County staff gets go-ahead to process proposed new policy that would allow voluntary demolition and reconstruction of aging condominium complexes found to have structural problems

Siesta Key Condominium Council offers detailed report to its members about new state law requiring condominium inspections

With more public outreach having taken place since the last time the item was on the agenda, the Sarasota County Commission voted unanimously on Aug. 30 to direct county staff to process an amendment to the county’s Comprehensive Plan involving decades-old condominium complexes.

That amendment would allow the voluntary demolition and reconstruction of buildings located in Residential Multi-Family zoning districts to make them “more resilient to storm impacts in the future,” as a county staff memo put it.

However, the amendment would apply just to the barrier islands. The goal, the agenda item said, would be “to enhance public safety.”

In January, Siesta Key architect Mark Smith proposed a modification to county regulations to allow for such demolition and reconstruction, in light of the collapse in June 2021 of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside. Structural damage over the 39 years following construction of that complex was blamed for that incident, though a final report has yet to be released. It is expected in 2024, WSVN in Miami reported on June 23.

When Smith addressed the commissioners early this year, he pointed out that an engineering inspection of the Sea Club V condominium complex on south Siesta Key had found significant deterioration. Standing at 6744 Sarasea Circle, Sea Club V dates to the 1950s and 1970s, Smith noted. The complex’s website says it is a 41-unit time-share property “situated directly on the Gulf of Mexico.

Yet, county regulations provided no opportunity for the owners to proceed with voluntary demolition and rebuilding with the same number of units. Smith stressed. The current zoning — Residential Multi-Family 3 — would allow only 18 units.

Because the owners want to prevent a potential tragedy similar to the one in Surfside, Smith proposed that the County Commission consider amending the zoning regulations. He requested that such action allow the owners of the structures to maintain their complexes’ residential density, but he pointed out that, because of federal regulations regarding construction in flood zones, the newer buildings necessarily would have to be taller.

At the commission’s direction, staff of the Planning and Development Services Department produced a report on its findings and recommendations. That prompted the commissioners’ call for yet further staff research.

Finally, on July 12, an item on the board’s Consent Agenda of routine business matters called for the processing of a proposed Comprehensive Amendment to address the type of situation in which Sea Club V had found itself.

However, representatives of three Siesta Key organizations — the Siesta Key Condominium Council, the Siesta Key Association and the Siesta Key Coalition — urged the commissioners that day not to proceed until more discussion of the proposal could be undertaken.

Mark Spiegel, president of the Coalition, said those talks needed to take place before the commissioners could “run off down the road and start a process that we all have to react to.”

Given proposals for the construction of three 100-plus-room hotels on the barrier island — including two that the majority of the commissioners approved in 2021 — along with the submission to county staff of an application for the reconstruction of the Siesta Key Beach Resort and Suites to a 170-room hotel — Siesta residents have been voicing more worries in recent years about increasing residential density and intensity on the Key.

While expressing support for architect Smith’s request, the commissioners agreed on July 12 that more discussion of the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment should take place before staff began work on it.

An Aug. 30 staff memo regarding the amendment explained that staff initially researched the option of amending the Unified Development Code (UDC), which contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations. However, the memo continued, following discussions between Planning and Development Services staff and staff of the Office of the County Attorney, the conclusion was “that new or amended policy language in the Future Land Use Chapter [of the Comprehensive Plan] would be necessary to ensure overall consistency between the [Plan] and the Unified Development Code.”

On July 20, the county staff memo pointed out, county staff met with representatives of the Condominium Council, the Siesta Key Association and the Siesta Key Coalition. During that discussion, the memo added, “staff clarified the intent and scope of the proposal, the process for Comprehensive Plan Amendments … and several issues and criteria that would be considered during the development of the Comprehensive Plan Amendment language.”

The representatives of the organizations asked for a second meeting, the memo continued, which was held on Aug. 1, with a third one planned prior to the Aug. 30 commission session.

The memo further noted that, “[g]iven the expressed interest in this … Amendment, additional discussions would also be conducted with the key stakeholders during the process.”

Additionally, a public workshop “will be advertised and held in accordance with the required [county] procedures,” the memo said.

That workshop would be the next step in the process of crafting the amendment, the memo noted. Then staff would review all of the pertinent information and develop a report, the memo added. The Planning Commission would hold a hearing on the proposed amendment, and then the County Commission would conduct its “transmittal” hearing, before the amendment was sent to staff of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity for the state-mandated review of such amendments.

Finally, the County Commission would conduct a public hearing on the amendment before adopting it or rejecting it.

