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Ocean City Votes to Require Homes To Be Lifted Higher

City Council passes a "base flood elevation plus two" ordinance.

City Council voted unanimously Thursday to raise required first-floor elevations for new or substantially renovated homes in Ocean City. 

Council gave final approval to a revised ordinance (see attached PDF for full text) that requires Ocean City homes to be built two feet above the level of a hypothetical 100-year flood (base flood elevation, or BFE).

Ocean City's new "BFE +2" ordinance is, in essence, a minor revision to an existing "BFE +1" ordinance. It raises the first floor of Ocean City homes by a foot. With higher first floors, the proposed ordinance allows for higher roof peaks and greater roof pitches. And maximum building heights are measured from BFE +2 (also known as zoning flood elevation), instead of the centerline of the street.

The new ordinance provides one piece of the puzzle for homeowners like Lauren Perkins, who lives on the 5400 block of West Avenue in Ocean City and is wondering if she'll be required to raise her home as part flood damage repairs from Superstorm Sandy.

"Nobody has an answer, and they're urging us to wait," Perkins told City Council during public comment.

Perkins is anxious to have the work done, but she wants first to know what work will be required.

"We're caught in this time thing where nobody has clarification," she said.

For existing homeowners, such as Perkins, the following considerations will apply:

  • State building code requires any home undergoing repairs, reconstruction or renovation that costs more than 50 percent of the assessed value of the structure (not including the land value) to meet the new base flood elevation requirements.
  • Base flood elevations (the height of that theoretic 100-year storm) are determined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which recently released a revised map of "Advisory Base Flood Elevations" (search for ABFE by address in Ocean City). The FEMA map determines the baseline that architects must work from in adding two feet to meet Ocean City's requirement. The "advisory" map is not final, but Council President Michael Allegretto reported Thursday that he had attended a FEMA workshop that indicated the preliminary map is "conservative" — in other words, if it changes, the heights would likely get lower. If homeowners were to elevate homes to meet the ABFE map plus two feet, they would be conservatively above the eventual required height.
  • The ABFE map also designates "V" Zones (velocity zones) where required elevations are higher in areas of the island likely to be affected by waves. The final BFE map will likely have smaller "V" Zones (by the same logic that the preliminary map is "conservative).
  • Homeowners who choose to complete piecemeal repairs over the years ("creeping improvements," they were called on Thursday) to avoid the 50-percent requirement would succeed in finding a loophole to avoid elevating a home.
  • Homeowners who choose not to lift homes to meet BFE requirements will see future flood insurance premium increases of 25 percent per year until the National Flood Insurance Program collects enough money to fully fund claims in a future disaster without relying on taxpayer subsidies.
  • Homeowners who elevate their homes will see discounted flood insurance premiums.
  • The revised ordinance (along with number of other factors) may help determine a lower flood insurance rating (Community Rating System, or CRS) for Ocean City as a whole.

Like Perkins, architect and consulting engineeer Michael Hyland urged City Council to act quickly. He also said it's almost imperative to honor the Advisory Base Flood Elevations.

"I've got to design buildings today," he said.

Council members responded to the call for urgency.

"I don't want people to be handcuffed by what we do here," Councilman Antwan McClellan said. "I think we should move forward."

"These recommendations came long before Sandy," said Councilman Scott Ping, who was representative to the Planning Board when the base flood elevation proposal was first drafted. "People are wanting to build."

Councilman Michael DeVlieger supported the revised ordinance but urged City Council to consider a future ordinance that would potentially exempt the Historic District homes from the requirements.

The homes in the district are close to base flood elevation already, DeVlieger said, and elevating the homes could be impossible or impractical.

Council agreed to send the concerns to the Planning Board for a recommendation on a potential new ordinance.

The first reading of the "BFE +2" ordinance passed in a 6-1 vote at the council meeting on Nov. 29.

The ordinance had been drafted and considered by the Planning Board before Superstorm Sandy struck on Oct. 29. In some cases (such as when floor joists are parallel to the ocean and square to incoming waves in high-hazard flood zones, FEMA's "V" Zones), 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.

