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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 engineer who 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.