Palm Beach to fight Florida’s single-family demolition law

Town plans to hire lobbyists, and coordinate with Coral Gables and Miami Beach

Wayne Bergman, and Mayor Danielle Moore with 710 South Ocean Boulevard
From left: Wayne Bergman, and Mayor Danielle Moore with 710 South Ocean Boulevard (Zillow, Getty, Town of Palm Beach)

Palm Beach is hiring lobbyists to fight a Florida law that upended the island’s historic preservation program.

Florida’s legislature in March unanimously passed a building regulation law that allowed the demolition of any non-historic single-family homes in flood zones, without local review. The law, House Bill 423, went into effect on July 1. It does not apply to homes designated as historic before Jan. 1. Homes designated as historic after that date may remain protected from demolition at the whim of the property owner.

That puts a serious damper on Palm Beach’s decades-old historic preservation program. As of January, Palm Beach had 359 properties landmarked as historic, under the jurisdiction of its Landmarks Preservation Commission. The commission reviews and approves any alterations to landmarked properties. It also votes to grant landmark status.

Town officials say earlier drafts of House Bill 423 did not include the demolition language.

“This thing sort of snuck through,” said Wayne Bergman, director of planning, zoning and building during a Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting last month.

“I don’t usually editorialize things, but I will say, in my opinion this is a poorly crafted and misguided law,” he said at the time.

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Palm Beach Town Council members and staff strategized the town’s opposition to the demolition bill during a council meeting on Wednesday. Officials agreed to hire lobbyists to make the town’s case in Tallahassee. But they held off on a decision on whether the town will advocate for a complete rescinding of the law, or an amendment to the language that protects its historic preservation program.

A coalition of sorts is already in the making. Palm Beach council members named Coral Gables, Miami Beach, and St. Augustine as possible allies in the fight against HB 423, all cities with robust historic preservation programs impacted by the law.

Spec developers like Todd Michael Glaser have already moved to take advantage of the new demolition law in Miami Beach, buying homes to tear down.

Given the law’s application across flood zones, the stakes are high for low-elevation historic communities in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

According to Bergman, the demolition law applies to “every square inch of Palm Beach.”

The change comes at a time of dramatic change for the barrier island community. Pandemic-fueled migration and corporate relocations caused a population boom for the historically sleepy vacation town.

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