New Zoning Rules Adopted to Protect Coastal Areas from Climate Change

Slide from the Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency Plan proposal. The Plan has been approved by City Council. Image Credit: NYC DCP

The citywide zoning changes will help to keep New York City coastal residents and businesses more prepared for climate change. On May 12, 2021, Mayor de Blasio announced new zoning rules to help protect homes and business located in New York City’s floodplain from climate change. The Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency, approved by the City Council earlier that day, helps to withstand and recover from major disasters and rising sea levels.

The Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency improves emergency rules put in place by Superstorm Sandy. The plan also limits construction of new nursing homes in areas that are at risk of flooding and of difficult access when faced with a storm.

The new zoning will encourage resiliency in current and future neighborhoods at risk of flooding. New and rehabbed buildings in areas that are expected to have a one percent chance of flooding by 2050 are now allowed to meet or exceed flood-resistant construction standards.

The zoning will also support long-term and more resilient designs by allowing building owners to raise their structures and achieve a better floorplan. Additionally incremental retrofits will allow buildings to adapt to a changing climate. The new zoning allows this by letting buildings elevate or relocate mechanical, electrical, and plumbing equipment above the height of floodwaters.

Future recovery is also expected to be sped up by reducing regulatory obstacles. Recovery provisions have been instated that can be quickly selected based on the issues created by a disaster and the resulting recovery period.

Flood risk is also to be limited in three neighborhoods as a part of the Department of City Planning’s Resilient Neighborhood Initiative. Gerritsen Beach, in Brooklyn will have a Special Coastal Risk District established to limit future density and put a cap on building heights at 25 feet above expected flood heights. Sheepshead Bay, located in Brooklyn, has had its Special Sheepshead Bay District prohibit below-grade plazas as they are prone to flooding. Old Howard Beach, located in Queens, will have attached home construction limited.

The Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency is expected to help buildings withstand climate disasters, better recovery, and could lower insurance costs.

The plan is the result of four years of community engagement. The Department of City Planning hosted over 200 public meetings to help create this plan, and the City Planning Commission approved the zoning plan this March.

Mayor Bill de Blasio stated, “New York City has an obligation to transform its relationship with water, and these zoning changes will protect New Yorkers from coastal flooding for generations to come. Climate change will be our city’s greatest long-term challenge, and New York City will do everything it can to keep residents and businesses resilient and prepared for whatever comes next.”

Department of City Planning Director Marisa Lago stated, “ZCFR is a giant step forward, revamping zoning rules to protect vulnerable neighborhoods from climate change by making rebuilding, recovery and resilience easier for New Yorkers. Thanks to ZCFR, our shoreline will be stronger and more sustainable for decades to come.”

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been stated, “This set of citywide zoning changes will help make the city’s coastal residents and businesses safer, stronger, and better prepared for extreme weather in the face of climate change.”

By: Patrick McNeill (Patrick is the CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2022.)


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