Velocity zones raise concerns in downtowns
Proposed FEMA advisory flood zone maps have raised numerous concerns for island homeowners who found themselves in higher-risk flood zones — but in a few towns, the problem extends all the way to Main Street.
Downtown business districts in Margate, Ocean City and Sea Isle City include areas that would be located in the higher-risk “Velocity Zones”, or V Zones — meaning that owners would need to prepare for high wave activity, while those in the lesser-risk “A zone” would only have to meet requirements dealing with storm-surge flooding.
Owners who don’t meet the standards — which in the V Zone includes installing piling and breakaway panels to allow the waves to roll through — may have to pay more for flood insurance if they have a federally backed mortgage.
“We’ve always been a flood area,” said Gigi Rosenberger, owner of Marketplace Realty on Ventnor Avenue in Margate. “Now we’re ‘velocity’? And ‘velocity’ is three-foot waves off the bay? Where?”
On the end of Margate near the Longport border, the V Zone extends out from the bay all the way to Atlantic Avenue, one block from the beach — meaning that in terms of elevation, the business area along Ventnor Avenue sits at the bottom of a giant bowl.
“Everyone’s in the same predicament,” said Michael McMenamin, a sales associate at Marketplace Realty. “We’re all just more or less in a holding pattern. We’re just getting it back together, no different from homeowners.”
Despite reopening the Friday after Hurricane Sandy hit, work was still ongoing Monday at the office on Ventnor and Decatur avenues, where the floors and walls were all ripped up and a buzzsaw sat outside near the door.
“We’re built on a slab here,” McMenamin said. “If we elevate, are we going to have to put an elevator in? We have customers coming in and out of our business, and obviously we have to be ADA compliant and everything else. ... No one along here is going to raise their properties.”
Added Rosenberger: “They’re generalizing certain areas. This all shouldn’t be in the Velocity Zone.”
She has invested a large amount of money getting the building fixed up and back open, she said, including a 4,000-square-foot parking lot in back.
“If you had told me I’m going to have to tear down the building, I would have torn it down,” she said. “Now, several hundred thousand dollars later? No, I’m not going to tear it down.”
Down the street at the Marielena boutique, which reopened six weeks ago after extensive interior work to repair Sandy damage, having to deal with this latest obstacle seemed like one step too far.
“After everything we’ve been through, now to talk about this?” asked manager Lily Marchiani. “There’s a lot of pressure on everybody. Hopefully they’ll come to some kind of decision and we’ll all be happy.”
Gov. Chris Christie recently adopted the advisory flood maps as the guideline for rebuilding — though his order as adopted right now only applies to homes that were damaged 50 percent or greater — but a recent meeting with the head of the governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding that included local mayors, officials and legislators led to assurances that the maps would be adjusted as the data is finalized and after a lengthy review process.
In the meantime, though, officials were doing what they could to get the word out about the proposed map’s effects.
“This new map is — in one word — a disaster,” Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio said.
“In the business district, we don’t feel it’s a good idea,” he said of the V Zone’s meandering path through the center business area, including three corners of the intersection of JFK Boulevard and Landis Avenue. “The number one thing with this is it’s going to affect the economic impact on the city. To raise buildings that have been there for many, many years will be next to impossible. And to have some buildings up and others at ground level, that’s not conducive to a scenic district. It will look like a roller coaster, with ups and downs.”
The V Zone in Ocean City could be even more problematic, as its border essentially runs along Asbury Avenue for several blocks — meaning potentially different standards for opposite sides of the street.
The maps, Desiderio said, “need common sense. ... I can understand new construction being built up a little higher, but to go to existing structures? In places with little or no damage during Superstorm Sandy? That’s not using common sense.”
Back at Marielena, owner Marie Gallagher was circumspect.
“All I was concerned about was getting open,” Gallagher said. “What are they going to do? I’m not going to raise it. They may raise my insurance, but that’s all they can do. How much more can they raise me? ... I just needed to be open. I didn’t even think about it.”
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