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Cape May adds new flood elevations into city ordinance

CAPE MAY — City Council on Tuesday amended its flood damage prevention ordinance to incorporate new federal recommendations that boost the elevation of construction in flood-prone areas.

The ordinance, which pertains to new construction and restoration jobs whose cost equals or exceeds 50 percent of the market value of the structure, was recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

After Hurricane Sandy, FEMA released new maps that called for elevation increases in areas expected to be flooded in a 100-year storm. FEMA’s maps at this point only include Advisory Base Flood Elevations, or ABFE’s, but the final maps are expected to be released later this year that would include new permanent Base Flood Elevations or BFEs.

Mayor Ed Mahaney said he does not expect elevation differences between the advisory maps and the permanent maps, through he said the permanent maps could include changes in the zones that are determined to be flood prone.

The ordinance adopts the ABFE level plus 2 feet, which goes 1 foot beyond a recent emergency order by Gov. Chris Christie incorporating the maps into state regulations. City Solicitor Tony Monzo said the ABFE’s are generally several feet higher than the elevations previously required. For example on the oceanfront in the high-velocity V-zone, he said the ABFE’s would take elevations from 13 to 16 feet.

The big debate here is whether historic structures suffering damages of more than 50 percent in a storm would have to be elevated. The city keeps a list of hundreds of historic structures, a list approved by the state Office of Historic Preservation. Monzo said they would be able to rebuild to their original construction.

“Historic structures are excluded from the reconstruction clause. They can be rebuilt as is,” Monzo said.

A FEMA spokesman, however, recently said the law makes no allowance for historic homes, and owners of such homes should seek advice from their local preservation board to find out what their options are. The city does have a Historic Preservation Commission.

A second factor that is not part of the ordinance but could come into play is that federal flood insurance costs could be greatly increased for structures that are not rebuilt at the elevation recommended for a particular zone. The FEMA recommendations are used in drafting Flood Insurance Rate Maps.

Monzo agreed with Mahaney that the BFE maps coming out later this year could include changes to the flood zones. He said those zones may be less strict than the advisory maps. He said back-bay areas currently mapped as V-zones, where the highest elevations are required, may be changed to A-zones, where lower elevations are allowed. He said wave action is why V-zones have the highest levels, but there are arguments that back-bay areas merely suffer rising waters, but not waves, in a coastal storm.

“The zones may change, especially in the back-bays. That’s where most of the criticism has been. The size of the V’s will probably decrease,” Monzo said.

The ordinance does allow residents to get variances from the regulations and sets the Planning Board as the body that would hear applications. This has been the job of the Zoning Board. The ordinance makes it clear that such a variance could result in higher flood insurance premiums.

The ordinance requires new construction in a flood zone to be anchored to prevent flotation and mechanical systems to be elevated. Construction with enclosed areas below the first floor used for parking cars, storage or building access must be designed to allow for entry and exit of flood waters. Human habitation will not be allowed in these areas.

The “substantial improvement” clause requires the new elevations when “reconstruction, rehabilitation, addition, or other improvement” equals or exceeds 50 percent of the market value of the structure. It previously was based on replacement value and not market value.

In related news, council voted to set up a committee to review flood insurance issues in the city, in part because there was no insurance on the new $10.5 million Convention Hall when Sandy hit. Council also voted to renew its $19,000 contract with the firm Marsh & McLennan Agency to act as risk management consultant for 2013. Council, however, said it would seek competition for the job in 2014. Councilman Jack Wichterman said council should have been told there was no flood insurance on the building.

Mahaney proposed the committee and said one of its first tasks would be to study what the risk-management consultant does.

“This goes beyond flood insurance. We need a risk-management committee to tie into long-range planning,” Mahaney said.

The committee will include two members of council, Wichterman and Bill Murray, along with City Manager Bruce MacLeod, Public Works Superintendent Bob Smith and City Clerk Louise Cummiskey.

Contact Richard Degener:

609-463-6711

RDegener@pressofac.com

 

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