Some parts of the Florida Keys fall under town building code jurisdiction. But other parts are part of unincorporated Monroe County, a jurisdiction that spreads along the island chain and also extends into the western portion of the Everglades at Florida's southern tip.
The Florida Keys part of the county, of course, is developed — and it's also exposed to the risk of severe, major flooding in the event of a hurricane strike. Some of the houses in that situation are elevated above the likely flood height, but many are not. And for some of those that are not, elevating is not an option — at least, not if they want to keep all their floors. That's because Monroe County has zoning and code restrictions on total building height — and if the top of your building is as high as it's allowed to be, you're going to have trouble lifting the bottom of your building up five or more feet.
Monroe County officials are grappling with that issue, reports the Florida Keys Keynoter (see: Unincorporated Monroe seriously considers allowing taller buildings, by Kevin Wadlow). "A longstanding height limit of 35 feet for buildings in unincorporated Monroe County could be raised for flood protection and affordable housing under a draft rules being considered Wednesday," the paper reports. "The County Commission, meeting in regular session at 9 a.m. at the Marathon Government Center, will review staff proposals that could increase the height limit to 40 feet if the structure is raised to reduce the threat of flooding."
Another part of the proposal would "grandfather in" certain buildings that might be destroyed in a hurricane. Under current rules, a building that suffers more than 50% damage has to conform to current code when it rebuilds, not to the code in force when it was originally constructed. But the county's 35-foot height restriction, intended to keep new skylines from overpowering the visual effect of the area's natural tree-line, went into force after some structures were built higher than 35 feet. If those taller structures were destroyed in a storm, owners wouldn't be able to rebuild to the same height. "I don't think it's fair to not let somebody rebuild what they've got," said County Commissioner Heather Carruthers.
"In Key West last month, voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum allowing 5 extra feet of building height if needed for flood mitigation," reports the Keynoter.