REDINGTON SHORES — The Town Commission sent a clear message to the estimated 200 owners of homes damaged by Tropical Storm Eta. Help is on the way for those needing restore damaged homes to pre-storm conditions, and will, in a number of instances, allow homeowners to return home from temporary lodgings.

The commission agreed at its Dec. 9 workshop to legislation that would allow owners of single-family homes, which were the most impacted by Eta’s floodwaters, to exempt storm repair costs from certain town requirements, which would have made the needed repairs financially difficult for many homeowners.

FEMA’s “50% rule” says, if renovation costs exceed 50% of a home’s total value, that it needs to meet the same building codes as a new home. Additional regulations in the town’s floodplain ordinance require all renovation costs over a 5-year period to be under 50% to ensure that “phased” renovations, which FEMA does not allow, do not occur. Otherwise, new construction requirements apply, and some of these — such as elevating the house to meet flood requirements — can be very costly.

Mayor MaryBeth Henderson explained that she is proposing a simple change to existing code that would exempt home repairs due to storm damage when calculating the 5-year cumulative 50% rule. But the repairs made must restore the home to its pre-storm conditions. No upgrades are allowed. For example, doing a kitchen renovation with more expensive wood cabinets and countertops would not be allowed under the storm exemption.

Lisa Foster, who is Pinellas County floodplain administrator and a local resident, spoke by telephone at the meeting and gave strong support for the mayor’s proposal.

“The goal obviously is to get people back into their homes,” she said. “We need to make sure folks can repair their homes to the minimum amount necessary to make their homes safe to return to.”

Henderson has also been working on a provision that would shorten the 5-year period to three years or even one year.

This change would apply to all home renovations, not just those resulting from storm damage. It will need to go through an approval process that includes review by Planning & Zoning and two readings at commission meetings, but the process is underway.

The exemption for storm repairs is a change to a current ordinance and will be ready for approval as soon as Town Attorney James Denhardt prepares the needed code changes. Henderson said she would likely call a special commission meeting as soon as that happens later this month, so residents can get the help they need, quickly.

In comments made after the meeting, Henderson told Tampa Bay Newspapers that Redington Shores had “quite a few homes, 100 to 200, that were damaged by the tropical storm, though the damage was not as significant as that of communities further south.”

A number of residents will likely benefit from the 5-year cumulative 50% rule exemption the town is about to approve. Homeowners who have already done renovations over the past five years that are nearing 50% of the value of the house now have a problem if they need to make storm-related repairs because they would exceed the cumulative 50% limit. So the new code will allow them to go forward with the needed repairs, because storm repairs will be exempt from the 5-year cumulative 50% cap.

“We have people that are living in motels because they cannot make repairs they need to go back into their home. This is going to give people instant relief,” Henderson said.

Henderson pointed out that this would also cover any future storm, “so we won’t ever have to deal with this problem again.”

This story was corrected to state that the town of Redington Shores is considering allowing the minimum amount of repairs necessary to return a home to its previous condition after a storm if it is not substantially damaged. The town was not considering exemptions to FEMA rules.