It didn’t take long for South Florida’s building officials to demand tougher building codes and requirements for builders after the arrival of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Those discussions began shortly after much of Miami-Dade County was seriously damaged, if not flattened, thanks to Andrew. TV news crews were pumping out horrifying video images of swaths of neighborhoods obliterated, flooded and barely left standing in some cases.
Sadly, we again witness similar video of destructive after-effects being transmitted from Puerto Rico today. It’s truly heart-breaking, but at least we can proudly say that Floridians learned a valuable lesson in 1992, and perhaps this Puerto Rico nightmare may be the catalyst for that island rising again.
Shortly after Andrew caused enormous casualty losses, especially in Miami-Dade County, the Florida Building Commission embarked on its mission of substantially tightening building codes and regulations throughout the state, especially in protecting homes and other buildings from the destructive forces of wind and rain, prior to the next major storm bearing down on Florida.
The FBC was focused on upgrading the then-existing South Florida Building Code (and all other local building codes across the state) by substituting a new state-wide “Florida Building Code,” which finally became effective in 2002. That process, though slow and tedious, encompassing hundreds of meetings and public workshops with builders & developers, engineers and contractors, and even lay persons over several years, concluded with the creation of one of the most restrictive and onerous building codes in the country. For that we can all say, “thank you.”
What have we learned from Hurricane Irma after its recent visit is that compliance with the South Florida Building Code is measurably more protective than most other states around the country, if not the world. Thousands of homes and other building structures constructed over the past 15 years in South Florida since the adoption of the Florida Building Code are materially stronger and better insulated than prior versions. Despite the added costs for requiring enhanced wind-resistant glass, upgraded roofing systems, and the like, those collective improvements stood tall during the worst hurricane to land in South Florida since Wilma in 2005.
For everyone who survived Hurricane Irma with nary a scratch, you should send a kiss to your builder.
Builders are often having to satisfy buyers/tenants while at the same time meeting demands of government officials, sometimes due to arbitrary rule making. Plan reviews before staff or community boards can often be hostile, irrational, and very difficult to navigate despite all reasonable attempts to do so. The fact that builders always take the blame, but are rarely complimented following success, is not surprising.
Unquestionably, regulations and conditions imposed on a new housing project are infinitely more difficult today than those that existed 20-30 years ago, as easily attested to by the area’s longtime builders. Still, builders have proven capable of creatively designing new projects that meet or exceed community’s design and safety standards (in most cases), comply with building & zoning requirements, and hopefully still make a profit.
Today’s challenge is the measured and sustainable growth within urban areas such as Miami in creating newer and better means of public transportation, more imaginative and useful forms of back-up energy sources (generators, wind turbines and solar panels, etc.) and engineered methods of discharging substantial rainfall so that flooding is minimized.
Having served for a number of years as a board member of both the Florida Home Builders Association and Builders Association of South Florida, I am certainly proud of all of these dedicated professionals in showing the world that no one does it better than we do in South Florida.
Charles Brecker is a partner with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr in Miami.
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