By Steve Plunkett

Residents now have the blessing of the Town Council to raise their homes on stilts, but whether the corporation will permit it remains the big question.

The council approved the creation of an “elevated single-family home overlay district” on a second reading of an ordinance on May 25 by the same 3-2 vote it gave the first reading. Council President Christina Adams and members Liz Loper and Bill Birch voted yes.

Members also approved on first reading an ordinance to amend the town’s zoning map to show the new overlay on a 4-1 vote with Sue Thaler joining the majority and Kathy Gross dissenting.

The ayes came after Birch read text messages he had received from Michael Gallacher, general manager of Briny Breezes Inc., who encouraged the council to OK the zoning.

“A lot of work has already gone into this so do not let it die, in my personal opinion. And it doesn’t force or bind anything at this point, so I don’t fear it,” Gallacher messaged.

The new zoning will allow the owner of a mobile home to raise it on stilts or pilings to a roof peak maximum 25 feet above the crown of the road. The area underneath the mobile home, which the ordinance calls the “lowest floor,” could be an unfinished or flood-resistant enclosure with “breakaway” walls or screening and would be used only for parking, building access and storage.

The new district anticipates that streets in Districts 3 and 4, between State Road A1A and the Intracoastal Waterway, will be raised at least 2.5 feet to combat perennial flooding and predicted sea level rise. A Flooding Adaptation Plan paid for by the corporation shows low-lying areas on the west side of town permanently under water in as soon as 13 years.

Before the votes, Town Attorney Keith Davis offered in-depth answers to questions that were raised at the council’s April 27 meeting.

“As you may recall, during the first reading there was robust public comment and there were numerous questions that were posed,” Davis said.

The most exasperating question, one “that has come up multiple times since we started this exercise,” Davis said, was whether the corporation has final say on whether to allow implementation of the ordinance.

Answer: “The corporation, as the landowner, is not obligated to allow it to be put into effect on the land it owns,” he said. “I’m not sure how I could be any more clear.”

Other answers focused on the amount of fill allowed under a two-story home (roughly equal to the street level); whether such a home would have to be ADA-compliant (no); whether the town’s building official has reviewed the concept (he has seen the ordinance but Davis was unaware of any comments made, if any); has the fire marshal reviewed it (the ordinance requires compliance with all fire and life safety codes), and have home manufacturers said whether such structures can be built (yes).

Another question was whether the council should wait to vote on the ordinance until after Briny’s sea wall has been raised. Town Manager William Thrasher is seeking grants and loans to pay for that. Davis said it was up to the council to decide whether to vote now but pointed out that without the ordinance, if a major storm hit the town, residents could not replace their units without conforming to the Florida Building Code and Federal Emergency Management Agency elevation requirements.

Also answered was whether architects renderings could be prepared to show what the overlay might look like in Briny Breezes. Davis said they could be if the council requested them.

That was still Thaler’s concern, one she had expressed at the April meeting as well.

“If you have two-story structures facing each other over a 9-foot-wide road, I really think that we need to look at what that’s going to look like,” she said.

But no one made a motion to request renderings.

During public comments seven residents spoke against the overlay ordinance, one emailed her objection, and two spoke in favor, including Jerry Lower, chairman of the town’s Planning and Zoning Board (and co-owner and publisher of The Coastal Star).

Davis’ full, written answers were made public record and are available from the town clerk.

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