Fort Myers Beach is in the first inning of a years-long rebuild. To help everyone work through the issues of that rebuild, we’re launching a new Friday series called 5 Questions With a Builder. First up is Scott Allan from Bayside Building.
BTRN: Why do you (or maybe you don’t) believe rebuilding homes is taking longer than expected?
Scott Allan: For Bayside, we can build a home in under 12 months. We just started a custom home on Hibiscus about 2 weeks ago on October 1. Our anticipated completion date is May 1. The permitting process has hindered the ability to maintain momentum and this particular home on Hibiscus, which took over 4 months in permitting. The third party plan reviewers contracted by FMB are the holdup, not the FMB staff themselves. Florida Building Code can be highly subjective. The plan reviewers use no discretion and use the language in the code to determine their decision, which allows very little discretion. A transition to a more local plan review firm would be a great change for the beach.
BTRN: What has your experience been with permitting and how can the town improve it for builders and homeowners?
Scott Allan: Our experience has been not-so-great with permitting. While we must all accept accountability given the new submittal requirements, the review process has been incomplete which results in multiple rejections and resubmittals. Plan reviewers ought to be more thorough with review and provide their rejection comments. If addressed properly in the resubmittal, an approval should be imminent as long as revisions to those specific review comments were addressed appropriately.
BTRN: What is the biggest problem facing homeowners when it comes to permitting?
Scott Allan: The biggest problem facing homeowners is trusting a builder who has little to no local experience. The rejection/resubmittal process is frustrating and requires work. A builder without a good team of administrative staff, architects and engineers will take longer than anticipated. If you keep track of your permit process on the portal, if you see the status “Waiting on Resubmittal” for more than 2 weeks, you should ask your builder what is taking so long.
BTRN: What is your advice to homeowners on how to build back faster and as inexpensively as possible?
Scott Allan: To build back faster, unfortunately, I would recommend hiring private plan reviewers. We use them on commercial projects and are now beginning to use them for FMB residential/commercial permitting. This comes at a fee of $5,000 to $10,000, and I’ve been asking clients to consider that fee as an investment decision using “Time Value of Money” theory. Private plan reviewers can have an approved permit in under 30 days. Until the town permitting process gets to a 45 day approval system, we will continue to offer private plan review services.
To build cheaper, I think when one considers even the most basic home, you need to start with how much space you need. How many bedrooms? I always tell people if you’re looking for an entry level home, use $325 per square foot to estimate the total cost of your home, and you could exceed that if you require a driven piling foundation. That is the cheapest you can build for these days. This price does not include low and disappointing allowances. This price is for a turn-key home that has nothing missing.
BTRN: What do you think the future (of the residential areas) will look like 5, 10 years from now on Fort Myers Beach?
Scott Allan: I have had mixed visions of what FMB could look like in 5-10 years. To start, it is critical that FMB decides its identity as it relates to the Comp Plan. Last week’s meeting was indicative that the lean is favoring the status quo regarding height. Now, FAR must be discussed. Until all of this is dealt with, which will be the “identity of FMB” no developer will spend millions of dollars on comprehensive design services. And, until developers can announce ground-breaking on spectacular projects, tourism will continue to be extremely weak. Adding to that issue, residential property owners with intentions of rebuilding the rental or vacation stock will certainly hold back given the combination of weak tourism, high interest rates and the highest cost of construction we have ever seen.
Contact Scott Alan by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a builder and would like to be part of our series contact email@example.com
Next week we’ll hear from Mark Raudenbush at Idyll Construction.