|Date:||April 25, 2017|
|Source:||The St. Augustine Record|
More than six months after Hurricane Matthew swept through the area, the City of St. Augustine is still addressing its effects and planning for the next storm.
The St. Augustine City Commission spent the bulk of Monday’s regular meeting looking at policies and infrastructure replacements that need to take place soon.
The Commission did not make any firm decisions Monday because the ordinances related to the rebuilding from the hurricane and the mitigation for future storm trouble were all on first reading. The Commission doesn’t listen to public comment or vote until the second reading.
However, the commissioners did urge city staff to prioritize the planned replacement of backwater valves, especially in the Davis Shores area, to prevent future flooding.
Among the items that appear likely to pass upon second reading is the ordinance extending the time people can remain living in campers or RVs on their property while their homes are being rebuilt. It passed first reading unanimously.
Planning and building director David Birchim said there are 12 people in Davis Shores living in RVs or travel trailers right now.
“We’re going to make sure they are properly permitted, and we’re not going to run them out,” Birchim said.
Mayor Nancy Shaver said she was also concerned with residents who might have walked away from severely damaged homes for a variety of reasons. She said she wants to make sure options are communicated to all homeowners.
It might not be very easy.
“There was no registration process locally for folks that had hurricane damage,” Birchim said. “So we don’t know specifically which properties have been fixed, mitigated, dried out and just remain vacant and which have not been repaired. In time we will know that.”
Birchim said the city staff might be able to check utility and permitting records to see which houses are vacant but being worked on and which are sitting idle.
He added that anyone who needs advice on how to deal with the rebuilding process should come to his department at City Hall.
“We remain committed to giving any guidance or help that we can to all property owners, whether they are hurricane-damaged or not,” he said. “We’ll be happy to answer all questions.”
The commissioners also discussed the “five-year cumulative substantial improvement” requirement to the Florida Building Commission.
The requirement allows the city to tally all improvements or repairs made to a building in a flood hazard area over a five-year period based on building permits. Once those improvements reach 50 percent or more of the market value, the building has to be brought up to base flood elevation.
The issue is very complicated and can affect the rating city residents receive for flood insurance. Commissioners decided they wanted more time to talk about the issue and continued the first reading.
City Manager John Regan said the city is in the process of reshaping many of its agreements with the Lightner Museum, which is part of the same building complex as City Hall.
He added that there is also an agreement about hosting weddings in the courtyard of the property. The area is very popular, but there has been some conflict between those using the public space and the Lightner, which also hosts weddings.
Bookings can be made through the city for the courtyard from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m. The Lightner will then offer the area to wedding parties after 6 p.m.
Commissioner Leanna Freeman nominated fellow Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline for the Adelaide Sanchez Award for Historic Preservation, Restoration, Education and Interpretation.
Last year’s winner was the Woman’s Exchange of St. Augustine for its work in preserving the Peña-Peck House.
“I came onto the Commission as an attorney … and I knew that I loved our city’s history, but I really didn’t have the type of appreciation that I have for it now,” Freeman said. “And I give that (credit) to the person who has influenced me the most. That would be Commissioner Sikes-Kline.”
The award’s namesake was a native of St. Augustine who worked at The Record from 1930 to 1943 as a writer. She was also part of the staff of The Miami Herald for 30 years. After her retirement in 1973, she returned to St. Augustine.
The city website says the award bears her name due to Sanchez’s “appreciation and love of the city’s historic properties, and her active promotion to ensure the preservation of those resources.”