Flood Resilience Zoning Text Amendment Testimony

August 7, 2013

This morning, we testified at the City Planning Commission hearing in favor of the Department of City Planning’s proposed Flood Resilience Zoning Text Amendment. You can read our full testimony here:

CHPC has been committed to collaboratively working with the city in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and the CHPC Board has provided advice and recommendations concerning the regulatory changes needed to facilitate flood-resilient post-disaster reconstruction and planning. One important part of this work has been the Department of City Planning’s efforts to revise the zoning provisions applicable within flood zones so as to both streamline repair and rebuild efforts and improve the flood resilience of new and existing buildings.

The proposed text changes are an important step to encourage flood-resilient construction, enable compliance with updated FEMA guidance, accommodate flood zone restrictions on ground floor use, and improve the visual character of the flood zone’s streetscape. The Zoning Committee of CHPC reviewed the proposed text submitted by the Department of City Planning and offered several suggestions in response to an early draft that were subsequently adopted or addressed. In particular, we are pleased that owners and developers are now encouraged to move electrical rooms above the Flood-Resistant Construction Elevation by having such space be deducted from floor area and that the DCP has addressed the accessibility challenges presented by buildings which are raised significantly above freeboard. We are especially encouraged to see that the new changes permit small homes to actually be raised beyond the minimum requirement to 10 feet in some instances which will allow the space to be used productively.

We fully support the proposed text amendment and are grateful for the Department of City Planning’s diligent work revising the City’s zoning to address affected residents’ most urgent concerns.  Moving forward, we recommend that a study should be conducted with regard to the legalization of affected buildings’ illegal basement or cellar apartments  to minimize the loss of this housing stock; that the Department of City Planning explore other building envelope relief for owners and developers choosing to include features that promote flood resilience (such as more flexibility on small homes lots from side yard requirements); and while we are happy to see an expedited BSA process included – we would encourage DCP to consider a multi lot application with support from the City where multiple lots and homes may be subject to these BSA variances thus expediting further some of the construction and renovation that the City may undertake in a larger scale.

Our committee would like to reiterate that we commend DCP’s efforts that predated Hurricane Sandy and positioned the department to be able to respond so well following the storm’s disastrous impact.  This effort should serve as a model for the city’s response to the need to update and improve its regulations to address disasters such as this one and climate change in the long run.