Boro Board Sinks New Flood Rules
Say Zoning Idea Too Costly For Many
The Queens Borough Board shot down an amendment to the city’s zoning code designed to make it easier for homeowners to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy during its meeting at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens Monday, July 8.
A provision creating higher building elevation requirements would be too burdensome for homeowners, the board concluded.
Various community board chairs, as well as City Council members, said they could not support the amendment, which included a “freeboard requirement” that stipulates new construction be elevated above the flood plane dictated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—a requirement that would prove costly for homeowners rebuilding or making significant changes to their home.
“We need time to digest this, and we need time to make sure that our constituents understand the impact that this is going to have on their lives before we take a vote on this,” said City Council Member Daniel Dromm.
Building above FEMA’s flood plane—the estimated height flood waters would reach in a severe storm—saves homeowners money on flood insurance. If a home is not compliant, the owner may not be able to secure insurance.
However, making a building compliant with the freeboarding requirements could cost homeowners upwards of $80,000—in addition to rebuilding or renovation costs, said Community Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri.
Current zoning laws does not take into account flood plane elevation when setting limits on building height and square-footage, so homeowners who elevate their homes to protect them from flooding are subject to the same maximum heights as homes that do not have to be elevated. As a result, homeowners in flood zones would end up with less usable space.
Mainly, the proposed text amendment adds exceptions to zoning laws for people in flood zones, allowing them to exceed height and squarefootage limitations in exchange for flood elevation compliance, but the addition of a “freeboard” requirement was too much for the borough board.
“The only thing wrong with your zoning resolution—and everything is excellent, well-stated, and wellthought out—is that it’s memorializing and legalizing the freeboard requirement, and that’s killing people financially,” Arcuri said.
City Council Member Eric Ulrich spoke about the financial burden additional height requirements would place on homeowners.
“Our constituents simply don’t have the money to abide by these regulations,” he said.
City planners suggested the freeboarding requirement is a foregone conclusion.
“We as a city are subject to rules by New York State,” said John Young, director of the Department of City Planning’s (DCP) Queens office. “New York State has already got a state building code which makes freeboard mandatory. The city is simply catching up with the requirement to agree its building code and zoning resolution with the state building code.”
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, FEMA issued new advisory flood maps in which the flood plain covers a larger area and flood elevations are higher, according to Derek Lee, Queens borough commissioner for the Department of Buildings.
He said the maps will probably be adopted in 2015, and it is possible FEMAwill further increase the flood plane, bringing it close to the freeboard proposed by DCP.
Dromm and Ulrich both pledged to kill the bill when it reaches the City Council.
New evacuation zones
An official from the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) was on hand to discuss the city’s expanded evacuation zones and the agency’s response to Hurricane Sandy.
There are now six numbered evacuation zones that have replaced the three lettered zones the city used in the past, according to OEM Deputy Commissioner Christina Farrell.
The new zones allow the city to target more specifically the areas it evacuates, she said.
More zones allows for more flexibility and less over-evacuation, she said .
She also told the board that the OEMis using census data to identify at-risk communities that may need more help evacuating.
The OEM and the MTAare working to provide more bus service to the Rockaways, where train service and car ownership are limited.
Several board members told her they thought neighborhood Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) were under-utilized in the wake of Sandy.
Ulrich stated he visited shelters where there were 30 CERT members waiting around with city employees. He also said the Rockaway CERT divisions are “defunct” and do not receive updates or continued training.
Community Board 6 Chair Joseph Hennessy said mobilizing CERT is a problem in his area, too.
Farrell said the city chooses not to mobilize CERT members in the same capacity as other cities, because the volunteer groups can get in the way of emergency responders.
East Elmhurst rezoned
Members of the Queens Delegation and Community Boards 3 and 4 voted to approve the rezoning of portions of East Elmhurst and Roosevelt Avenue in Corona.
Young, who gave a presentation about the rezoning, called it a “finegrained proposal to protect the character of the neighborhood.”
Many residential districts will be reclassified as contextual zones with building requirements that encourage housing similar to the current stock, he said.
According to Young, the most common designation in the rezoned area will be R3X, which permits only one- and two-family detached homes on lots that must be at least 35 feet wide.
The update also changes commercial overlays to reflect current uses in the neighborhood. The move should prevent businesses from encroaching on blocks that are mostly residential, he said.
The south side of Roosevelt Avenue between Case and 114th streets will be rezoned for commercial purposes— currently only the north side is marked for merchants’ use.