Owners’ argument for property rights awaits final votes
Ocean Ridge is ready to draw a new, more accommodating line in the sand for the town’s beach property owners.
Town commissioners plan to scale back some earlier regulations that significantly limited how large of a home a coastal property owner could build. Those regulations also made it more cumbersome for the homeowners to get construction plans approved.
At their Aug. 7 meeting, commissioners gave preliminary approval to two ordinances that walk back some of the regulations imposed in 2020, regulations that coastal homeowners say were approved without their knowledge and that infringed on their private property rights.
Beach homeowners are paying attention now. Alvin Malnik, whose 3.43 acres at 6301 N. Ocean Blvd. is the largest oceanfront single-family home parcel in town — more than twice the size of the next largest one — has retained a law firm to lobby the commission to go even further than it has planned.
The commission will consider whether it wants to make any additional changes — before it gives final approval to the new ordinances — at its Sept. 5 meeting.
Currently, the proposed ordinances continue to protect dune parcels south of Corrine Street from being built upon, but they make it easier for property owners to get approval to construct non-habitable structures, such as pools and decks, seaward of the 1979 Coastal Construction Control Line.
The CCCL is used to demarcate beach areas where construction is given additional scrutiny because of its increased potential to cause erosion and destabilize dunes.
Construction projects along the beach also require separate approval from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. FDEP approval is needed for construction east of the state’s 1997 CCCL, which moved the CCCL line farther west, though still east of State Road A1A.
The proposed changes Ocean Ridge is considering relax the methodology used to calculate how big a new or expanded home can be on the beach. The town plans to revert to the mean high-water line and not the 1979 CCCL when determining a property’s size. Because the mean high-water line is seaward of the CCCL, the change makes the size of each property bigger, thereby increasing the permitted size of the home on each property.
For oceanfront homeowners between Anna and Corrine streets, whose homes all include portions built seaward of the 1979 CCCL, their homes will no longer be considered non-conforming uses. They will be able to rebuild within their homes’ existing footprints without triggering the need for them to get variances, which entails a more rigorous approval process.
Some hope to build larger
One of Malnik’s attorneys, Janice Rustin, suggested the changes don’t go far enough.
Rustin requested beach property owners be allowed to build larger homes — up to 50% greater than what would otherwise be permitted — through a waiver process instead of requiring them to get a more difficult variance. She said the change would be an incentive to bring beach structures into compliance with today’s stricter building code standards.
“I think that would encourage people to improve their houses,” Rustin said. “I think limiting the exemptions to only those developments within [a home’s existing] footprint misses an important tool that the town can use to encourage more hardy development.”
Vice Mayor Steve Coz wasn’t persuaded.
“That’s pretty huge,” Coz said. “That’s kind of what the town doesn’t want.”
Commissioners supported one idea Rustin presented, to create an administrative waiver — and not an administrative permit — for the town to use to approve non-habitable improvements east of the 1979 CCCL.
The town’s proposed ordinances say any rejected administrative permit would require a variance to move forward, forcing homeowners to show a hardship and requiring approval by the town’s Board of Adjustment and Town Commission. The waiver process would allow the appeal of any rejection to be heard just by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“A setback waiver is a more common type of approach,” Rustin said. “There would be waivers granted administratively by the town manager, or after public hearing by the Planning and Zoning Commission.”
Commissioners asked Town Attorney Christy Goddeau to review all of the suggestions from Rustin’s firm — Lewis, Longman and Walker, P.A.
Goddeau said it was apparent the commission wants “to continue to make it harder for those new habitable structures — or expanded habitable structures — seaward of the Coastal Construction Control Line” to be built by continuing to require such proposals go through the town’s variance process.
Goddeau planned to provide the commission with an alternative ordinance that would incorporate the suggested “waiver” criteria of Rustin’s request for the commission’s Sept. 5 consideration.