The house under construction at 98 Birchwood Drive and the concerns by neighboring residents about its elevation, which they say may cause flooding on their yards, has brought intense attention to an issue numerous Palm Coast residents have reported across the city as new homes have gone up. (© FlaglerLive)

FL - As It Fields Flood of Complaints, Palm Coast Is Revising Building Rules to Limit New Houses’ Fill Elevations

It’s true: while houses from slab to rooftop may not be higher than 35 feet in Palm Coast, there is nothing in city building regulations that limit how high the fill beneath the concrete slab may rise.

Theoretically, it could be two, three, four, five or six feet higher than an adjoining house’s slab.

And some new houses in Palm Coast are rather suddenly rising to those heights as builders seek higher elevations to protect against flooding.

That’s been creating flooding problems for neighboring, existing homes, at least in the eyes of existing residents, and generating what started as a trickle of complaints to the city and is now building into a flood, as was the case at a Palm Coast City Council meeting earlier this week. Council members have taken notice, and are demanding action from their administration. (See: “Palm Coast Residents Complain: New Homes Built Higher Than Ours Are Flooding Us, and City Turns Blind Eye.”)

That’s already in the works, and according to Jason DeLorenzo, the city’s chief of staff, the rewrite of the relevant technical regulation pre-dates the recent complaints.

Lynne Stevens, deputy director of Palm Coast’s stormwater and engineering department (she was previously Port Orange’s public utilities director) “has been working on updating the technical manual,” DeLorenzo said, “and one of those updates is maximum slab, the FFE, finished floor [elevation], from the crown of the road.” That’s not a limit on fill per se, but it amounts to the same thing: it means that fill height cannot be higher than a certain elevation above the crown of the road–the center point of the road in front of a home that happens to be its highest point.

So the entire issue of fill height regulations will be accomplished administratively, since it’s a technical manual, without need for ordinances or City Council hearings and approvals. And it should be done rather swiftly. The city has been meeting with “stakeholders” such as graders, who play an essential role in the leveling of fill beneath and around new houses. “It’s trying to get things better. It wasn’t related to this,” DeLorenzo said, referring to the recent controversies about fill-height elevations as he stood in front of the lot under construction that provoked it all.

Oddly, there was no mention of that new regulation when the City Council fielded complaints over just such problems at a meeting earlier this week.

The house at 98 Birchwood Drive is ground zero in an issue that percolated in the background across the city for the last few years, but largely out of the public eye until now. As scores of Palm Coast’s 10,000-odd remaining vacant lot fill in with new homes every month, residents have been increasingly contending with flooded yards soon after those new homes go up. Homeowners have complained to contractors and to the city. Contractors and the city say there’s nothing they can do: no regulations were being violated, though obviously the city took note along the way.

Finally, the residents on Birchwood decided to take their complaints to City Hall, as they did earlier this week, and to the media. City Council member Ed Danko, who is campaigning for a County Commission seat, has happily played circus master, orchestrating media attention (including soliciting FlaglerLive’s, as he did on Thursday, though calls it “fake news” and frequently derides its journalism) and placing himself on a mound of attention-grabbing fill of his own, possibly even interfering with city staff’s work.

“I’m not I’m not here to protect the city. I’m here to protect these people. That’s my job,” Danko said.

Thursday evening, Palm Coast city officials had arranged to speak with the homeowners and the new builder on Birchwood in an attempt to address the situation, only to find themselves in the middle of what one official referred to as the “circus” Danko had organized, including this message on his Facebook page: “Today, Thursday, at 4:15 PM, at 98 BirchWood Dr., media, city staff, the builder, and neighbors affected by the builder will meet. I urge everyone who has experienced this type of situation to be there and voice Your concerns to City staff and the media. I will certainly be there.”

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