City Council Passes Measure to Lift Ocean City Homes Above Floods

A second and potentially final vote on the amended "base flood elevation" ordinance is scheduled for Dec. 13.

A month after Ocean City saw record flooding during Superstorm Sandy, City Council passed the first reading of an ordinance that would raise required building heights and first-floor elevations for new or reconstructed homes. 

The ordinance is a detailed revision of building regulations (see attached PDF for full text, third icon at right), but the general idea is to raise Ocean City homes above the level of a 100-year flood.

The first reading of the ordinance passed in a 6-1 vote at the council meeting on Thursday (Nov. 29) at the Ocean City Free Public Library. A second (and potentially final) reading is scheduled for Dec. 13.

The ordinance had been drafted and considered by the Planning Board before Sandy struck, but the storm served as a sobering reminder of the intent of the proposed new regulations.

Base flood elevation, or BFE, is the height storm waters have a 1 percent chance of reaching in any given year and serves as the baseline for building guidelines.

The existing ordinance requires the first floor of a home to be one foot above BFE. The proposed ordinance would require the first floor to be two feet above BFE. In some cases (such as when floor joists are parallel to the ocean and square to incoming waves), the habitable space must be three feet above BFE.

The new rules would put structures such as floor joists a foot or two above BFE.

With higher first floors, the proposed ordinance allows for higher roof peaks and greater roof pitches. And maximum building heights are measured from the BFE, instead of the centerline of the street.

In casting the dissenting vote, Councilman Pete Guinosso argued that it would be possible to raise the first-floor living spaces without substantially raising the overall roof heights. He asked if it would be possible (using the same centerline of the street formula) to simply add one foot to existing height maximums, since the new ordinance adds one foot to the height requirement for the first floor.

Planner Randy Scheule suggested the proposed formula allows architects some greater flexibility for steeper roof pitches that might put the roof peak of some new homes a few feet higher than their neighbors. But most of the additional height would be in the roofs.

"I think there are a lot of people who wish they had this right now," Councilman Scott Ping said. "But their houses are too low."

The elevation of new homes could potentially help (among a number of other factors) put all of Ocean City in a new category in the National Flood Insurance Program with resulting savings on premiums.


