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  • Writer's pictureFlorida Trust

Florida Legislation To Watch

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

The state of Florida is often recognized as ground zero for hurricanes and tropical storms. In 2022 Florida suffered through a particularly extensive and damaging hurricane season. Specifically, Hurricane Ian hit Florida's southwest coast at a devastating Category 4 intensity in September. The damage to human life, communities and properties were immense. Today, the areas most affected by Hurricane Ian are still under repair and will never quite be the same. In the wake of this tragedy, several pieces of legislation have been filed to address flood damage prevention.

The House of Refuge at Gilberts Bar

The proposed legislation can radically impact historic structures and places. While there is a need to make our coastal communities resilient to flood waters, we are working so that our historic places can be part of the mitigation strategies, rather than left to demolition.

Here are a few examples of that legislation and what it could mean for Florida's historic heritage...

Resiliency and Safe Structures Act, House Bill 1317, introduced by Representative Spencer Roach, and Senate Bill 1346, introduced by Senator Bryan Avila, would, in Representative Roach's words, "curb arbitrary action that may force property owners and developers to maintain non-conforming or unsafe structures." The legislation would allow, with no required preservation board review, demolition or replacement construction of existing structures. Further, it will prohibit local governments from prohibiting, restricting, or preventing the demolition of certain structures unless necessary for public safety. This could be applied statewide – including in historic neighborhoods like St. Augustine and Miami Beach, places that help define Florida’s unique history and heritage, where historic places undergird local economies and drive heritage tourism.

The impact on historic resources in Florida could be staggering. A significant number of nationally registered historic properties in Florida are in flood districts that will be impacted by this legislation. The Florida Trust believes that if the legislation were to pass, mitigation opportunities would be lost if demolition is incentivized. There are ways to make historic resources safe and resilient without demolition. Demolition will reduce the tangible value of historic preservation through negative effects on tourism, Main Street vitality, and business development and remove local decision that impacts their own communities.

While this is concerning, there were some positive steps made during the Regulatory Reform Subcommittee, which included an amendment that would exempt structures individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We are asking lawmakers to extend that exemption to also include National Register Districts, locally designated resources and those included in Florida Main Street Communities.

Flood Damage Prevention or, Senate Bill 1018, introduced by Senator Jay Trumbull, and House Bill 859, introduced by Representative Fabian Basabe and co-sponsored by Representative Alina Garcia and Representative Vicki Lopez, will develop a statewide approach to minimizing flooding. Flood Damage Prevention creates minimum freeboard requirements for Florida homes. A freeboard is the elevation of a building's lowest floor to a height above the minimum base flood elevation. Freeboards provide protection against flood damage.

Specifically, the legislation will permit local governments to adopt a minimum freeboard requirement or a maximum voluntary freeboard requirement that exceeds the requirements of the Florida Building Code. It will provide specified maximum voluntary freeboard requirements for new construction or substantial improvements to existing construction. It allows the Florida Building Commission to adopt, by rule, minimum freeboard requirements for the state.

We are concerned with this bill's potential impact on Florida's history and heritage. This legislation permits state-determined freeboard requirements which will undermine the historic significance of communities, structures and buildings. Most of Florida's historic buildings were built before building and flood codes and could be subject to incentivized demolition. Our historic districts can lose their identity with new construction that is built without regard to its historic context. Local communities value their historic buildings and districts and often rely on them for business development, tourism and attracting residences. If demolitions and design reviews are not a local choice, our older and historic communities stand to lose more than just their heritage. Let's recognize that demolition is not the only form of mitigation and help our communities and property owners with ample guidance and best practice to make their own decisions.

How Can You Help?

First, Reach out to Senate Sponsor Avila and members of the Community Affairs Committee to share opposition for the bill as written, and suggest extending exemptions to also include National Register Districts, locally designated resources and those included in Florida Main Street communities.

Next, Reach out to House Sponsor Representative Roach and share opposition for the bill as written, and suggest extending exemptions to also include National Register Districts, locally designated resources and those included in Florida Main Street communities.

Last, Reach out to your own lawmakers and share your concern about the impact of the legislation.

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