“Fear of Heights” The Building Height Debate Continues in Cocoa Beach

Those opposed have expressed concerns regarding unchecked development and greater congestion. Those in favor site the lack of redevelopment of any kind since the 2002 restrictions were put in place and the need to revitalize the town and increase the tax base, to keep tax rates for everyone down. The debate goes on but from what we are hearing, the city is in dire need of tax revenue and only modest changes to the height restriction is being proposed, so this debate deserves the attention it is getting.

We have not heard a single group lobby or suggest they want more high rises in Cocoa Beach. This is a good thing, but what we are hearing and what we think makes sense, is a loosening of the Charter imposed restrictions so some meaningful redevelopment can happen which will allow property owners to rebuild some old properties and fill in land that has remained vacant for years. This will ultimately raise the tax base so that the city of Cocoa Beach can rebuild its aging infrastructure and attract new residents and higher-end travelers to this amazing beach community. If passed, the height relief would only apply to the recently created Redevelopment Districts – 13% of Cocoa Beach covering the commercial centers in town.

powered by Typeform

Here are representative photos of what can be constructed under the current regulations. The current regulations require building heights be measured 45 feet from the crown of the abutting road and are an absolute height (i.e nothing above). The developers of both projects shown had to max out the site to get the 10 units per acre permitted eliminating the ability to provide greater set backs and green space. By doing so they managed to squeeze in three floors over the parking with low ceilings.

These are two of only three buildings of any meaningful value constructed within the City limits since 2002 and almost nothing has been constructed in this city in over 15 years. There are vacant lots all around. Some people call it charming, while others call it run down and a ton of missed opportunity.

We received this graphic depicting a 75 ft building relative to other structures.   What is clear is that 75 feet is not high-rise as represented by Cocoa Beach’s Stonewood Tower.

Now this next set of photos feature buildings that are 70 feet, more or less. You can find these structures in Brevard South of 16th Street and similar ones in Avon by the Sea and in Cape Canaveral to the north of town. Are these buildings really that bad?

We have not heard a single group lobby or suggest they want high rises in Cocoa Beach. What the Charter Review Committee may be suggesting is a 70ft building height with some allowance for utilities and architectural details on the roof like the bottom photo above.

Tim Tumulty, current resident and former Mayor of Cocoa Beach says, the Height is the issue, not density. “I understand everyone’s concern about height, but don’t confuse it with density. Bringing up the issue of overcrowding Cocoa Beach due to a height change is a false narrative. Density for residential property in Cocoa Beach, is limited to 10 units per acre. If buildings on that acre are one story or ten stories, only 10 units are allowed. Increasing the height will not increase the density.

The population in Cocoa Beach:

1990: 12,447

1995: 12,910

2000: 12,498

2005: 12,316

2007: 11,989 Dropped under 12k

2011: 11,207 Lowest recorded in the last 30 years

2015: 11,599

2018: Still under 12k

An investor of three commercial properties in downtown Cocoa Beach stated, that his properties were oceanfront and they planned to develop all of them to at least 5 stories to make a profitable return on investment. When the City decided to restrict them from developing the property, they made no further investment in the City and the properties languished and became stagnant. The properties were eventually sold and they remain mostly vacant to this day.

Could the City have used the extra tax revenues? The citizens of Cocoa Beach suffered successive increases of more than 10% in their property tax rates over the last two years increase which is being challenged in court by the Brevard County Clerk of Courts. What is certain is that without new development, residents will pay much higher property taxes over the years to come.

Any idea how much in property taxes from redevelopment could contribute to the City’s budget?

