– Youtube video above by Marc Averette, actual footage during Hurricane Wilma, October 24, 2005

On November 4th we will be voting on a referendum to allow homeowners to voluntarily raise the elevation of their homes above flood level in order to protect themselves and their property. We saw thousands of our homes flooded during Hurricane Wilma. One way to protect them and to lower our flood insurance premiums is to raise them above flood level. Our current height restriction of 35 feet (25 feet in some neighborhoods) would prohibit many of those homes from being raised. One example would be a two-story home in New Town.

In June a diverse group of residents met with the City Planning Department to work on how the referendum would be worded. There were many viewpoints and a great deal of discussion went into the final wording of the referendum. All agreed that this is an important issue and that passing the referendum will help those homeowners who would otherwise have to go through a very cumbersome process to raise their homes for protection. It will also help Key West to show FEMA that we, as a community, deserve a better rating in their Community Rating System, thereby possibly giving us a discounted rate for our citizens when purchasing flood insurance.

Here are some excellent educational videos prepared by the City of Key West’s FEMA coordinator, Scott Fraser:

The July 1, 2014 Executive Summary prepared by the City of Key West’s Planning Department goes into more detail about the question and below is the official endorsement by FIRM [Fair Insurance Rate in Monroe] the grassroots group that has been fighting for fair insurance rates for Monroe County property owners since 2006 .


August 20, 2014

FIRM supports Key West’s referendum that will allow homeowners to protect their property by elevating structures up to 4′ above base flood level. This would not be a requirement for new or existing homes. Any elevation would be at the discretion of the homeowner (and, if the home is in Key West’s historic district, subject to approval by HARC). FIRM believes this is an important tactic not only to mitigate against rising flood insurance premiums, but to protect our homes for decades to come

Here is the language of the referendum:

To protect property against flooding and reduce flood insurance costs for taxpayers citywide, should the City permit an exception to building height regulations when buildings are voluntarily raised off the ground, up to four feet above FEMA established flood levels, yet no more than 40 feet in height?

As you may know, FEMA will be re-drawing flood insurance rate maps over the next few years, and the result of that redrawing will likely vary by property. Providing homeowners with the option to elevate their structures will help us preserve our community and our way of life.

If you really want to understand the potential impact of hurricanes upon Key West, click here to read this excellent piece of research on the Hurricane of 1846.

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  No Responses to “KEY WEST'S HEIGHT REFERENDUM: What's It All About?”

  1. My concern with this referendum all along has not been its attempt to help property owners, mostly home owners, I imagine, who can afford to do it, and who also have a home/building that can be raised without being destroyed – maybe 5 percent of property owners in Key West? My concern has been developers will end up trying to use the referendum, if it passes, to their advantage. That’s why I urged the city commission, during citizen comments, to put something into the wording of the new ordinance, which excluded it from being used by developers. Commissioner Teri Johnston, a licensed building contractor, said she didn’t see how developers could use the ordinance to their advantage. I have seen developers try lots of different ways to get what they want from the city commission, and I don’t see developers changing their spots.

    Here is Margaret Romero’s view of the referendum, expressed in a recent letter to the editor in the Citizen:

    Sunday, October 12, 2014
    Ponder these thoughts on building height referendum
    EDITOR’S NOTE: Below is the wording for the referendum on allowing exceptions to the city’s building height regulations:

    To protect property against flooding and reduce flood insurance costs for taxpayers citywide, should the City permit an exception to building height regulations when buildings are voluntarily raised off the ground, up to four feet above FEMA established flood levels, yet no more than 40 feet in height?

    Please consider the following;

    1) Cost to raise a building was said to be approximately $140,000 to $170,000 •(A)

    2) There is money from FEMA for costs associated with raising a building •(A)

    a)FEMA officials publicly answered availability of only $30,000 per building if owner has flood insurance and money is requested after a disaster •(B)

    3) Unknown: How many buildings need a height variance to raise their building up to 4 feet above FEMA established flood levels? How long would such “flood levels” remain in place? For what percentage of those buildings would it be feasible (i.e. structure/age/ condition, actual cost •(A))?

    4) Buildings in the HARC district •(C), and under HARC jurisdiction, would still be required to undergo HARC and other processes to obtain needed variances/permits to raise a building •(A)

    5) A process currently exists to obtain approvals to raise buildings and/or obtain height variances. •(A)

    6) Passing the referendum and succession ordinance would not guarantee that flood insurance costs would be reduced citywide for taxpayers •(B)

    a.FEMA officials indicated flood insurance rates might be lowered on a building by building basis, but definitely not citywide •(B)

    7) Ponder:

    a. Would this amendment allow new building / remodeling to circumvent the established processes (i.e. agreement of neighbors, adherence to neighborhood height restrictions, etc.)?

    b) Is this to enable, without vetting, more units for greater investor profits? (Remember a request to the county for just five more feet for a recent lower keys development?)

    c) Why can’t architects and builders design structures to respect hard fought for neighborhood height restrictions with which many still agree?

    •(A) Aug. 19 city commission meeting

    •(B) FEMA public meeting Oct. 7 and specific discussion with FEMA’s deputy director; Office of External Affairs; Intergovernmental Affairs of FEMA and the associate chief counsel; Federal Insurance and Mitigation; Office of Chief Counsel.

    • (C) (See last page for area under HARC guidelines)

    Margaret Romero

    Key West