Four commission votes — a supermajority — are needed to approve a modification of the Comprehensive Plan.

Siesta Key Condominium Council offers new information to members

As county staff works on the Comprehensive Plan amendment, the Siesta Key Condominium Council has offered its members a summary of the new state law approved as a response to the Surfside tragedy, which resulted in 98 deaths.

“The current legislation has some far-reaching implications for the Condo Community as written,” leaders of the Council wrote in a Sept. 6 email blast. (The organization has 90 member associations, representing about 7,000 condominium owners on the Key, as its representative, Hilla Blatt, told the county commissioners on July 12.)

The email also noted talk that the Legislature might revise the new law during its 2023 session, which will begin on March 7, 2023.

Noting that Sarasota attorney Dan Lobeck, of the firm Lobeck and Hanson, has provided Council members updates on condominium law for years, the email provided a link to the law firm’s report on the new state law.

First, the report pointed out that the requirement for inspections and reserves does not apply to a building that is shorter than three stories. “The Florida Building Code defines ‘story’ as the space between a floor and the floor or roof above, so garages and other unoccupied levels count as stories,” the report noted.

Further, the law requires inspections and repairs to structures that are at least 30 years old, or 25 years old if they are within 3 miles of a “coastline,” which is defined in Section 376.031 of the Florida Statutes. That definition follows: “ ‘Coastline’ means the line of mean low water along the portion of the coast that is in direct contact with the open sea and the line marking the seaward limit of inland waters, as determined under the Convention on Territorial Seas and the Contiguous Zone.”

“The new law requires ‘a structural inspection’ of the building, including ‘load-bearing walls and the primary structural members and primary structural systems’ as defined by [Section 627.706 of the Florida Statues],” the report added.

Further, the law says that, “[t]o the extent ‘reasonably possible,’ the inspection must determine ‘the general structural condition of the building’ as it affects [the building’s] safety. It must also determine ‘any necessary maintenance, repair or replacement of any structural component of the building,’” the report continued. “ ‘Surface imperfections’ including cracks and signs of leakage need not be called out unless they indicate ‘substantial structural deterioration.’ ”

A licensed engineer or architect authorized to practice in Florida must undertake the inspection, “for the purposes of attesting to the life safety and adequacy of the structural components of the building,” the law says. Yet, as the Lobeck and Hanson report noted, “Only structural engineers clearly qualify for that purpose.”

The deadline for the “milestone inspection” is Dec. 31, 2024, the report pointed out. However, the report emphasized, “There are simply not enough structural engineers in the state to do [the inspections] in time.”

The report added, “It is very likely that the 2023 or 2024 Florida Legislature will extend the deadline …”

Then the report provided details about the mandatory inspection process. Further, it noted, “A milestone inspection of each building for which one is required must also be done again every ten years.”

Moreover, the report emphasized, “To help promote compliance, the new law requires all Associations which exist on July 1, 2022 — not just those which require milestone inspections — to provide certain information to the Florida Department of Business Regulation” by Jan. 1, 2023. “The agency is preparing a website portal for … those reports.”

Additionally, the Lobeck and Hanson report pointed out, the state law requires certain financial reserves for condominium buildings that are three stories in height or taller, after Dec. 31, 2024, “for every building at least ten years old.”

“The new law requires a ‘Structural Integrity Reserve Study’ for those buildings, by the end of 2024 and every ten years,” the report continues, noting that apparently the word “thereafter” was not used; instead, the law references “ten years after the building’s ‘creation.’ ”

For every condominium association budget adopted as of Jan. 1, 2025, the report continued, the reserves must be fully funded. The law includes a formula, the report explained, to determine the amount.

The reserves are to be used for the replacement of only certain parts of a building, the report said. Among them are the roof, load-bearing walls, floors, the foundation, the plumbing, electrical systems and windows.

The Lobeck and Hanson report concluded by noting again the expectation that “renewed legislative scrutiny” will take place beginning in 2023.

1 thought on “County staff gets go-ahead to process proposed new policy that would allow voluntary demolition and reconstruction of aging condominium complexes found to have structural problems”

  1. The proposed changes are in direct conflict with our state’s duty to protect taxpayers from another insurance crisis.

    At a time when we should be reducing and restricting building in harm’s way, as our current laws demand, this proposal opens the door to future liabilities.

    This has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with the ongoing evisceration of the protections put in place by prior, more responsible elected officials.

    ALL OF US will bear the financial burden of this irresponsible endeavor in the form of higher insurance costs. It’s just another link in the ever growing chain of the middle class subsidizing vacation homes for the wealthy.

    Unbelievable. Except in Sarasota, where it’s business as usual.

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