City Planning Seeks Community Input on Flood Resilience Zoning

Map of Floodplain/Zoning Text Amendment Area. Image Credit: NYC City Planning Commission.

The Department of City Planning is seeking input on special flood resilience zoning from residents of the City’s floodplain. City Planning released a video explaining their flood resiliency goals. Resiliency is the “ability to withstand, recover, and emerge even stronger after a storm.” The City has adopted a multitude of approaches that, in combination, make the floodplain more resilient. The City is increasing emergency services, building breakwaters and wetlands to reduce the force of waves, building seawalls and bulkheads to block floodwaters from spreading inland, hardening utilities and infrastructure to prevent power outages, and making strides in resilient construction. Resilient construction of buildings is integrated in the City’s Building Code.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) defines flood risk, floodplains, and insurance rates. The City Department of Buildings enforces FEMA’s guidelines by adopting them into the City’s Building Code. The Building Code requires residential buildings to have space below the flood elevation line that allows water to enter and exit without causing damage. Commercial buildings must have ground floors impermeable to water entry. Buildings constructed using the more recent resiliency standards survived Hurricane Sandy with minimal damage. However, many buildings in the floodplain were built before the adoption of these Building Code regulations and the 1961 Zoning Resolution. 

When the Zoning Resolution was adopted in 1961, flooding was not a high risk problem. As owners tried to rebuild and retrofit their properties to resiliency standards after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, zoning limited the height and bulk of construction. Additionally, FEMA issued a new floodplain map with elevated flood levels, which doubled the amount of buildings in the floodplain that now must comply with resiliency standards. FEMA also increased the amount of “freeboard,” or extra protection, required under a residential building to 2 feet. Flood resilience construction measures include elevating the lowest floor; elevating mechanical equipment, such as plumbing, electric, and heating; limiting ground floor use to parking and minor storage; and relocating lower levels on top of the building. 

The Building Code dictates standards that building construction must adhere to; the Zoning Resolution limits the height, bulk, and type of buildings in specified areas. For flood resilient construction, building standards and zoning limitations are not in reconciliation with each other. 

To help rebuild and upgrade properties according to the new resiliency standards, the City adopted a special zoning resolution in 2013 to temporarily circumvent certain height and bulk requirements. On October 9, 2013, City Council adopted the Flood Resilience Zoning Text Amendment to codify the Mayor’s emergency Executive Order No. 230. This special text amendment: (1) measured building height according to the latest FEMA flood elevation standards; (2) accommodated building access construction for stairs and ramps; (3) accommodated off-street parking; (4) located mechanical systems above flood levels as permitted obstructions; and (5) mitigated design and use of elevated ground floors to be consistent with the streetscape. 

The temporary zoning measures are set to expire soon, and the floodplain needs permanent special zoning to continue flood resilient construction. To make the permanent solution as effective as possible, City Planning has been hosting workshops to gather community input. A multitude of workshops were hosted throughout the year, and more are coming up. The workshop schedule is as follows:

Howard Beach Workshop: Tuesday, October 17, 2017 at 7:30 PM at St. Helen Catholic Academy, 83-09 157th Avenue, Howard Beach. RSVP here.

Southern Brooklyn Workshop: Wednesday, October 18, 2017 from 6:30 to 8:30 PM at Coney Island YMCA, 2980 W. 29th Street, Brooklyn. RSVP here.

Northeast Bronx Workshop: Saturday, October 21, 2017 from 11 AM to 1 PM at SUNY Maritime, 6 Pennyfield Ave., Maritime Academic Center, Room 110, Bronx. RSVP here.

City Planning is also gathering information through a feedback form, and is accepting emails at

By: Shelby Hoffman (Shelby is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2017.)

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