Information on the new elevations is included in the following resources:

 

George January 11, 2013 at 03:17 PM
Rules by exception again, My home is old, historic no, but if it were a car, I could get a historic license plate. Councilman Michael DeVlieger supported the revised ordinance but urged City Council to consider a future ordinance that would potentially exempt the Historic District homes from the requirements. The homes in the district are close to base flood elevation already, DeVlieger said, and elevating the homes could be impossible or impractical.
Robert McKenna, MIKE January 11, 2013 at 06:48 PM
Just to be clear... Is this article suggesting that National Flood insurance premiums are going up by 25% on only those people who build brand new, or improve existing homes by an additional expense of over half the structure value, and do not meet the new guidelines? This story I assume is not saying every property that has flood insurance will see a twenty-five percent rise in premiums.
Eric Sauder January 11, 2013 at 07:46 PM
This is rediculous. To say that the CIty has to act now so people can rebuild is ridiculous. You can rebuild now at BF + 1, BF + 2 or at any elevation over and above it. My advice to anyone who's thinking about rebuildig is to go by FEMA's recommendations. To conform to City's requirements does not ensure that you'll be in conformance with FEMA's new advisories, or whatever advisories they finally adopt. As I stated before, the passage of this ordinance when so much is in a state of flux is eckless beyond belief.
Just Sayin January 11, 2013 at 08:27 PM
The Historic District exception is a problem...it seems to arbitrarily discriminate against similarly situated homes not inside of the district (i.e., other old, "historic" homes near BFE but just so happen to be outside the district and where elevation is impossible or impractical - the article does not quote those words directly and I'll assume you used them for argument sake). The impossible/impractical qualification is problematic because the people who raise homes will tell you they can raise any home and one person's impractical (re: too expensive) is another person's practical. These are not solid bases for a policy exception. Homeowners who meet all of the requirements for the Historic District exemption except are not in the District would have a pretty solid claim of undue hardship...
Sid Hess January 11, 2013 at 09:39 PM
The answer to Question #25 in FEMA Pub 213, Questions about Substantially Damaged Buildings, makes clear that it's not what is spent but what needs to be spent. Seems to preclude "creeping improvements".
Eric Sauder January 11, 2013 at 10:52 PM
There are two separate issues here. One is the elevation that FEMA requires to obtain flood insurance. The other is the elevation the City requires to obtain a building permit, assuming the cost of remediation exceeds 50% of the assessed value of a home. I believe there are people living here who simply want to remediate their flood damage but are willing to take their chances with a future flooding event (without flood insurance) thinking that if they get flooded again they can sell out then. They may be unwilling to spend the money to elevate, or may not have the money to elevate. The problem is that because of the elevation requirements of the City and the 50% rule they might not be able to rennovate their homes without elevating them. The assessed value of the actual home (structure) is in many case a fraction of the assessed value of the property. Consequently those people may have no other option but to sell out. The market could become saturated and they might have to sell for pennies on the dollar. Some developer will buy their property at a discount, rebuild, and make a killing off of it. What is important to realize is that two entities come into play that regulate differently. And whay they regulate is also different. Be careful not to confuse FEMA's requirements for flood insurance with the City's requirments for obtaining a building permit.
Still Just Sayin January 12, 2013 at 01:04 AM
Eric - Good advice. One caution, city rules must comply with FEMA's especially because we participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. The city has some flexibility (as a general rule a state or local govt can make rules or laws toughen a fed law but not weaken it - this applies to regulations too). Your comment can be interpretted to suggest that we are dealing with two independant and distinct rules/requirements.
Eric Sauder January 12, 2013 at 01:38 AM
I hear you. Compliance with one is necessary for obtaining flood insurance. Compliance with the other is necessary to obtain a building permit (in some cases). Yes the City should adopt an ordinance that is consistent with the requirments of FEMA. The problem is, at this point, no one knows exactly what those requirements will be. Which is why it was such a bad idea to push this ordinance thru..
George January 13, 2013 at 03:33 PM
one more implication for local businesses. Would it be true that they too would have to raise their building heights? so restaurants, hardware stores, ice cream parlors etc would all have steps to get inside and how would they handle ADA requirements? big ramps, elevators, not to mention how out of compliant with ADA they are now. ever seen some of the bathrooms? figure out how to get a wheel chair in there.

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