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REDINGTON SHORES — A new law that could let homeowners do more repairs or renovations to their homes over a shorter period of time without having to meet expensive new home construction requirements was passed by the town commission on first reading at its Feb. 10 meeting.

The ordinance changes the town’s “five-year cumulative substantial improvement rule,” which says repairs and remodeling expenses done over five years cannot exceed 49% of a home’s total value prior to the first improvement. If so, Federal Emergency Management Agency rules relating to new home construction, such as elevating a house to protect against flooding, apply — and those can be expensive.

The five-year cumulative is being reduced to one year, so that only repairs and renovations done over one year count towards the 49% maximum. Homeowners can do more renovations or repairs over a shorter period of time, without having to make the costly changes required of building a new home.

FEMA does not allow what it considers “phased” renovations, or far-reaching home improvements spread out over time to avoid the 50% rule. The town’s building department will need to be diligent to ensure that phased projects are not permitted.

The town’s Planning and Zoning Board met on February 3 and voted 3-2 against approval of the ordinance changing the cumulative period from five years to one year. At that meeting, board chair Lisa Foster said she believed the change was not a step in the right direction toward improving resiliency against flooding. However, the P&Z board decision simply serves as a recommendation to the town commission.

Mayor MaryBeth Henderson said she had been working with FEMA and other state and county agencies to come up with changes that were FEMA-compliant and also resident-friendly, and some of those have already been implemented.

She said when Tropical Storm Eta hit in late 2020, she realized something more needed to be done and recommended reducing the cumulative term to one year.

“It became abundantly clear that our residents needed some relief from this restrictive ordinance,” Henderson said. “Let’s give the residents what they are asking for and put their wants and needs first.”

Henderson acknowledged that “this solution is not the most resilient for the town,” but she said it is FEMA-compliant and does not jeopardize the town’s participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Commissioner Michael Robinson said he understood the Planning and Zoning Board wanting homes to be more resilient with the renovations required for new construction. But Robinson also said many homes in the town are small and the 50 percent rule limits what a homeowner can do, as reaching the 50 percent limit “can come very quickly” in a small, low-priced home.

“I want to help the residents. They desperately need some relief,” Robinson said. “I support moving us to one year,” adding that the town worked with a consultant who is very familiar with FEMA regulations.

Commissioner Jennie Blackburn said a “middle of the road” three-year cumulative would help homeowners with remodeling costs while encouraging renovations that would protect a home against flooding damages. But she agreed to vote for the one-year cumulative after getting no support for the three-year alternative.

The vote was unanimous among the four board members present — Henderson and Commissioners Blackburn, Robinson and Bill Krajewski. Commissioner Jeff Neal has been suspended by the commission and was not present. The ordinance will come before the commission for a final reading in March.

Ethics complaint against Neal dismissed

An ethics complaint against Neal has been dismissed.

Resident Jerry Muszik, speaking during public comments, read from a report from the State of Florida Commission on Ethics. It said the complaint against Neal for “using or attempting to use his official position in interactions with the Deputy Town Clerk to coerce her into issuing incomplete permits in the permit application process … is dismissed.”

The Beacon obtained a copy of the report, signed by JoAnne Leznoff, chair of the ethics commission, dated Feb. 10. Neal has said on several occasions that the ethics complaint had been dismissed, but this is the first official confirmation of that.

Robinson said he had not seen the result of the ethics complaint, but said, “I believed, and I still believe, that we as the commission had an obligation both to the resident who made the complaint to us, and to Commissioner Neal, to resolve it,” he said. “So this has been resolved. That’s terrific.”