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.