REAL ESTATE

Palm Beach County will talk building inspection changes in wake of Surfside

Palm Beach County commissioners will soon provide input about how frequently high-rise buildings should be inspected for safety, following the deadly collapse of a 12-story condominium in Surfside.

The topic will be discussed at Tuesday’s commission meeting, providing the first glimpse of how the county could shape potential inspection requirements in the wake of the tragedy.

SURFSIDE, FLORIDA – JUNE

Joe Raedle/Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty I

County officials, the Palm Beach County League of Cities and building officials for the 39 municipalities have spent the past week or so discussing how to treat the county’s own aging infrastructure, with more details to be hashed out in a meeting Friday. Fire marshals and structural engineers will offer additional insight in the coming weeks.

The process as it stands is very fluid, officials said.

“Nothing’s on the books. Nothing’s off the books,” said Assistant County Administrator Patrick Rutter, who oversees the county’s Planning, Zoning and Building Department.

The building recertification process found only in Miami-Dade and Broward counties was a starting point, but officials have said at least one change is for certain.

“I think there’s a consensus that 40 years is too long,” said Richard Radcliffe, executive director of the local League of Cities. “The question is: what’s enough?”

Officials have discussed the possibility of requiring inspections more often for oceanfront buildings compared to interior buildings, said Lake Park Vice Mayor Kimberly Glas-Castro, who is also president of the League of Cities. That’s because the salty, briny elements may corrode building material faster.

Another consideration could be whether to fold in single-family homes into the inspection requirements, which Palm Beach County’s coastal communities may want to consider but is not included in Miami or Broward’s recertification rules, she said.

Officials were careful not to place any qualifiers that would limit their options right out the gate, waiting for further suggestions from elected officials. This was evident, too, in the revised agenda item for Tuesday, where the phrase “recertification program for tall and large-scale buildings” was replaced by “a program to evaluate the safety of certain building types.”

A uniform set of rules for the county’s incorporated and unincorporated areas may be floated, or the requirements could differ from city to city. But it will take input from the 39 cities, as most, if not all, high-rise condos are in municipal boundaries, Radcliffe said.

“Everyone represents different ideas,” Rutter added. “The coastal cities have different inputs than something far out west.”

Municipalities are welcome to forge ahead with their own plans, Rutter noted. As commissioners give direction to county staff, the League of Cities is still in the process of gathering information from experts.

Some cities like West Palm Beach and Boca Raton have looked into possibly requiring high-rises within their boundaries to be regularly inspected. Jupiter Council Member Ilan Kaufer this week directed the town manager to make recommendations for how the town could require building recertifications.

Others, like Riviera Beach and the town of Palm Beach, have sent letters to building owners to suggest they hire engineers to perform an inspection.

It’s not just government officials who are on board, but those in the building industry, too.

“Everyone is saying, ‘yes, we need to do something,'” Glas-Castro said.

Radcliffe said he thinks this issue will be a focus at the next legislative session.

“That’s not a city job, and that’s not a county job, to correct the homeowners association and condo language for maintenance,” he said.

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Katherine Kokal contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Palm Beach County will talk building inspection changes in wake of Surfside


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