walt hays November 28, 2012 at 12:48 PM
George- you really need to read this article by a former OCNJ Lifeguard: http://oceancity.patch.com/articles/opinion-what-s-next-after-superstorm-sandy You will not be able to rely on bulkheads and back flow valves in the future- you have to raise the bfe and let the water flow as it pleases-below this level while your property is still safe! Consider Sandy a wake up call.
walt hays November 28, 2012 at 02:25 PM
More food for thought: http://news.yahoo.com/un-agency-2012-warmer-normal-despite-la-nina-113850303.html
George November 28, 2012 at 03:44 PM
I've read the articles. so then if the water level is rising and the world is getting warmer and dooms day is around the corner, do we retreat? in the same vein, what about people in the tornado areas. Do we not rebuild, and let 1/4 of the country go back to greenlands? Lets not forget that this storm was a once in a lifetime event. I do believe steady infrastructure investments will always be necessary, otherwise I'm investing infuture oceanfront property Somers Point. Is Charlies up for sale since Sure Kill memorial hospital will be wiped out with the rising ocean? :)
walt hays November 28, 2012 at 04:02 PM
You're a funny gut George. As long as the Anchorage is still selling 7 for a buck, I plan on staying- Don't retreat, Just raise the bfe!
walt hays November 28, 2012 at 04:04 PM
That should haven been GUY-sorry
Eric Sauder November 28, 2012 at 08:28 PM
I opposed BF + 2 not because it will raise the height of the first floor but because it will increase building height. New construction could have a height offset of some 6 to 8 feet compared to existing homes in some neighborhoods. An attempt should have been made to minimize the effect of going to BFE but the opposite was done. There are provisions in this ordinance, such as using lot height instead of the centerline of the street as the measuring point, and determining building height according to lot width, that will only make those offsets worse. To this day I don’t think people really understand that. Some neighborhoods had their own height limitations that will now be done away with. What it all comes down to is that until ALL homes are rebuilt to the new standards there will be significant height offsets between new and existing construction. Older construction will be dwarfed and shadowed by the newer construction. I re-read the ordinance as it now exists and couldn’t help but notice that an attempt was made to show how building height (for new construction) will remain constant by manipulating roof pitch but there is nothing binding in the ordinance that would require it.
jennifer November 28, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Ocean City exists for the prosperity of the realtors, the boardwalk merchants and the developers. Single family homes just mean single families - no rental income. So long as the realtors and boardwalk merchants run the town, the rules will work for them and the good of the community or long term success of the town, mean nothing. Decisions are made for the short term gain only for the people who pull the strings.
John Maddonni Sr. November 28, 2012 at 09:55 PM
In some areas the first floor should be higher. These areas are distinguishable because of Sandy.
George November 29, 2012 at 12:05 PM
I would be interested to know, how many homes which are currently at the most up to date hight requirement had flooding damage? If there are a lot, then I think there needs to be a discussion, if not, perhaps a review and move on.My home was built in the 50's and this is the first time ever, water got into it.
walt hays November 29, 2012 at 12:27 PM
A map showing water coverage and approximate depth at the height of Sandy would be very helpful- does anyone know if such a map exists or can be made?
Bob November 29, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Walt, It can be easily made using LIDAR data and software by those who know how to use it and have it available. I think the city would be wise to develop a relationship with Stockton College - offer some research grant money and let students/faculty do senior or research projects concerning a multitude of projects in Ocean City.
walt hays November 29, 2012 at 09:42 PM
What a great idea Bob. I wasn't so sure what LIDAR was so I looked it up- if anyone else is interested, here's the best I could find on the net: http://www.csc.noaa.gov/digitalcoast/_/pdf/What_is_Lidar.pdf This data MUST be available during Sandy. How can we find out????
Bob November 29, 2012 at 10:00 PM
DEM data is available for free from the State DEP. Most people don't realize, but all the digital mapping data developed by all the US Gov't agencies is available for free. You wouldn't believe the amount and type of data there is available out there, for free. This even includes modeling programs the DEP, US Forest Service, and US Army Corp have developed. It's just a matter of someone having the time to look at it. I have it downloaded and have started piecing things together, but it's a rainy day project - I have other school work, research, and life that takes precedence. It isn't so much that the Sandy data is available, as so much as you just build contour lines with the DEM layer and inundate the area based on the recorded elevation of water. With other software, you can change the height of the water. The Thursday after Sandy, students in the LIDAR class at Stockton were doing this very thing in a 3D view. You can download the coastal evacuation routes and overlay it and see at what water height will the evacuation routes be flooded - this is what they were doing. Every spring the 'Advanced GIS class' students do a project of their choice and what you're talking about is the type of stuff they do. If you have some time on your hands, I suggest pursuing the GIS certificate at either Stockton or ACCC. You could do this stuff on your home computer (the software license is $100 a year for non profit use. A professional license is $1700)
Bob November 29, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Walt, Here is the main source for GIS data for the State of NJ: http://www.state.nj.us/dep/gis/lists.html You can search around here. The downloads is for doing Gis work, but you can still click on "image" to see a .jpg of the shapfile and metadata to see what data is contained within.
walt hays November 29, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Well, I opened that page and then bookmarked it for tomorrow- this may be over my head, but I'll give it a go- I graduated from Penn in 1974- long time since I've attempted something like this! lol