Tom Hermansen, local resident and property owner ran some numbers. “A vacant dirt lot in our downtown on A1A between Minuteman and 1st St North (aka the Ocean Dunes property) is assessed at about $720,000 and is currently garnering Cocoa Beach $3,940 in tax revenue. The proposed development of 25 units at Ocean Dunes would be valued for tax purposes at approximately $16,250,000 (25 x $650,000).   This development could provide the City $2.7 million dollars in bonded funds – from a single project! Adding a 25-unit condo building – 4 stories over parking – to our downtown isn’t going to impact traffic one iota as half the owners will likely be snowbirds. But this single project represents a huge financial windfall to the City, which could pay for police officers, equipment or deferred infrastructure projects. There is a reason this site has been vacant since 2004 – its because the current height restriction of 45 feet absolute from the crown of the road, plus the very high cost of the land, makes it infeasible to develop to todays standards.”

This table summarizes the this calculation

Sounds like two mid-rise condos on in-fill lots could pay for a completely new City Hall without asking current residents for another dime in taxes. Makes sense to us!

There is lots of other capital projects we need to handle that just get pushed off for lack of funding. Here is a very short list take directly from the City’s budget document.

We can support increasing the building height, and not support high-rises at the same time. Seventy feet or 5 storys is not a high-rise, just modern construction. It would be great to see some new construction to fill in the vacant lots and replace some of the old and tired 1950s era structures around town. We think it would attract nicer clientele and minimize the burden low-end clientele attracted by cheap rates place on our community and our law enforcement and emergency medical service workers.

Local resident Kim Aromando also made a great point on local Facebook group Wake Up Cocoa Beach!, “Rapidly expanding Space X is and will be bringing wealth to the space coast. Our current hotel inventory does not sufficiently accommodate high end suites and rooms to house media or people who come and eventually pay $250,000 to orbit the earth. Space Coast property values are rising, numerous new mansions created on A1A. Is this in part a result of the Space X presence? Do the Cocoa Beach residents reject a proposal that would regenerate the tax base and the appeal of the area from one destination to another? Everyone is always wondering why the cruise ships don’t bus travelers into the Minutemen area. Do you want that business, or don’t you? Residents need to decide. Last week, driving by the parking lot north of YenYen, I saw 2 bikini-clad females on top of a pickup truck. Humping it. I know which travelers and visitors I would rather see occupying beautiful hotels.”

The bottom line and the one thing that is clear, if there is a proposed change, it will have to go to the voters to approve.

17 Comments Leave a comment

  1. DOMINIC SCAFETTA February 9, 2018

    We don’t need to change the rules. We don’t need to add to the burden on our fixed assets (such as roads, parking, police and fire services, etc…). Most of us are here because we don’t want high rises and higher population density.

    If the city needs more money, we FIRST need to look at every expense and create a baseline budget. We cannot just add or subtract from existing expenditures. The best rule of thumb when expenditures exceed revenue, is to cut costs.

    Once that is done, we need to explore other ways to raise revenue. What about a $10/night city room tax on all the hotels we have in the area? Have you seen some of the obscene city taxes in other cities? Why not turn some of the vacant land to paying parking lots? Lord knows we need more parking. Even a nominal fee of $10/day could raise a nice revenue stream. We could also consider an additional consumption tax if we still need more revenue. How about 0.5% increase in local sales tax.

    As a LAST RESORT, and only after every penny has been scrutinized in the spending plan (we DON’T need to pay for cable TV as an example), we should consider modest tax increases on the residents. Given the choice of paying a small amount of increased tax, or increasing population density, traffic, and all the other issues created by these ill-advised ideas, I believe most current residents would rather pay a small tax. It is part of the price we have to pay for the wonderful place we live. There are no free lunches, and paying for a life style is just one of those things that we need to live with.

    • Pat Weber February 9, 2018

      Mr. Scafetta, Did you read the above article? It clearly states that it will NOT be high risers and will not change the population density. We have less population then we did in 1990. I am for making Cocoa Beach more attractive and especially doing something with the vacant lots. It’s time to change the rules for the betterment of Cocoa Beach, not to mention getting higher tax revenue. I have been a resident for 30 years. It’s time to make Cocoa Beach great again…..

    • Jim P February 11, 2018

      Amen to you sir. I really think our local politicians are jealous of CC city hall and want a Taj Mahal on the backs of us,the residents. The same old story, more tax base so they can squander OUR money. Remember come election time.

