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Hurricane codes causing scurry

Dennis MacNeil and the rest of Citrus County's building inspectors have a big fresh stack of permit applications to wade through.

They can thank a revision in the state building code meant to make new homes more resistant to hurricane winds. The new guidelines went into effect March 1.

MacNeil, director of the county's Building Division, estimates that between 125 and 150 permit applications were submitted in the days before that date. It was double or triple the regular volume, he said.

The contractors were rushing to meet the deadline because of the complicated new set of rules they must follow to get permission to build a new house.

The rules will add to the cost of new single-family homes for items such as metal straps to hold down roofs and reinforced walls. Builders and building officials estimate the items will add between $1,500 and $8,000 to the cost of a new house.

To handle the extra work, the county has hired an extra plans examiner, and two new building inspectors are to start work later this month. The County Commission raised county permit fees by $100 to cover that cost.

New homes built within 1,500 feet of the coast will have to be designed to withstand wind speeds of 110 mph; inland, throughout Florida, new houses will have to withstand 100 mph winds.

The new rules are actually revisions to state building code provisions that have existed since 1986. However, before this year, they were difficult to understand and rarely enforced except in some coastal areas.

The county's two cities are handling the new rules differently. Crystal River started enforcing the rules March 1, but unlike the county has not increased permit fees to cover the cost.

The Inverness City Council is considering a proposal to increase fees by an average of $85 to hire a second building inspector. If the council approves the proposal March 15, the rules will be enforced starting April 6, said Bill Wiley, the county's director of development services.

Unlike Crystal River, the county and Inverness plan to review all building designs for compliance with the hurricane rules. Inspectors will check plans for proper beam fasteners that go between the roof and foundation for strength.

Crystal River has decided to rely solely on reviews by qualified engineers or architects hired by applicants. Plans submitted will have to bear a stamp showing they were reviewed.

That decision was partly out of concern over liability, said Tom Rankin, Crystal River's director of development services. "If a roof gets blown off, we're not in the position of saying, "Our calculations were accurate,' " he said.

The county and Inverness will accept plans prepared by architects or engineers, but will check them. They also will allow applicants to design their own plans if they comply with state standards.