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By Mary Hladky
Boca Raton is the first city in Palm Beach County to enact an ordinance requiring buildings to be inspected to determine if they are safe.
Moving rapidly after the horrific June 24 collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside, City Council members unanimously approved the new law on Aug. 24 that took effect immediately.
“I think this is an important step to enhance safety and enhance confidence in Boca Raton,” said Mayor Scott Singer.
The ordinance establishes recertification standards like those that exist in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. But Boca Raton’s is more stringent, requiring inspections of buildings 30 years old rather than 40, with additional inspections taking place every 10 years thereafter.
The City Council action comes as other Palm Beach County cities, the County Commission and the Palm Beach County League of Cities also are working to establish rules.
Singer did not want to wait until a consensus was reached before acting, but is willing to revise Boca Raton’s ordinance in the future so that it does not conflict with what may be required elsewhere in the county or state.
Though the final ordinance largely mirrors a draft released in July, it provides more detailed requirements for building inspections and engineering reports and requires building owners to promptly tell city officials how they plan to make any needed repairs.
It also explicitly states that single-family homes and duplexes are exempt from recertification rules.
The ordinance applies to buildings that are taller than three stories, or 50 feet, or have an “assembly occupancy” that is more than 5,000 square feet and more than 500 people.
Development Services Director Brandon Schaad said that 242 buildings in the city meet these criteria, creating a recertification backlog that will take four years to work through.
The ordinance divides the city into four zones, with buildings on the barrier island receiving the highest priority for review. Next up for review will be buildings between the Intracoastal Waterway and Dixie Highway, followed by Dixie Highway to Interstate 95, and west of I-95.
Age of buildings, construction materials and other issues also will factor into the priorities.
Michael DiNorscio, the city’s chief building official, will send a “notice of required inspection” to the owners of buildings requiring recertification at least one year before the recertification deadline.
The mandatory inspections must be conducted by both structural and electrical engineers, who will identify any deficiencies.
If repairs are needed, the building owner must submit a repair plan to the city within 30 days. The plan will include when repairs will be completed, subject to approval by the city.
Building owners are responsible for hiring the engineers to inspect and prepare reports.
Owners will have three chances to satisfy city officials that they are taking appropriate action. If issues are unresolved, the matter will be referred to the Permitting and Construction Review Board, which can turn the matter over to a special magistrate to enforce the requirements.
The city is expected to hire an engineer, code enforcement officer and an administrative staffer to implement the ordinance at an annual cost of about $253,000.
The city also plans to create a database available to the public that will list every building 30 years old or older, when it is due for recertification, recertification status and whether it is in compliance, among other things.
Boca Raton attorney Steven Wallach urged the City Council to hold off on recertification until it is determined what caused the Surfside condo collapse. He noted media reports that found serious deficiencies in how that condo was built and said those problems could prove to be very rare.
He also urged the city to coordinate with other governments before acting.
But Boca Raton attorney Peter Sachs, whose law firm represents condo and homeowners associations as well as developers, disagreed.
“We support the ordinance,” he said. “It is overdue. There is no greater responsibility elected officials have than protecting the safety of the residents. This ordinance is a big step forward to doing that.”