Fenwick to consider mandatory freeboard for discount

Fenwick Island homes are required to have flood insurance, but people can save money when the town government takes extra precautions.

To keep a full 10 percent discount in the National Flood Insurance Program (NIFP), though, Fenwick has to respond to changes in the Community Safety Rating system.

All of Fenwick is located in the floodplain, so new houses must be constructed with the bottoms starting above a certain height (generally, where floodwaters could reach). “Freeboard” is any additional height above that mandatory requirement — the more freeboard, the smaller the building envelope (as building is restricted with height limits), but the safer the house is from rising floods.

“In 2020, the new manual will require a 1-foot freeboard, or you will lose 5 percent of your discount,” said Building Official Pat Schuchman. “We do not have mandatory freeboard. We have voluntary freeboard. What I am suggesting is we amend the ordinance to require a 1-foot freeboard for any new construction or substantial improvements.”

Currently, homes with 18 to 24 inches of voluntary freeboard are rewarded with the option of 18 to 24 inches of additional roof elevation. Since that was instituted a few years ago, new houses have taken advantage of the option, although some renovations did not.

But, as now proposed, property owners building to meet the requirement for 1 foot of freeboard would automatically get a bonus of 1 foot in additional roof height allowance, so they wouldn’t actually lose space in their overall building envelope, said Town Manager Terry Tieman.

The town’s height limit is 30 feet, but under the proposal, people using 1 foot of freeboard could automatically go a foot higher, to 31 feet maximum. They could also add a second foot of voluntary freeboard and build to 32 feet.

The changes would likely be referenced throughout the town code, in sections about zoning and floodplain buildings.

The change is not mandatory. But if Fenwick wants to keep the full town-wide flood insurance discount, they need to require freeboard for new construction and substantial remodels.

“The intent of this is to keep the 10 percent of discount on your flood insurance,” emphasized Schuchman.

The Charter & Ordinance Committee unanimously agreed. The town council will consider the matter at a future meeting.

Elevator shafts and other mechanicals

Discussion began this week, and will continue Oct. 5, about mechanical equipment and elevator shafts in town.

When managing buildings, the committee needs to consider all four sides, plus the roof, and potentially rewrite some definitions.

“We need to decide: if mechanical equipment is a fixed item, does it get added to the height of the building?” asked Councilwoman Vicki Carmean. “That was the big gray area there. … We never looked at the top part, and that’s part of it. You have to look at the setbacks of any building as having five sides. … I’m not saying anybody did that deliberately, but a good lawyer can pick that out.”

The committee members said they wanted to nail down a workable plan because any holes in the town code will be decided case-by-case by the Board of Adjustment, and anything could happen there.

Discussion touched on elevator styles, state laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Finally, the initial proposal was to keep the Town’s 32-foot height limit, but allow up to 4.5 feet additional height to accommodate elevator mechanicals. They will also draft language about “nice design elements” for elevators, so the equipment would be permitted, but must be disguised or attractively designed.

For instance, the replacement for the Sands Motel will have some fencing to block rooftop equipment. When asked where, in writing, that fencing was required, Schuchman cited attorney-client privilege, saying it was emailed between her and the architect, with the town attorney sent a copy of that email.

Again, residents requested a more public process — like a Planning & Zoning Committee — so that they could comment on big projects that might impact them as neighbors.

The Town also needs to consider if they want to allow extra room for other mechanicals (such as exhaust fans) on rooftops. For instance, a strip mall’s worth of kitchen vents and heating ducts could blow into parking lots or above the roofs, depending on where the business has room for installation. Residents shared their experiences living adjacent to buildings designed with either option.

Business owner Tim Collins warned the group to “consider where Fenwick’s going” and make room for businesses to be viable and make improvements, especially, he said, as he sees retail businesses being replaced by services and professional offices.

In the residential zones, the committee proposed several exceptions (such as personal weather stations and flagpoles no higher than 32 feet) be added to the existing allowances for solar panels, chimneys and wind turbines. People can visit the Board of Adjustment to request anything that’s still outside of the code.

The Charter & Ordinance Committee will continue the debate at their Oct. 5 meeting, at 1 p.m.

The committee also recommended that town council disband the three-person Building Committee in favor of allowing the town manager (or designee) to review and issue all building permits.

By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter