By Dan Moffett
Like many South Florida municipalities, Manalapan is struggling to keep its building code in line with a fast-changing world.
A statewide construction boom, coupled with new flood elevation standards from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have forced the Town Commission to overhaul code requirements that have been on the books for decades.
The issue in Manalapan is captured by a picture that has become familiar along the state’s coastline: a new home sitting significantly higher than the existing, older homes beside it.
Mayor Keith Waters describes it as “almost a stairstep.”
FEMA, in response to rising seas, has issued guidelines that set 100-year flood elevations substantially higher, and this is changing coastal neighborhoods.
“The most significant impact this has on Manalapan properties pertains to flood insurance rates and minimum building pad elevations going up,” says Thomas Biggs, the town’s engineer from Mock, Roos & Associates.
“Many homeowners contemplating major renovations or structure replacements desire to construct their new homes above the 100-year flood stage to protect their families and investments. … Unfortunately, Manalapan has existing building codes in place that restrict the heights of new construction.”
Raising heights of new construction unleashes a whole new set of complications and unintended consequences. One result can be that storm drainage from the higher, new construction floods onto the lower, existing properties next door.
The solution Biggs proposed to Manalapan is to allow higher retaining walls along the side property lines to keep the stormwater flow on the higher lot.
During its meeting on April 27, the Town Commission unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that will change the town’s building rules for retaining walls.
“We certainly anticipate that there’ll be variances to what we do,” Waters said, acknowledging that the commission can’t contemplate every situation ahead. “But we’ve established a baseline. It’s a starting point.”
Town Attorney Keith Davis said the code revisions to comply with FEMA will have no impact on the size of houses but will allow construction to move higher.
“The only thing that is changing is the height of the dirt they are sitting on,” Davis said of the houses.
Commissioners have more work on codes ahead. Docks are going through a similar period of change as seas rise and building trends follow.
Town Manager Linda Stumpf said at the next meeting, May 25, she will bring proposals to the commission for new language regulating dock and boat lift construction.