Changes proposed for flood prevention policy

Holmes Beach planning policy change
Holmes Beach planning commissioners discuss the merits of altering the city’s requirements for flood prevention versus the potential rise in cost of home ownership. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Planning commissioners are hoping members of the public will step up to voice their opinions before a vote is taken to move policy changes forward that would help protect the city from rising water but also may increase the cost of homeownership.

City Planner Bill Brisson brought five recommended policy changes to planning commissioners for consideration. The move is in reaction to new requirements from the state to address sea level rise. City Engineer Lynn Burnett gave planning commissioners a presentation on sea level rise and the potential ramifications to Anna Maria Island, specifically Holmes Beach where large amounts of currently buildable land on the bay side of the city could be underwater by 2060 if no action is taken over the next several years.

If approved first by planning and city commissioners, the five policies will alter the intergovernmental coordination section of the comprehensive plan. The policies cover requiring the city to pursue funding sources for required work, develop city-wide processes and plans to implement, incorporate regional, state and national sea level rise adaptation recommendations into local plans, coordinate efforts with other governmental agencies and require the city to submit applications for any relevant funding sources.

During Burnett’s presentation, she recommended several strategies, including requiring homes to be raised, adding at least one-foot caps on sea walls, raising streets several inches over the course of the next two decades or more and installing stormwater mitigation systems on residential lots. She said the best Island residents in the future can hope for is to keep stormwater and tidal flooding at current levels with all currently buildable lots still above water in 2060. Though the five recommended policies don’t outline exactly what strategies will be implemented, planning commissioners worried that adopting the policy changes might open the door to city leaders now and in the future putting redevelopment requirements on residents that make homeownership cost prohibitive.

Brisson said the matter is being brought up now because Burnett has received a grant to do some of the preliminary work on the project which requires work to be done by October.

“It’s strictly a matter of funding,” Brisson said. While the state does require it, Brisson said punishment from the state wouldn’t be likely if the policies aren’t found consistent and adopted into the comprehensive plan.

Planning Commissioner Charles Stealey said he has reservations about agreeing with the policies because he feels that parts of Burnett’s plan are too ambitious and cost prohibitive for homeowners.

“I find half of this to be just fine. It protects us. I find half of it to be ridiculous,” he said. Stealey added that he finds some aspects of the plan to keep stormwater and seawater off the Island to be “costly and impractical.” He said he’d like to get a second set of scientific data to look at other than what was provided by Burnett before making a decision.

“I’ve only been given one choice and I don’t like it,” he said, adding that he views the potential consequences of adopting the policies and plans that may come along with them as “worse than water in the streets.”

Planning Commissioner Barbara Hines agreed with Burnett’s assessment of the threat rising tides and stormwater pose to the Island in the future, noting that when developing her recommendation for a mitigation plan, Burnett chose a “middle of the road” approach to lessen the impact to property owners.

“What she did was sound,” Hines said. “I’m happy to have someone qualified who’s on top of things.”

Alternate Planning Commissioner Tom Carlson said if the policies don’t get approved now, he worries the city will miss out on much-need funding opportunities.

Planning Commissioner Scott Boyd said sea level rising is just one of the many benefits versus risk elements property owners consider when moving to a barrier island.

“If your street is 6 feet above sea level and if you know the sea level is going to rise 15 feet in 120 years you’re going to be underwater,” he said.

“We are nothing but a sandbar,” Hines said. “It’s not going to take much for us to just disappear.”

Boyd said before planning commissioners make a recommendation to city leaders, he hopes community members will come to the group’s next meeting to provide input and guidance.

Planning commissioners next meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 11 at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

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