  2. Barbara Trede February 9, 2018

    This site is either sponsored by the builders and/or those who would benefit financially. We voted on this and I see no reason for it to be voted upon again. The City Commissioners are not following the will of the people .

  3. Kevin February 9, 2018

    This needs to be voted in for the survival of the community. What kind of travelers does everyone think we will attract as the infrastructure deteriorates. Bulildings are looking run down, city landscaping is not being maintained properly and taxes continue to rise. We must vote yes for this proposal, our beautiful beach isn’t going anywhere, we won’t loose all our beach access everyone enjoys and we Cocoa Beach not become Miami.

  4. Jim P February 9, 2018

    I say call out whoever wants this decline of our way of life and vote them the hell out of office.

    • Pat Weber February 9, 2018

      Jim, I think they want to improve our way of life. I think they love Cocoa Beach as much as you and I do so lets give them a chance. They live here too and the work they do is to help our community. Why would we want to vote out people who care about our community out of office? Perhaps, Jim, you should run for office in Cocoa Beach. That is the best way to get your voice heard. Think about it Jim….

  5. Bill Geiger, Jr. February 9, 2018

    Thanks for your sensible and well written article. Cocoa Beach is the ONLY city in Brevard County which is not experiencing any new motel construction and there is virtually no new Condo Construction. The motel industry locally (Brevard) is booming, but it is simply not economically feasible to only build to 45′ on our very expensive land, especially with the draconian way which the height is measured. We are missing out dearly on the potential new tax revenues. A simple relaxation to 65′ would not only encourage NEW development, but redevelopment, which will greatly improve the looks of our deteriorating town, but greatly increase the tax base, relieving much of the tax burden on the residents. I have lived here over 50 years, and at one time Cape Canaveral was considered to be the slums, and today it exceeds Cocoa Beach in many respects, especially visual appeal and overall condition of municipal buildings and commercial properties, due to no growth, no new development and no redevelopment. This 45′ height limit has been sold to the less involved CB citizen masses by the small but vocal anti everything groups in “No-No Beach”, who want NO changes at all. Hilton Corp is itching to spend tens and tens of millions to renovate or even rebuild their International Palms property, which could change the face of Cocoa Beach. However, until they can build to 65′, there is no financial incentive for them to do so, and we are stuck with a 50 year rebranded Holiday Inn that looks like hell. The greatest irony of all that a large number of the “No-Noers” actually live in mid to hi-rise condos, above 45′! They got theirs, so no one else can gave theirs. CC has no 45′ height limit. Satellite Beach does not either! No where around here does, as far as I know. Times are a changing!

    • Pat Weber February 9, 2018

      Right on Bill! You said it all and thank you for sharing…..

      • Linda Rivera February 10, 2018

        I agree with you, Pat Weber. I would like to see the tax base increased & nicer looking buildings. Some areas look very run down. Newer buildings bring more visitors who spend more money in our stores & restaurants. I’m a Condo dweller & would like to see more nice restaurants in my neighborhood instead of tattoo parlors. I’m not a developer and never have been. I would just like to see our vacant lots developed. Let’s increase our height restrictions so it will bring new businesses into our neighborhood. I don’t think they are asking for high rises; just a more reasonable height restriction.

  6. Bruce Feher February 9, 2018

    I no longer live in the area but it is my hope to one day return to Cocoa Beach to retire. I love the fact that there are height restrictions. It’s part of what makes Cocoa Beach different. If you want tall buildings they are all over the state. If you are a property owner you knew the rules!

  7. Michael De Simone February 9, 2018

    What a biased, one sided load of propaganda. Interesting that you quote Tom Hermansen who just happens to own 5 hotels, if I’m not mistaken. If the city can’t subsidize the current services they need to rethink their expenditures. Industry, like Space X, will do more for Cocoa Beach than tourism. Employment brings prosperity and families unlike tourism that brings transients, vagrants, and the homeless. Wake up, there are thousands of places for tourists in Florida. Why spoil Cocoa Beach?

