City waives permit fees for people having to rebuild after natural disaster

Milford’s aldermen voted Monday night to waive permit fees for people having to rebuild after the latest storm — in fact, officials went a step beyond the simple fee waivers implemented after Tropical Storm Irene and voted to waive fees for anyone affected by a natural disaster.

While Alderman Paula Smith (R) said fee waivers are a big deal to some residents who will save a few hundred dollars or even a thousand dollars in fees, one couple who spoke Monday night made it clear that fees are not the biggest problem some Sandy victims have to contend with.

Joel Levitz, who lived on Point Beach Drive with his wife until the two recent storms, doesn’t know what to do. The couple’s house was damaged more than 50% between the two storms, and according to local regulations, that means the couple has to elevate the home.

Levitz told the aldermen that means $100,000 to $150,000 in costs.

There is money available to help with those costs, including money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration. But it’s not enough, and in some cases the homeowner has to pay upfront and then wait for reimbursement.

“I don’t have $150,000 to raise my house,” he said. “And I don’t think the city wants us to just walk away from it.”

After Tropical Storm Irene, about 50 Milford property owners were told they had to elevate their homes before they could get permits to make storm repairs and ultimately move back into their homes. After Sandy, “it’s a ton,” said Milford’s public land use director, Jocelyn Mathiasen, adding that numbers are still being calculated.

One city official who did not want to be named agreed that the permit fee waiver is a nice thing for the city to do, but there’s still an elephant in the room — and that is the house elevation requirement.

There are some problems with the regulations, he said. For example, officials use money spent on improvements, even if they are not storm-related, to determine if a homeowner has reached the 50% damage figure. However, those unrelated improvement costs are not included when determining if a person qualifies for FEMA funding to help elevate the home.

“I can’t imagine regulations any more onerous,” the city official said, adding that he believes the city’s Planning and Zoning Board is going to look into whether Milford went too far when interpreting new flood regulations.

When new flood maps are adopted in June, this elephant in the room will affect thousands more Milford residents than it is impacting now, the city official added.

For now, however, the city has approved waiving fees for people who have to elevate their homes or do other repairs after any natural disaster.

The Board of Aldermen approved fee waivers following Tropical Storm Sandy, but those waivers were not as encompassing as they are now and they expired before all residents had a chance to take advantage of them.

With the new ordinance, people may apply for permit fee waivers if their property sustained damage “from a natural disaster, as declared by the governor of the State of Connecticut.”

The waiver is retroactive, meaning that people who missed the deadline after Irene may now apply for a reimbursement of the fees they paid. Residents will probably have to request a reimbursement, but Mathiasen couldn’t say yet how the process will work.