

“Historic preservation is economic development,” he said.

In her comments Wednesday, Cross did not address those concerns but rather focused on the bill’s provision allowing the largest-scale structures possible to rise as replacements for small buildings currently in place.

Using the CCCL as a reference is additionally troublesome, she added.

The CCCL is an area designated by the Department of Environmental Protection in 25 of Florida’s shoreside counties with sandy beaches within which properties are more susceptible to storms, flooding and erosion. Accordingly, construction within it typically requires extensive engineering studies, topographic surveys and ample public involvement, as well as local government input.

Earlier versions of the legislation did not use the CCCL as its standard. Instead, it applied to all properties within a half-mile of the coast. Ávila switched to the CCCL in the waning days of Session last year and, as a concession to critics of the bill, he and Roach used it in their legislation this year as well.

But in general, Cross said, the CCCL is meant to give developers and local governments more pause before beginning large-scale projects — not to unleash rampant construction within it of numerous structures all built as big and dense as local zoning allows.

“For every older, two-story motel that doesn’t meet the standards for new development that is situated next to a 200-unit hotel, that modest-sized building can be replaced by another 200-bed hotel, increasing traffic, making hurricane evacuation more difficult, potentially increasing insurance rates and perpetuating a cycle of risk,” she said.

“Density makes sense in certain areas — actually, many parts of our state. And raising our building standards for new construction is absolutely the right thing to do. But not everything needs to be built at the maximum height and building size.”

Cross said she appreciated that Roach was open to discussing the bill with her this year. But she said he was wrong to refuse an amendment she proffered that would have “made it more reasonable” by allowing replacement buildings to rise at the maximum height and density as zoning allows only after a locality studied its impacts and approved it.

“With the vulnerability of our state and particularly our coastlines, it is incumbent upon us to look at the near- and long-term safety of our residents, visitors and the resilience of our infrastructure,” she said. “If a local municipality has gone through these common-sense steps and still wants a replacement building of maximum height and building size, (that’s reasonable). But as written, this bill requires it, and I think that’s irresponsible.”

Roach disputed Cross’ portrayal of his bill. He said the only thing it mandates is that local officials follow their own zoning codes and treat property owners within the same zoning area equally.

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.


  • Michael K

    March 6, 2024 at 5:14 pm

    Yes, let’s let the know-it-all state legislators – sucking up campaign cash from developers – determine which communities will have strong historic preservation efforts. Unfortunately, St. Pete (as an example) will not as it rapidly turns high-rise cookie-cutter cheap, destroying much of the character that once made it unique, quirky, and affordable.

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