    The citizens have spoken and voted for the height restrictions. Why can’t the businesses and politicians just except the majorities will?

  8. Katrina Herring February 10, 2018

    The pulse of our local government is equal to the days of England taxing the colonies because England needed money to pay for its’ war debts.

    According to the US Commerce Census in 2016, Cocoa Beach’s population is 11,761 with many part-time residents and fulltime retirees. The median age is 56.5 and 34.1% persons over 65 and the median household income is $52,473. Based on the census, 7.7% of our citizens report they are below poverty level.

    The city is in dire need of tax revenue? Not only have our property taxes increased but the City Commission voted in Sept 2017 to increase our local taxes and Commissioner Martinez believes we need more police and rescue; probably to take care of the tourists and out of town visitors. Maybe consider assessing current staffing workloads spent on phone calls or implementing a 311 non emergency system; possible reduction of 911 calls.

    The Commissioners believe loosening of the Charter imposed restrictions to increase building height will bring more money to the coffers. Compared to other neighboring cities, Cocoa Beach has one of the largest budgets – why can’t they balance the budget? Today’s Business 101 – learn to do more with less.

    There is nothing stopping property owners from rebuilding old properties but based on Tom Hermansen’s assessment ….the current building height makes it infeasible to develop to today’s standards. Bottom line – the ROI is not high enough for developers.

    No one has mentioned our 5.6 mile stretch of A1A which cannot accommodate any more traffic.

    Upheaval ensued when the colonies felt their concerns were not being heard especially when they were expected to pay taxes on their imported tea.

    The residents of Cocoa Beach will once again let their voices be heard and vote against the building height.

  9. Angie February 11, 2018

    Listen to the residents of Cocoa Beach. Especially the full time residents that are present for the hurricane season and struggle with the inflated prices for products just because we are a beach community. The part timers are here to benefit from the weather, auto taxes, etc. but are not supporting our community during the bad times. We need more part time residents and/or visitors like a dam needs a whole in it! Our infrastructure is maxed out. Stop adding to the load without a feasible plan to fix the problem. Tax the transient resident proprietors per head for infrastructure maintenance. New construction should allocate funds pre-construction per head for infrastructure expansion. Tourism can not keep us afloat when Cocoa Beach is crumbling from underneath. The Politicians want tourism? Then what are they doing to attract day visitors from the port. There are 6-10,000, minimum, tourist coming in on the cruise ships most in-port days and there is no port of call services offered by Cocoa Beach to lure these Vacationers to our city. Do you really think they would care to spend their vacation site seeing in Cocoa Beach to look at hotels and “high risers”? What did you do on your last vacation? I bet it wasn’t that! Start listening and doing what you were voted in to do —Represent the residents and listen to the people. Greed and self-propriety has no place in our fair city government.

  10. DOMINIC SCAFETTA February 12, 2018

    Hello everyone and thank you for your comments. Freedom is GREAT!

    BUT… Math is pretty simple. The addition of one person living in Cocoa Beach increases the population density and the drain on public resources. If you can’t understand that I can’t help.

    So… if population density would not change with increasing height (which is incorrectly stated many times), why the push for greater height? Just go with the current height rules. We all know this is a false narrative, but as many people now do, they just keep repeating false narratives and think that will make it true. I also believe that the most vocal people advocating this ill-conceived plan have a financial stake in making this happen (I have no hard evidence, but following the money usually leads to the truth).

    I truly hope the citizens of Cocoa Beach are not ignored over big money. I have already seen this happen first hand and it is sickening. The City approved a new bar virtually next door to my condo (I subsequently sold) basically ignoring the will of the residents, possibly zoning laws, and certainly common sense (there is no parking available without the new facility).

