Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency (ZCFR) is a much-needed permanent overhaul of zoning regulations that work in conjunction with flood-resistant construction standards to better support post-disaster recovery and promote long-term resilient solutions for New York City’s floodplain communities. The measure provides clear and simple rules that treat all building types similarly in order to guide long-term resilient design by proactively preparing the City’s neighborhoods to withstand the increasing risks of future storms, floods, and rising sea levels.
No single flood event demonstrated the vulnerability of NYC’s 520 miles of coastline like Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The resulting historic storm surge flooded neighborhoods well beyond the FEMA-defined 1% annual chance floodplain. In fact, it inundated nearly half of the lots further inland in the 0.2% annual chance floodplain. Sandy left many of the area’s buildings severely damaged and in need of upgrade to comply with NYC Building Code standards for flood-resistant construction. However, the storm’s aftermath uncovered many impediments to resilient building, particularly conflicts between Appendix G Building Code flood resistant construction standards and the City’s zoning regulations.
Post-Sandy Resilient Construction Obstacles
With nearly 20% of the City’s land area in a designated floodplain, approximately 400,000 residents and 80,000 varied structures were subject to the original NYC Zoning Resolution that generally neglected to take flood-resistant construction standards into consideration prior to Hurricane Sandy. Resilient construction measures were primarily reactive and restricted improvements to new construction developments and existing buildings that underwent substantial damage or major renovations (equating to 50% or more of market value). Rules predominantly focused on low-density residential areas and less affectively addressed the wider variety of structures found in the City’s floodplain like medium/high-density residential neighborhoods, commercial corridors, and industrial areas.
Zoning rules, especially regarding how height was measured in the floodplain, created obstacles for residents trying to relocate all living spaces above the mandated Design Flood Elevation (DFE), elevate the building’s lowest floor above Sandy’s inundation height, or above future flood levels. Consequently, the Sandy aftermath forced the adoption of two emergency-basis zoning text amendments to remove zoning barriers that were hindering the reconstruction and retrofitting of damaged buildings. The 2013 Flood Text and the 2015 Recovery Text enacted temporary emergency measures focused on facilitating buildings to meet minimum requirements set forth in the flood-resistant construction standards. The emergency zoning regulation created provisional flexibilities, yet these temporary measures were not responsive enough to different conditions, often hindering investment in resiliency.
2021 Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency
Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency was developed based on analysis of lessons learned after Sandy, through coordination with partner City agencies, and community feedback received during an extensive public engagement. The implementation of ZCFR sought to not only make the 2013 and 2015 temporary zoning rules permanent, but also improve upon them to help communities and all building types better withstand, and recover more quickly from future storms, in addition to protecting coastal areas from flooding and slowly rising sea levels. Its 2021 approval provides those within the City’s floodplain more flexible zoning on new construction, introduces recovery measures that would be triggered by emergencies, expands the area eligible for the new zoning regulations, and lifts restrictions against homeowners building or raising homes above a certain level. It also provides flexibility for grading and shoreline design in waterfront areas to help mitigate flood risk. The 2021 enaction of ZCFR achieves 4 main resiliency goals:
ENCOURAGE RESILIENCY THROUGHOUT THE CURRENT AND FUTURE FLOODPLAINS
Buildings in both NYC’s expanded 1% annual chance floodplain and 0.2% annual chance floodplain now have access to rules that allow building owners to invest in resiliency improvements that fully meet or exceed flood-resistant construction standards.
Applicability: By expanding the applicability, building owners throughout the floodplain can proactively incorporate resiliency improvements and design or retrofit their buildings to pre-emptively meet flood-resistant construction standards. Optional resiliency provisions are now consistent citywide and expand to include City Island, Bay Ridge, East Harlem Corridors, Inwood, Hudson River Park, Battery Park City, Governers Island, Downtown Far Rockaway, and Bay Street.
SUPPORT LONG-TERM RESILIENT DESIGN OF ALL BUILDING TYPES
ZCFR makes permanent allowances for building envelopes, ground floors, and other design features to facilitate compliance with the flood-resistant construction standards of Appendix G. Zoning allowances, paired with design rules, facilitate buildings and sites to accommodate sea level rise projections, without negatively affecting their unique neighborhood aesthetic or street.
Building Envelope: Zoning now allows building owners to physically elevate habitable spaces and other building support features above expected flood elevations and proactively meet the resilient construction requirements. No longer are resilient construction efforts triggered only by new construction, severe storm damage, or major renovations. Additionally, ZCFR allows building height to be measured from the Flood-Resistant Construction Elevation (FRCE), creating a consistent framework that encourages building owners to address long-term climate change and resulting in lower insurance costs and usable spaces at grade.
