Lawmakers to review new law authorizing demolition of Palm Beach landmarks

The lawmaker who sponsored the bill at the Florida House says he wants more information about a change made during a legislative committee review.

A Broward County state legislator said he was considering a last-minute change to a bill he introduced that led to a new law allowing some newly listed low-rise homes to be demolished.

State Rep. Chip LaMarca (R-District 93) told the Palm Beach Daily News on Tuesday that he wanted more information about why the Florida House of Representatives Commerce Committee added language regarding demolition permits to the bill. He did not provide details on how he would collect the information.

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Palm Beach officials and conservatives said they were caught off guard by the law, which passed the Florida legislature unanimously and took effect July 1.

The law removes barriers for homeowners applying for demolition permits if their homes are at high risk of flooding.

But it also prevents local authorities from protecting newly listed homes from demolition if their owners have not consented to the landmark designation during the review process. The law applies to homes that were spotted after Jan. 1 of this year in one of three flood zones specified on the FEMA map, which encompass all of Palm Beach.

The law only targets homes in which the “lowest finished floor elevation” is “at or below the base flood elevation,” as defined in the state building code. or a local ordinance, whichever is greater.

That criteria applies to many older homes in Palm Beach, according to city officials.

In Palm Beach, a historic designation has long prevented a home from being demolished or major alterations to exterior walls made without permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

LaMarca said he wanted to know more about the ramifications of the new law for municipalities such as Palm Beach and their programs to protect historic buildings from demolition.

But he said he generally guards against local authorities taking too “bigger” an approach to telling landlords what they can do “with their own property”.

Landlord consent is a critical factor, said LaMarca, who lives in Lighthouse Point and whose district represents coastal areas and other parts of Broward County.

Bill’s genesis was to help streamline the building code

LaMarca has read media reports about the law, he said, including an August 14 Daily News article that looked specifically at how the law affects Palm Beach’s landmark preservation process. Miami Beach and Coral Gables also have programs to protect historic properties.

LaMarca’s Bill 426 — and an identical version in the Florida Senate sponsored by 9th District State Senator Jason Brodeur — were part of a larger package of building code reforms. Brodeur, whose 9th District represents Seminole County and parts of Volusia County, did not respond to Daily News requests for comment.

The genesis of his legislation, LaMarca said, was to streamline the process of inspecting buildings and issuing certificates of completion for building projects.

House Bill 423 came out of the Commerce Committee on February 24. Lawmakers passed the legislation in March and it was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis at the end of May.

LaMarca would have welcomed feedback from interested parties during the legislative process, he said, and would be willing to “meet with building officials or anyone else to discuss their concerns” about the new law.

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Since the establishment of the Palm Beach Historic Program in the late 1970s, the City Council has granted some 350 historic designations.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is responsible for reviewing eligible properties and making recommendations to City Council regarding proposed designations. An owner’s consent has never been required for a historic property to gain landmark status, and that position has withstood legal challenges, City Attorney John Randolph said.

At last week’s landmarks board meeting, Randolph, city officials and conservators discussed the new law and its effects.

Director of Planning, Zoning and Construction Wayne Bergman told the commission that he had read an early draft of Bill 423 that made no mention of the demolition permit change and that he had was shocked at how the bill changed once it became law.

“I don’t usually edit things out, but I will say that in my opinion this is a badly crafted and flawed law and continues to take ‘home rule’ out of the city,” Bergman said, making reference to a long-established concept of government that maintains local officials are best equipped to know what is best for their own communities.

Will the owners of monuments feel “pressure” not to demolish the houses?

Bergman and Randolph told the commission Aug. 17 that the new law does not prohibit the city from continuing to build landmark homes and from approving renovations at those properties.

But a new assignment can no longer prevent an owner who has not consented to it from razing a low house at risk of flooding.

“I don’t know what percentage of people (would want to) demolish a (historic) building,” Randolph said, adding that the new law does not apply to multi-family or commercial buildings.

Commissioner Patrick Segraves said he would expect some homeowners are likely to feel “pressure” from the community not to demolish their iconic homes.

Commissioners generally agreed that with the new law in effect, the commission should immediately focus on finding historic designations for low houses. Instead, the council should consider designating commercial buildings as well as historic homes that do not violate flood risk guidelines.

Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach President and CEO Amanda Skier said Monday that owners of low-rise historic homes may have other flood mitigation options available to them rather than demolition. Options could include sealing the crawl space under a house or installing water drainage systems, she said.

Earlier this month, the city council authorized Mayor Danielle Moore to write a response to state officials expressing the city’s concerns about the new legislation. On Tuesday, Randolph said the response was still in the works.

Randolph acknowledged that the new law caught him and other city officials off guard.

“It may very well have been included in some information (that the city received),” Randolph said, “but for some reason we weren’t made aware of it or it wasn’t brought forward. to our attention.”


Darrell Hofheinz is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network of Florida who writes about Palm Beach real estate in his weekly “Beyond the Hedges” column. It welcomes advice on real estate news on the island. E-mail, call (561) 820-3831 or tweet @PBDN_Hofheinz. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.

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