    Advocates seem to ignore all the HUGE NEGATIVES that go along with the height density. I find it disturbing and a little too convenient that the drain on existing roads, parking, and other public services is never listed as a negative to the argument by the advocates. Does anyone remember the new sales tax we are paying to clean up the Indian and Banana Rivers? If I recall the issue is man made and caused by too many people polluting the area waters. Will having more people help? In fact the only negative advocates admit to is the visual aspect (which some of us don’t like). An increase in population density and all the negatives that come with it is inevitable with an increase in height, and that debate is over.

    If some people are concerned that we don’t have enough high end properties, how will increasing the height of structures solve that? In fact it would do just the opposite. Rarity increases value. I learned this in economics 101.

    “Making Cocoa Beach more attractive and doing something with vacant lots” is an entirely different subject. I believe in free enterprise and capitalism. Allowing Government into our business and private life almost never helps, and it won’t help here. The business (and all property) owners are free to improve their properties (assuming we don’t over regulate them, and it will happen over time. Look at Waukula.). My wife and I just spent A LOT renovating our 1962 house because we like Cocoa Beach the way it is.

    We hear a lot about SpaceX and others moving into the area. That is what will improve this area. Higher paying and better jobs. These people will see the great value we have here and won’t mind paying more for the lifestyle (although higher taxes are not inevitable). The debate always come down to $$$, and I have already suggested 4 ways to relieve our resident tax burden (off the top of my head.). There are plenty of other areas that people can move to for different life styles. I don’t want to live in Miami or Panama City. Perhaps Bill should reconsider his long tenure in CB. Not everyone likes the looks of a high rise in CC or Sattelite Beach, but if you do that’s where you need to be!

    Speaking of money, the number one premise needs to be: spending less is better. I admit that I have not spend more than 1 minute reviewing operating or capital budgets, but a bottoms up review needs to be conducted. None of this “we spent 100 last year so we need 105 this year”. We also need to take a hard look at capital. Why do we “need” a new municipal complex (presumably to accommodate the increasing population density?)? Who needs new vehicles? I see EMPTY Cocoa Beach Police Cars parked all over our roads? Do we need more empty police cars?

    Only after our spending and capital budgets are reconciled to true needs, do we need to address additional revenue, and there are plenty of ways to increase revenue without a huge additional burden on local residents.

    I must say that I do enjoy the debate. The proponents need to stop the false narratives, come clean with all the pulses AND MINUSES of their proposal, and most importantly, disclose their true financial stake in making a change.

  11. Artie February 12, 2018

    The vote to restrict the charter took place 16 years ago. Nothing is static in time. People have moved out from Cocoa Beach and others have moved in. The new elected officials were voted in just recently with a more progressive mandate than the one that was in place in 2002. I believe many will be surprised to find out that the majority of the locals are now in favor of changing the development rules. They want more jobs, and better jobs for themselves and their kids. They want to see a vibrant community where things are not falling apart. They want to see improved parks. They want a higher quality customer that will spend more in their stores and restaurants. Its not about more density, its about higher quality developments that bring more money to the city and the community and a higher level of clientele that is more educated and won’t trash the beaches with beer bottles, etc. If you want dilapidated buildings with hotel guests that burden the police and the paramedics with constant 911 calls, if you want dirty beaches and run down parks then vote to keep the current charter restrictions. If you want to improve the quality of life and the condition of the infrastructure and the cleanliness of our parks and beaches then vote in favor of the charter change. No need to fight. Its a very clear cut decision. Let the will of the majority rule. I for one look forward to the result of this vote. Lets not live with what people 16 years ago decided on our behalf.

  12. Nancy DiPaolo February 22, 2018

    We’ve been coming to Cocoa Beach since 1973 and have witnessed many changes through the decades. We love the laid back, relaxed atmosphere. The traffic, however, has become unbelievable. A1A on most days, at any time of the day, can be total gridlock. How anyone can consider adding additional multi family housing is shocking. The road infrastructure cannot handle what exists currently and parking for any of the wonderful local special events is a nightmare. As emotionally difficult as it is, as we remember all the memories we have made here, we are beginning to consider taking our future time and dollars elsewhere. This brings to mind a Joni Mitchell “oldie” – That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot –

Leave your comment