Council Members Raise Concerns of Climate Change and Government Takings at East Shore Rezoning Hearing

East Shore Study Area. Image credit: DCP

The proposed rezoning is intended to address high flood vulnerabilities on the East Shore by limiting future developments to low density buildings.  On September 5, 2017, the City Council’s Subcommittee held a hearing and voted 4-0 to approve the City Planning Department’s application to create a special zoning district on the coastal areas of Staten Island. The zoning map amendment and zoning text amendments would cover portions of the Oakwood Beach, Graham Beach, and Ocean Breeze neighborhoods. The rezoning would limit future development in these highly flood vulnerable areas. The proposal area matches the State’s designated area for its Buyout Program. For CityLand’s prior coverage of this proposal, click here.

The State Buyout Program was established to purchase the properties of interested homeowners whose homes were substantially damaged or destroyed during Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene or Tropical Storm Lee. The State purchases these homes at pre-storm values. For the East Shore, the State designated portions of the Oakwood Beach, Graham Beach, and Ocean Breeze neighborhoods as eligible for State buyouts. The Program is voluntary and to date the State has purchased about 60 percent of the eligible homes in Graham Beach and Ocean Breeze, and about 80 percent of the eligible homes in Oakwood Beach. Reuse of the lots is restricted to open space. No further purchases are being made at this time.

At the September 5th hearing, Len Garcia-Duran, Director of City Planning’s Staten Island Office, explained to the Subcommittee to the origins of the proposal from community outreach. He noted that the proposed East Shore rezoning plan was limited to match the State’s designated Buyout area per the request of the borough president and the council member representing the area. Further recommendation would be coming later for areas of the East Shore outside of the buyout area.

Chairperson Donovan Richards thanked City Planning for its efforts, and noted that “in light of what we are seeing in Texas and what could happen in Florida . . . it is very important that we continue to look at tools that we can utilize to make communities more resilient and stable.”

Richards raised concern over the City’s pace is preparing shoreline neighborhoods for future storms. Specifically, he noted that ten neighborhoods were studied under the City’s resilience push, which was initiated by the Bloomberg administration, but that only three of those neighborhoods, including the current proposal, had reached the City Council for rezoning. Richards stated that he was concerned that the City was rezoning the coastal regions piecemeal.

“We need to see more of a concerted effort to ensure that we are maximizing, especially in light that climate change is here. We are going to see a rampant and increased hurricane season this year,” said Richards.

Council Member David Greenfield raised concerns for homeowners that remain in the subject area. Speaking bluntly, Greenfield called the rezoning an effective devaluation of the remaining private property. He characterized the zoning change as making it difficult for current homeowners to rebuild, and in light of the State no longer making offers, and Greenfield wondered if the homeowners were “just screwed.” In response, Garcia-Duran highlighted that the borough president was in discussions to consider opening up the City’s buyout program for these areas after the rezoning action.

“Unintentionally we’re devaluing the value of these properties and these homes and I think many folks who are not as sophisticated as you and I may simply not be aware of that. I really wish there was a final opportunity to let them know, ‘Folks, this is happening. There’s a window. Get out while you can because your property that was worth $300,000 is probably going to be worth $100,000 now,’” said Greenfield.

CC: East Shore Special Coastal Risk District, Staten Island (LU 0744-2017; LU 0745-2017) (Sept. 5, 2017).

By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016).

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