Ground Floors: Ground-floor regulations now incentivize floodproofing, encourage active uses to be kept at the street level, and promote internal building access. More consistent floor area exemptions for wet-floodproofed spaces (typically residential) and dry-floodproofed spaces (typically commercial) promote long-term resiliency improvements and useful ground floors.
Streetscapes: More consistent streetscape requirements and greater design options provide consistent thresholds for all building types in the floodplain and allow a wider range of design options to help mitigate potential blank walls and elevated access.
Special Conditions: Additional flexibility for special conditions common in older neighborhoods allow those buildings to become resilient, enables construction that better matches neighborhood aesthetics, and can accommodate better layouts.
Discretionary Action: Discretionary options address unique situations to ensure that all buildings and neighborhoods can be resilient. Revisions to the existing BSA special permit a wider range of zoning rules to ensure buildings can meet flood-resistant construction standards.
ENABLE EXISTING BUILDINGS TO BECOME MORE RESILIENT THROUGH PARTIAL RETROFITS
Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency includes allowances to assist building owners who wish to invest proactively in small changes which improve their buildings’ resiliency. These provisions are optional and do not require the entire building to fully comply with flood-resistant construction standards. These partial resiliency strategies are aimed at supporting industrial, multi-family, and commercial buildings to gradually incorporate resiliency measures.
Mechanical Equipment: More options in the placement of mechanical equipment allow for movement to the roof or outside of buildings. The construction of new mechanical buildings on larger campus-style housing sites is supported where centralizing equipment into a single structure is more efficient.
Support Spaces: Key spaces that are often located within basements or cellars, especially those that help support businesses such as offices or storage rooms, can be located above flood levels, improving the long-term resiliency of commercial corridors.
Flood Protection Measures: Flood protection measures can be installed when they are required for compliance with flood-resistant construction standards or where alternate flood protection strategies may be warranted.
Waterfront Sites: Waterfront sites can now better accommodate contemporary resiliency measures and address sea level rise. Modifications to waterfront yards, visual corridors and other rules for waterfront sites enable the design of soft shorelines and bi-level esplanades, providing public access both at the water level and at a higher elevation to meet flood elevations at the building level. ZCFR provides flexibility for the grading of waterfront yards and visual corridors and to the design of the shoreline, helping balance flood resiliency with the public experience.
ENCOURAGE RESILIENCY THROUGHOUT THE CURRENT AND FUTURE FLOODPLAINS
The zoning framework facilitates recovery from future disasters making it easier for damaged buildings to be reconstructed, allowing residents and neighborhoods to recover faster, and enabling NYC to offer disaster assistance more quickly to those impacted.
Power System: More options to locate power systems on lots throughout the City make it easier for properties to provide backup energy, especially in the event of a disaster, helping to reduce the burden on the energy grid.
Accessibility: Permitted obstruction modifications enable accessible designs like ramps and lifts for people with physical disabilities in all types of required open areas.
Vulnerable Populations: Nursing homes would be limited in high-risk areas to lessen the health consequences and logistical challenges of evacuating the residents of these facilities.
Disaster Recovery: Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that a lengthy process to update zoning regulations can present obstacles to fast-paced disaster response. A series of disaster recovery provisions are now available through a text amendment when a disaster occurs to offer a roadmap for the public, planners, and decision-makers.
First Step to Resiliency
The first step to a more resilient future is ensuring the public is aware of these regulations, as their intent to protect structures and prevent hardship from future disasters cannot be realized without proper implementation. It is important for homeowners and business owners to understand how these regulations can benefit their properties. McLaren’s team of multidisciplinary experts includes marine, structural, civil, and building envelope engineers that are able to help guide property owners through all ZCFR regulations and design projects that take advantage of these new resiliency standards.
About Our Expert
Kaitlyn Frega CFM, ENV SP is McLaren Engineering Group’s Marine Permitting and Regulatory Specialist. With a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Geography from Villanova and a Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering and Science from Johns Hopkins, Kaitlyn is an environmental scientist and engineering technician that specializes in obtaining government approvals for projects involving the construction or repair of marine structures and acts as a liaison between agencies like United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), New York City Department of Small Business Services (NYCDSBS), and New Jersey Department of Environmental (NJDEP).
Additionally, Kaitlyn is a Certified Floodplain Manager with a deep understanding of floodplain management, FEMA regulations, and floodplain mapping. Understanding that sustainable and resilient design are key components of waterfront design projects, she is also an Envision Certified Professional and WEDG certified to aid projects in achieving environmentally conscious designs that account for climate change and sea level rise projections.