Balcony collapses in Holmes Beach

A photo taken by code compliance officers shows where a balcony broke off of a second story, damaging the home and the pool area. - Submitted | Holmes Beach Code Compliance

UPDATED JULY 4, 2021 AT 12:24 p.m. – HOLMES BEACH – A balcony fell off a resident’s home last week, causing no injuries but plenty of concern among city leaders about the quality of construction of similar buildings.

While completing a vacation rental inspection at a property on June 28, Code Compliance Officer James Thomas said he stepped out of the back of the house and noticed something strange – the second-floor balcony of a neighboring home had collapsed.

Thomas said he went to the home at 4106 Sixth Ave. to investigate but was denied admittance by the homeowner, Virginia Stewart. Fearing for the safety of the structure’s occupants, Thomas called the Holmes Beach Police Department and West Manatee Fire Rescue for reinforcements.

Balcony collapses in Holmes Beach
Holmes Beach Code Compliance Officer James Thomas posts a notice in front of a home with structural issues on Sixth Avenue. – Kristin Swain | Sun

Police officers and Fire Marshal Rodney Kwiatkowski gained him entrance to the home where they were joined by Building Official Neal Schwartz to inspect the damage to the home.

A section of a second-floor balcony overlooking the backyard pool area had collapsed, raining debris down on the pool area including large sections of a concrete railing, which damaged the pool pavers below, along with wood and stucco pieces. Thomas said the balcony itself seemed to be a wooden structure on the back of the house that had been coated in stucco, collapsing due to structural issues.

The property owner was advised of the international property maintenance code violations at the home and that the structure was deemed unsafe for human occupancy, meaning that anyone staying at the property is doing so at their own peril. Stewart was given a copy of the notice of violation on July 1 by Thomas. He said she’s willing to work with the city’s building department to correct the issues on the property. However, if Stewart doesn’t have the structural issues addressed promptly, Thomas said she could face a hearing with the city’s special magistrate to force the issue. Thomas said his goal is compliance and to help make the property safe for the owner to live there, not to take her to a hearing.

The owner of this home in Holmes Beach will have to get the structural issues at the property fixed or face a special magistrate hearing. – Kristin Swain | Sun

Of continuing concern to the city is not only the property at 4106 Sixth Ave., but also the ones surrounding it.

Stewart’s home was built in 2002 and is now known to have structural issues. Thomas said there are several more matching homes in the same area, all built by the same builder around the same time as Stewart’s, which could all have the same problems and pose a potential safety hazard to the public. Many of those homes, he added, are currently used as vacation rental properties, making the potential for an accident worse.

The name of the builder was not confirmed by city staff, and Manatee County Property Appraiser records for the property did not state the identity of the builder or their company. The Sun has made a public records request for the property records from the city of Holmes Beach and will update this story as more information becomes available.

After the June 24 partial collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, leaving a known 22 people dead and 128 unaccounted for as of July 3, Holmes Beach city leaders are looking into ways to inspect aging buildings in the Island city to prevent the same kind of tragedy from happening in their neighborhoods. Though Holmes Beach doesn’t have any buildings as large as the 12-story structure in Surfside, there are several aging multi-story buildings in the city, including two seven-story condominiums at Martinique (see related story).

With the partial collapse of a balcony at a home built less than 20 years ago, Thomas said city leaders aren’t taking chances with the safety of residents and visitors.

Working with the city’s building department, he said all of the homes built in the same manner as Stewart’s house will be at least visually inspected by city staff if staff members are not allowed on the property by the homeowners. If allowed on the property, a more thorough safety inspection can be conducted.

During a July 1 special meeting, Commissioner Terry Schaefer said that following the building collapse in Surfside, he had spoken with Schwartz about the structural status of buildings and homes in Holmes Beach. Schaefer said Schwartz is looking into what can be done to inspect and evaluate buildings in the city to address any potential structural issues before they endanger the public.

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