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County building heights may rise over flood concern

An air-curtain barrier installed to prevent seaweed from enter a Big Pine Key canal as part of a pilot project. Maintenance assessments for canal-lot owners will be considered Wednesday.
An air-curtain barrier installed to prevent seaweed from enter a Big Pine Key canal as part of a pilot project. Maintenance assessments for canal-lot owners will be considered Wednesday. Monroe County

Unincorporated Monroe County’s longstanding building-height limit of 35 feet could increase by three to five feet for certain structures approved under a “flood protection height exception.”

Monroe County commissioners, meeting Wednesday at the Marathon Government Center, will decide whether to send the proposed change in the county’s land-use plan change to the state for review.

The height waiver would be granted only for buildings that are built or raised above federal base-flood elevations “to protect property from flooding and reduce flood-insurance costs,” says a summary from the county’s Planning and Environmental Resources Department.

“Flood insurance premiums may be going up; however, property owners may be able to reduce premiums if they build their home or business to be safer, higher, and stronger,” the report says.

As proposed, existing structures raised above base-flood level may be able to have a new height limit of 40 feet. New structures would be limited to 38 feet if designed for flood protection.

The change has been discussed at numerous open sessions since 2014 as county officials and staff consider the forecast effects of sea-level rise.

Groups including Last Stand have expressed concern about “a blanket exception” to the county’s 35-foot height rule.

In other issues Wednesday, commissioners:

▪ Hear a proposal to create a property tax assessment to fund maintenance and operations for properties that directly benefit from the county’s pilot program to improve water quality in degraded canals.

The assessments primarily would affect canals where the county installed air-curtain barriers to reduce the amount of floating seaweed that enters the canals. Air curtains require electricity and maintenance. Some potentially affected property owners have objected.

▪ Consider approval of a $355,000 escrow payment with the Florida Department of Transportation and Florida Turnpike Enterprise to prepare to process SunPass and toll-by-plate collections at Card Sound Road, which is being converted from a staff toll booth. Discount programs for regular users of Card Sound Road are being reviewed. No date for the closing of the toll booth has been announced.

▪ Review a draft resolution asking the Florida Legislature to include Monroe County as a “coastal community” that would be permitted to adopt regulations on disposable plastic bags, if bag bills pass this spring. Commissioners have sought the authority for several years without success. There is no guarantee the current bills, which reference only coastal cities, will pass. Under a state law adopted in 2008, counties and cities cannot write any regulations that limit the use of the disposable shopping bags.

▪ Hear a report from the Pigeon Key Foundation on “the status of current programs, plans for future programs, and its vision of Pigeon Key Foundation’s operations in the near and long term.” Monroe County owns the historic island under the old Seven Mile Bridge and leases it to the foundation.

The County Commission meets at 9 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center, mile marker 48.5 bayside.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206

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