Owners of mobile homes worry that potential new rules on flood-elevation could make fixing up or replacing their residences difficult to live with.
Norma and Tom McCarthy have lived in the Gulfshore community of Longboat Key since 2001, years before they decided to make their Florida home permanent in 2009.
Now they fear new requirements on the height for new or renovated mobile homes could force them to find a new slice of retirement paradise.
“We’d no longer be able to live here,” Norma McCarthy said. “If every house has to be that height, look at us. There’s no way we can do 16-17 steps.''
On Nov. 1, the Longboat Key Town Commission is set to hold a second reading to consider whether to change the town’s code to eliminate a height exemption for mobile homes and make them follow similar elevation rules as site-built homes. At issue is whether the town is willing to reduce its federal discount on flood insurance to help Longboat Key’s two mobile home parks, Gulfshore and Twin Shores.
The proposed changes would not affect existing units. They would only affect new units and those renovated beyond 50% of their value.
The town participates in the National Flood Insurance Program and the supporting Community Rating System. Longboat Key is rated a Class 6 community, providing 20% discounts on about 9,700 applicable flood insurance policies townwide.
Based on changes in the NFIP CRS on Jan. 12, 2021, the town is required to amend its code to eliminate height exceptions for manufactured homes, or the town would be downgraded to a Class 9 community with a 5% discount.
The latest NFIP policy report indicates the Town’s CRS status as a Class 6 Community has resulted in an average discount per flood-insurance policy of $188, and total cumulative community savings for all NFIP policies of about $1.8 million. If Longboat Key sticks with the status quo and falls to Class 9, average policy savings would be approximately $47 per policy and the aggregate savings total would be $456,877.
“(It’s) a fairly significant penalty,” Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons told the Town Commission on Oct. 4.
The exemption on the books for FEMA flood zone requires 3 feet above grade if replaced. Longboat Key last updated its flood control ordinance in 2014. The new rules wouldn't require owners to elevate existing homes and actual heights vary, depending on location. Closer to Sarasota Bay, where land is lower, there is the potential for new heights in the eight- or nine-foot range above the existing heights, which are mostly in the 1-3 foot range. Elsewhere, on land higher, the requirements would be less.
The town is required to have the new policy in place before the next CRS audit, which can happen any time after Jan. 1, 2022. Parsons said Longboat Key is audited every year, and a deeper audit is conducted every three to five years.
Gulfshore community association manager Fred Bez said conversations began with the town last fall. Bez and Gulfshore of Longboat Key President Iris White said the proposed changes would be difficult to complete.
“I think it’s putting such a hardship on a community that is confined in the space we have,” White said.
Bez said none of Gulfshore’s 178 homes fit the new height criteria the town is considering. In addition to raising the homes, residents could be required to increase the height of both stairwells to their homes, relocate air conditioning units and manage to keep space for parking.
“It’s the cost,” White said. “There’s multiple hardships here for a community that’s been here since…(it’s been) incorporated since 1996. It’s been here since 1948.”
White has lived in Gulfshore since 1992, served as the president for 14 years and been on the board for 16 years. She said she hasn’t had problems with flooding from a heavy rain, tropical storm or a hurricane.
“I live out on the end, and only once have we had water that’s came into the grassy area,” White said. “I feel safe, but it can happen anywhere as far as that goes.”
Bez believes if the Town Commission approves the changes, it will result in the depreciation of property values in the Gulfshore community. He said some people will not put in a new unit because of physical and financial restrictions.
Donita Anderson, 68, said her family has called Gulfshore home for nearly 40 years. Anderson’s family lives right across from the McCarthys.
“The proposed changes are pushing the envelope and that’s being kind,” Anderson said. “Right now, all the growth on this island is very obvious, and it’s a push I feel to get rid of this site and build up something.”
Anderson’s fiancé, Alan Ross, agreed on the hardships the proposed changes would have.
“They’re basically saying that we have to raise these 11 feet,” Ross said. “I think what they’ll find is a lot of these old people cannot climb those stairs.”
Bez and White pointed out how many people in the Gulfshore community voted to incorporate Longboat Key in 1955. Bez said he found it ironic given the current situation.
“We supported this community,” Norma McCarthy said. “We continue to support it, and hope our children will be able to continue to support our way of living.
“It’s not just a trailer park. It’s a community.”
Norma McCarthy’s husband had another way of putting it.
“It’s close to heaven,” Tom McCarthy said of the Gulfshore community. “If heaven is this nice, I’d like to go there one day.”
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