walt hays November 30, 2012 at 05:04 AM
OK Bob-I just spent 4 hours messing with that web site- ended up on NJ Geoweb- have to watch the intro video tomorrow- they also actually offer a free class held in Trenton in Dec. but I have no way to get there-sooo- I sent them an e mail telling what I wanted to do and to point me in the right direction- should get a answer tomorrow/er today. I aim to conquer this mission you have sent me on! In the mean time, is that 100 yr storm map available? I would like to see that. Thanks
Bob November 30, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Walt, The current FEMA maps are available online for free: https://msc.fema.gov/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/FemaWelcomeView?storeId=10001&catalogId=10001&langId=-1 Just input your address. Here is the USGS provisional flood map based on data from Sandy: (just keep ignoring the errors). Just zoom into Ocean CIty. You can do more detailed analysis of the town in GIS, but it's not going to be something you learn over night. I took a quick look at the 10ft LIDAR DEM data for the town and it's pretty interesting. Elevation is higher along the beach- most notably down Central and Wesley Ave through the southern and central part of the town. My guess is that's due to overwash from storms pre-development. Of course, that's not accounting for wave height on the ocean front. There are some troughs in town, most notably Haven Avenue in the 30s - that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. I'll play with it more if I get a snow day.
Marty November 30, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Notice the last statement that this may have an effect on our flood insurance rates. I restate what I said before, I am not against this ordinance, I just think we really need to look at the financial impacts on our residents from Sandy, and how would this new ordinance affect us today if it was in place. Second, will this ordinance give us lower flood insurance rates. Nothing I have heard indicates it will. It just moves us closer, but at what price.
Arthur Kirkland November 30, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Great idea!
walt hays November 30, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Bob, you're keeping me very busy. Here's what I get as a base map for Sandy- I think all data is provisional but still interesting. If anyone wants to play around, The zoom bar can be seen by placing curser in lower left- you can then zoom into whatever area you want to see- I also think you can enter an address. This was fun! Now let's see if the link works:
walt hays November 30, 2012 at 03:25 PM
RATS- I spent an hour cutting/pasting etc to get a summary view to show the readers, BUT what I bookmarked just gives the basic map- Type in your address as Bob said and or just zoom to the area you're interested in.
Eric Sauder November 30, 2012 at 08:54 PM
I don't have the answer George. Base flood will accomodate a 100 year storm. Sandy was rated as a 50 year storm. By definition anything built at base flood (much less BF + 1 or BF + 2) would have been high and dry. New construction is going in at base flood + 1. Now we're hearing that to protect the island from flooding from a storm like Sandy we need to go to BF + 2. That simply isn't true. For the most part what was flooded was built at street level or only feet above it, well below base flood elevation. First we were sold that BF + 2 will save us thousands of dollars on flood insurance. Now we're being sold that we need to go to BF + 2 to protect against a 50 year storm like Sandy. What it really comes down to is that BF + 2 will allow for greater height and bulk (and greater profitability). I just think it would be refreshing for someone to come out and say it. I'm kind of beyond caring about this. Single family is the new buzzword about town. But in the ordinances passed last night most of the lots were rezoned for duplex (and not single family.) When it comes to ensuring the viability of the development community here there's no end to the creativity of the spin.
Eric Sauder November 30, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Frank Donato presented such a map at the council meeting last night. He was asked if he could post it to the city website. He stated that they would.
Bob November 30, 2012 at 10:27 PM
Walt, I very quickly made a visual topographic map of Ocean City. There are no units, the elevation layer has to be referenced before you can start doing flood inundations - all of which takes time. Just use this for a visual reference of highs and lows (blue = low, brown = higher). http://www.flickr.com/photos/52563404@N02/8233670828/ (overall) http://www.flickr.com/photos/52563404@N02/8233683896/ (Gardens to Riviera) http://www.flickr.com/photos/52563404@N02/8232621119/ (Riviera to Merion Park) http://www.flickr.com/photos/52563404@N02/8233670404/ (Merion Park to 59th St.) Again, this is just a visual aid and is nothing official, but you can get a sense how the topography in Ocean City is through this.
walt hays November 30, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Can you now overlay Sandy's tides ? You're the man- BTW doing a little welding on that cycle? I have an ms degree in Metallurgical engineering- did a lot of tig welding in my youth! Aircraft engine hot section blades and vanes- co and ni based alloys. I also know where to get tomatoes next summer-lol
Bob November 30, 2012 at 11:52 PM
Walt, Easily done. All data courtesy of FEMA, NOAA, and the USGS. Here you go: http://www.flickr.com/photos/52563404@N02/8233843894/ (overall) http://www.flickr.com/photos/52563404@N02/8233843380/ (Gardens to Riviera) http://www.flickr.com/photos/52563404@N02/8233843562/ (Riviera to Merion Park) http://www.flickr.com/photos/52563404@N02/8232779933/ (Merion Park to 59th St.)
walt hays December 01, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Wow- awesome!! Not much of the town high and dry based on these pics.
Eric Sauder December 01, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Cool pics. Thanks.
walt hays December 01, 2012 at 03:37 PM
I'm going to try this again Bob-if the link works I'll try to explain: <iframe width="500" height="400" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" src=";extent=-74.6015325476161,39.2699195782531,-74.5429101873851,39.2892864261164"></iframe><br /><small><a href="" style="color:#0000FF;text-align:left" target="_blank">View Larger Map</a></small>
walt hays December 01, 2012 at 03:40 PM
another failure- sorry for wasting your web space


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