Anna Maria enacts building moratorium

Anna Maria enacts building moratorium
Several construction vehicles lined North Shore Drive near this residential construction site last week. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

ANNA MARIA – A 60-day emergency building moratorium is in effect in Anna Maria.

The emergency moratorium was enacted by the city commission’s 4-1 adoption of Ordinance 20-863 during an emergency meeting on Wednesday, March 4. Commissioner Amy Tripp opposed the emergency moratorium.

The moratorium stops the processing of city-issued building permits for new single-family residences or renovations that increase square footage or lot coverage. Residential projects that received a letter of no objection, a permit number or building permits before the close of business on March 4 can continue.

After enacting the moratorium, the commission heard on first reading Ordinance 20-864. If adopted on second and final reading at a future commission meeting, after review by the Planning and Zoning board, Ordinance 20-864 will enact an additional six-month moratorium.

Mayor requests moratorium

Mayor Dan Murphy requested the moratorium less than a week after the commission authorized him to spend $5,000 to research imposing impact fees on new construction. On Feb. 27, the commission also supported Murphy’s suggestion to review and revise the city’s building codes.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me to keep adding more units when we know what we’re creating,” Murphy said at the March 4 meeting.

Murphy said existing city codes that address drainage and flooding are not working well. He mentioned a new home recently built according to code on the 400 block of Pine Avenue.

“Pine Avenue was fine until that house was built. Now, every time it rains, we get a lake in the middle of Pine Avenue. I’ve got Public Works out there pumping it,” Murphy said.

“It’s continually an issue and it takes 45 minutes to an hour to get the water off that one spot,” Public Works Manager Dean Jones added.

Murphy said that’s just one example of flooding caused by new homes built according to current codes.

He also mentioned the wear and tear that construction vehicles and other trucks cause on city streets.

He said city rights of way are being damaged by the construction vehicles parking on them. He said staging areas are not adequately addressed by code and there are sometimes a dozen vehicles parked near a job site.

“I’m not saying we can solve all these issues in a vacuum. These issues need to be solved jointly between the city, the contractors and somebody with engineering expertise,” Murphy said.

Commissioner Jon Crane said his main concern is sea level rise: “Without getting too political, I’d like this city to be one that doesn’t doubt climate science.”

Language regarding sea level rise was added to “whereas” clauses of both moratorium ordinances.

Building activity

Building Official Luke Curtis said his department is currently dealing with 46 new residential buildings, 49 pool permits and two commercial buildings.

From January 2016 to present, the city issued 237 pool permits, 110 permits for new residential buildings, 48 permits for major exterior renovations, 31 permits for sheds, pergolas and other small structures, 12 permits for garages and four permits for new commercial buildings. Curtis said of the 451 permits issued during that period, 99 currently require the building department’s attention.

Tripp asked how many code ordinances there are to review. Curtis said he didn’t know, but the moratorium would provide time to review the codes line by line. Tripp said she was concerned about shutting down construction for six months to do so.

Builders’ reaction

Frank Agnelli and Darrin Wash were among the few builders who knew about the emergency meeting publicly noticed the previous afternoon.

Agnelli asked that letters of no objection also be considered as the start of a permitting process that continues during the moratorium.

“I’m not saying we don’t have issues with the parking and some of the job sites, but some of these codes in place are causing a lot of the issues we’re having,” Agnelli said.

Agnelli cited the dewatering requirements that result in pumps running that create unwanted noise in residential areas.

Agnelli said the cost of construction has increased by approximately $150 per square foot on the Island because of issues created by city codes.

Agnelli said some property owners spent a lot of money developing plans that have not yet been permitted and those may require revisions to comply with revised codes.

Agnelli said he has several homes permitted that don’t have pool permits. Murphy suggested pool permits be removed from the emergency ordinance to allow additional time, but he and City Attorney Becky Vose want pool permits included if the six-month moratorium is enacted.

“Do you realize the backlog you’re going to have in six months. You’re going to have more construction going on at one time after the moratorium,” Wash said.

Resident Sam Pakbaz agreed that the current codes require revision, but he questioned the work stoppage.

“What are the contractors supposed to do with the guys getting paid 10-15 bucks an hour? Are they going to fire them all?” Pakbaz said.

“A stop will hurt us. I have 15 families working for me. I’m sure Frank has twice that,” Wash said.

Commissioner Carol Carter said she understands the unintended consequences, but the commissioners must also represent the concerns of the residents who elected them.

Commissioner Joe Muscatello said the code review process must not be adversarial with the contractors.

“You have our word that the city will include contractors in the review process,” Murphy said.