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Builders press Bush to delay stricter code

Consumers will pay if a bill that postpones implementation of the code is vetoed, they warn.

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2001

Consumers will pay if a bill that postpones implementation of the code is vetoed, they warn.

TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush is caught in the middle of a fight between Florida's home builders and supporters of a tough new building code set to go into effect Jan. 1.

Last week legislators approved a bill that would delay the code until March 1, but officials at the Florida Home Builders Association say the governor is leaning toward vetoing the bill despite a promise he made to them in October.

Home builders say they will be forced to increase the cost of new houses or delay construction without the two-month delay. They have mounted an e-mail campaign trying to persuade Bush to accept the delay to give time for local government officials to make changes in their own codes.

Approved by legislators in 1998, the new statewide code increases minimum requirements for residential and commercial construction to withstand high winds in coastal counties. Local governments are supposed to adopt ordinances that determine the wind speed requirements that must be met in various coastal areas.

The bill passed last week would allow the state to set the wind speed lines if local governments don't act by Jan. 1.

The Florida Home Builders Association contends most of the 37 coastal counties that need to adopt local ordinances will not meet the deadline, leaving builders the choice of delaying design and construction or over-designing to meet the maximum requirement.

Some of the coastal counties where varying wind speeds should be adopted have not completed work on a new ordinance required by the building code, says Doug Buck, director of governmental relations for the Home Builders.

"I could pick the highest wind speed in the county and build a house," said Buck. "But that may cost $5,000 to $10,000 more to build it."

The Home Builders say Bush promised to approve the delay during an appearance at their convention in October.

A spokeswoman for Bush said the governor has scheduled a meeting Monday to consider his action on the bill. He has to decide whether to sign or veto the bill by Friday.

"I have not been briefed on the subject," Bush responded in an e-mail answer to a question from the St. Petersburg Times. "Thus, the Home Builders are opining without knowledge."

The new building code mandates, among other things, costly windows and doors that resist wind-borne debris. In interviews with the Times over the summer, one manufacturer estimated that a 3- by 5-foot aluminum window that now costs $100 would jump to $200-$225.

The prospect of a new building code has prompted some local contractors to get permits before the law goes into effect, so they wouldn't have to meet the new, tougher standards.

"We're going to have a lot of problems in the renovation business," said contractor Daniel Ashline, head of the Remodelers' Council at the Contractors & Builders Association of Pinellas.

In Pinellas County, all construction on land west of the Intracoastal Waterway will have to be built to withstand winds of up to 130 mph. Construction east of the waterway will have to withstand winds of 123 mph. Rod Fischer, executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, said Friday that the Pinellas wind speed line was designated Sept. 18, but much confusion remains over the new law. Fischer said Pinellas is ready to meet the Jan. 1 deadline but may have to readopt the building code if the change is determined to be an amendment to the code.

"We have done our job here," Fischer said. "But some jurisdictions have still not set the wind speed line."

Fischer said he was contacted by the governor's office Thursday and advised that Bush will veto the bill that would have delayed the new code.

"From a design standpoint, if you design a house to meet 130 mile an hour winds, you may have to put $30,000 additional dollars into the effort," Fischer said. "Ultimately the consumer pays. Is that fair when these communities have not done what they were supposed to do?"

Raul Rodriguez, chairman of the Florida Building Commission, has urged the governor to veto the bill that would delay the code, saying the new requirements are not overwhelming and can be easily met.

In a letter to Bush, Rodriguez said local building officials already have the authority to interpret the code and require certain wind speed designs.

The home builders association says the different designs that must be met in areas where higher winds can be expected can substantially increase the costs of building roofs, installing impact resistant windows and shutters.

The Florida Department of Community Affairs recently surveyed all 67 Florida counties to determine how many have adopted a local ordinance. Only 34 counties responded, and none of those had completed work on an ordinance.

Hillsborough County will have a final hearing on an ordinance Wednesday.

"We are ready," said Assistant County Administrator Tony Shoemaker. "We can meet the Jan. 1 deadline, but I hear some counties are not ready at all."

Officials in Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties have scheduled final hearings on their plans for Tuesday and should meet the deadline.

New coastal building codes

This is how the codes will affect coastal construction in select area counties:

PINELLAS: All construction on land west of the Intracoastal Waterway will have to be built to withstand winds of up to 130 mph. Construction east of the waterway, 123 mph.

PASCO: Must withstand winds varying from 120 to 125 mph.

CITRUS: Required to withstand winds of 110 mph.

HERNANDO: Must withstand winds of 120 mph in the western half of the county and 110 mph in the east.

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