In the short-term, storm surge from an extreme weather event places Surfside and other coastal communities at risk. This risk was brought into clear focus in 2018, when Hurricane Irma was projected to cause a 15 foot storm surge. Fortunately, this projection did not materialize due to a significant shift in the storm path. Rising sea levels pose a longer-term threat to coastal communities around the globe including the Town of Surfside, which is located on a barrier island. “In the short term, sea level rise is projected to be 6 to 10 inches by 2030 and 14 to 26 inches by 2060 (above the 1992 mean sea level). Sea level has risen 3 inches from 1992 to 2015. In the long term, sea level rise is projected to be 31 to 61 inches by 2100.” These are the projections of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact’s Unified Sea Level Rise Projection for Southeast Florida, and science-based facts we simply cannot ignore.
With the goal of creating greater resiliency in our community and preparing for climate-related impacts such as extreme weather events and sea level rise, the Town Commission and Planning & Zoning Board held a joint public workshop on Monday, August 26, 2019 to discuss various adaptive strategies and to hear from Surfside residents.
View the meeting here: 08-26-2019 Joint Town Commission Meeting & Planning and Zoning Board Meeting
View presentation prepared by Surfside resident George Kousoulas here: Freeboard Presentation During Joint Town Commission and Planning and Zoning Board Meeting (By George Kousoulas)
Read tips to minimize your impact on the planet here: Sea Level Rise and Adaptation Article
In 2018, the Town adopted Ordinance 18-1674 requiring all new construction and substantial improvement of a single-family structure to have the lowest floor elevated to at least two feet above the base flood elevation (i.e., 2 feet of “freeboard’). However, in the event of significant storm surge, this enhanced requirement will not prevent the home from flood waters. So, the Planning & Zoning Board has encouraged property owners to build homes with even greater freeboard.
While the strategy of increasing freeboard makes for more resilient homes, there are some practical constraints. For example, the maximum height of a structure is measured from the center of the street to the top of the home, which cannot exceed 30 feet, so the amount of additional freeboard to meet future conditions is constrained by the overall height of a building. Further, any changes to building heights beyond what is currently allowed in our Comprehensive Plan or Zoning Code must be decided by referendum at a regularly scheduled Town election (i.e., March of even years). So if residents want to rebuild after an extreme weather event to accommodate greater freeboard they cannot exceed the existing height limitations.
Discussion focused on building safer today and also to explore ideas to allow for more resilient construction after a natural disaster. One concept discussed was to present for referendum a mechanism to increase the maximum height to allow residents to rebuild to accommodate greater freeboard. However, concerns were raised by attendees about any changes to the Town Charter related to increasing building height. In the end, the Town Commission concluded that the current Zoning Code allows for increasing freeboard and the matter is not sufficiently “ripe” to advance at this time.
Thank you to the Planning & Zoning Board for its diligence over the last two years to address the impacts of climate change on behalf of the community. The Town of Surfside also thanks its citizens for providing valuable feedback on the matter. During the Joint Town Commission and Planning & Zoning Board Workshop, we heard from residents on both sides of the matter in addition to concerns about flooding and drainage in Surfside.
In the meantime, the Town Commission has authorized the preparation of a Stormwater Drainage Master Plan and is in the process of finalizing its Climate Crisis Action Plan.