Up and down the coast of New York and New Jersey, property owners are being forced to raise their homes and businesses above a new 100-year floodplain drawn up and mandated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In the five boroughs, elevating multistory buildings present a particular problem.
"FEMA does this all over the country, but by-and-large, New York looks different than a lot of these places," said Howard Slatkin, the Department of City Planning's director of sustainability. "In addition to small homes, we've got rowhouses and apartment buildings and a streetscape we want to maintain."
On Monday, the city put forward its plan to address these problems by certifying a slew of proposed zoning changes that would allow for the elevation of buildings. For the past seven months, Mr. Slatkin and a team at the City Planning Department have been wrestling with the challenge of coming up with a way to fortify the city against future storms without destroying the urban character that makes New York unique.
If buildings must be raised five, eight, even 12 feet up on stilts, planners fear it could deaden New York's vibrant street life along coastal areas. In other words, will Jane Jacobs float?
The proposal "will relieve conflicts between zoning and steps owners of buildings in flood zones can take to make their buildings more flood resilient," said City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden. "It will enable [owners] to rebuild or retrofit [properties] to new flood protection standards and help restore the same amount of living and working space they were previously permitted."
The proposals will now be vetted over the next six months through the city's public review process, with input from the community boards in affected coastal areas across the city from Staten Island to the Bronx. The provisions will only be until a year after FEMA issues its final flood maps, expected in 2015, because the zoning changes are being undertaken through an expedited emergency zoning program. The city will study the provisions it puts in place now to create a more thorough zoning proposal to be implemented in the future.
The city has already waived some zoning rules through an executive order following the storm, but these new zoning changes will be more permanent and nuanced.