Miami Beach to Consider Code and Policy Changes After Surfside Tragedy

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach to Consider Code and Policy Changes After Surfside Tragedy:

Incentives for building improvements and reporting requirements among items on commission agenda

Almost immediately after the Champlain Towers South collapsed in Surfside, questions were raised, not only about what caused the tragedy, but what could be done differently to prevent another occurrence. Among the first ideas, moving up the required inspection date for condo buildings that are now required at 40 years and then every ten years after.

This week, in addition to getting an update on the City’s evaluation of buildings in their 40/50-year recertification processes, Miami Beach Commissioners will discuss several ideas including a more frequent inspection process, a requirement for engineers and architects to report any structural deficiencies that constitute a public safety threat, and incentives for structural and electrical repairs  in existing, nonconforming residential buildings.

All of the items are discussion only but they are an indication of how important the issue is and how quickly Commissioners want to act.

Less than a week after the Champlain Towers collapse, Miami Beach City Manager Alina Hudak ordered inspections of 507 buildings going through the 40/50-year process.  Champlain Towers was getting ready to go through its 40 year certification as required but the deterioration of the stucco and rebar from the impact of more extreme conditions due to climate change and sea level rise raised concerns about buildings that had yet to go through the process and led to calls for earlier inspections. On June 29, Hudak notified each of the buildings of the inspections and gave them 21 days to provide documentation from a licensed professional that each is safe for occupancy. By July 9, the City listed nine buildings of concern and, shortly after, ordered one of them – the Devon Apartments at 6881 Indian Creek – evacuated. 

One that was pending documentation – Harding Hall at 8233 Harding Avenue – was the subject of our special report last week, Building in Turmoil: With Several Safety Violations and No Money to Fix Them, Tensions Rise Among Neighbors in Miami Beach Building.

Hudak will provide an update on the inspections and follow up documentation to Commissioners on Wednesday.

Commissioner Michael Góngora is sponsoring a broad discussion of the inspection process, including the potential for earlier inspections of beachfront buildings. In his memo to the Mayor and Commissioners on the item, he wrote, “Because of the unique conditions faced by Miami Beach high-rises – seawater intrusion, sea-level rise and hurricanes – existing beachfront condos may need to be inspected more frequently than every 40 years.”

Góngora wants the City Manager and Building Official Ana Salgueiro to make a formal recommendation on the timing and frequency of inspections as well as potentially expanding the scope of inspections and who may perform them.

The discussion item on creating a reporting requirement for engineers/architects who discover structural deficiencies that post a life safety issue is sponsored by Commissioner Micky Steinberg. Reporting would be either to the City or other appropriate governmental agency. On Thursday, the City of Aventura passed a measure on first reading that would require condo boards and association property managers to submit structural, electrical, and safety reports to the City within 24 hours of receiving them. Second reading is August 10.

Steinberg is also proposing an amendment to the City Code that Acting City Attorney Rafael Paz wrote would “incentivize the comprehensive repair and rehabilitation of existing, nonconforming residential buildings, as long as no new floor area is proposed.” 

In his memo describing the amendment to the Land Development Regulations, Paz said, “The amendment would be limited to work associated with structural, electrical, and related repairs intended to comply with the Florida Building Code, including as part of a 40-year recertification.”

Nonconforming buildings are those that met all Code requirements when built but as requirements changed, the buildings no longer met them, making then legal, nonconforming structures. Under current law, if the value of improvements exceeds 50% of the value of the building, the entire building must be brought up to current code including meeting current FAR (Floor Area Ratio), height, and setback limits in order to not lose its legal, nonconforming status. In other words, the building would have to be torn down. That provision has kept some owners from making improvements because it is difficult to not trip the 50% threshold given the cost.

An earlier story we did explaining the subject is here. FAR increases in Miami Beach require voter approval but, in this case, according to Paz' memo, because the policy change does not allow for an increase, it would not need to go to the voters. "As the amendment would only apply to repair/rehabilitation work where no new FAR is proposed, both the Planning Department and City Attorney's Office have determined that City Charter Section 1.03(c) is not implicated," he wrote.

According to Paz, “This proposed amendment would exclude structural, electrical, and related repairs from counting toward the 50% rule, so as to incentivize owners and associations to implement those repairs, without losing the building’s legal nonconforming status (including nonconforming FAR, height, setbacks, minimum and average unit size, and parking credits).”

Steinberg is suggesting the item be referred to the Planning Board, a requirement prior to it being acted on by the Commission.

Finally, Commissioner Steven Meiner wants to discuss prioritizing concerns about waterproofing issues in buildings. As part of the collaboration process with the State and local governments to strengthen the Florida Building Code, Meiner would like the City Administration to “address and prioritize waterproofing standards.”

Information on how to participate in the City Commission meeting is here.


Photo: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock.com





 

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