Ocean City Council approves BFE plus 2

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File photo / Ocean City Council approves changing its zoning flood elevation to base flood elevation plus 2 feet. File photo / Ocean City Council approves changing its zoning flood elevation to base flood elevation plus 2 feet.

OCEAN CITY — Homes in Ocean City will now have to be built to base flood elevation plus 2 feet.

Ocean City Council unanimously approved building height and elevation changes, commonly referred to as base flood elevation plus 2, at its meeting Thursday, Jan. 10.

The base flood elevation ordinance was introduced by council at a Nov. 29, 2012 meeting. The ordinance changes the mandatory height of the first “habitable” floor of a structure from one foot above base flood elevation to two feet above base flood elevation. According to officials with Federal Emergency Management Agency, base flood elevation is the elevation shown on the flood insurance rate map for each zone, indicating the highest elevation of water from a 100-year flood (a flood that has a 1 percent chance of happening each year).

“This ordinance would change the way the height of residential structures is measured currently,” city attorney Dottie McCrosson explained. “Under this ordinance, it would be measured from a new term, zoning flood elevation, which is base flood elevation plus 2 feet.”

Under the ordinance, building heights are subsequently amended based on new definitions for zoning flood elevation. She said the ordinance also changes the location from where the height of the building is measured, currently from the centerline of the road to the zoning flood elevation.

McCrosson said the ordinance provides owners of similarly sized lots in similar neighborhoods the same building envelopes in which to develop their properties.

“There are specific heights provided and their based on lot widths with some exceptions,” she said. “The V zone is called out for special treatment.”

A velocity zone, otherwise called a V zone, is an area designated in the flood insurance rate maps developed by FEMA that has the potential for waves of 3 feet or higher during a 100-year storm.

Since the ordinance was introduced, FEMA has released advisory base flood elevation maps, which reflect base flood elevation changes being considered by the agency. While this prompted questions from council on how it should proceed with its own elevation changes, ultimately it was decided that the proposed change would help homeowners currently looking to build or rebuild in Ocean City.

The city has been looking into increasing its zoning flood elevation from BFE plus 1 to BFE plus 2 as part of the master plan re-examination report, McCrosson explained.

“This did go to the planning board and was found to be substantially consistent with the master plan,” McCrosson said, adding that there were no recommendations made from the planning board during its consistency review.

Due to the release of a draft ordinance prior to the Nov. 29 meeting, to many it seemed that there were substantial changes to the ordinance from introduction (also called first reading) to final passage. McCrosson said that the ordinance council voted on Nov. 29 was the same one it voted on Jan. 10.

“This is the same draft you saw at first reading,” McCrosson told council.

At the Nov. 29 meeting, Councilman Pete Guinosso, representing the 4th Ward, said that while the increase to base flood elevation plus 2 was fine, he had a problem with measurements not taken off the center line of the road because it would increase building heights across the island. At the Jan. 10 meeting, he expressed the same concerns. He asked that the council consider going out to the community to hear their concerns before moving forward.

Councilman Antwan McClellan, representing the 2nd Ward, said that after talking to many professionals and hearing the concerns of citizens trying to rebuild, he wanted to pass the ordinance.

“I don’t want to see anybody handcuffed by what we do here, so I just think we need to move forward,” he said.

At-large Councilman Keith Hartzell agreed.

“Unfortunately, if we do nothing, were going to leave a fair amount of people in a lurch,” he said.

Hartzell argued that the increased height allowed for better design elements in construction throughout the island. Council President Mike Allegretto agreed.

“I feel 100 percent confident this will give us better looking homes,” Hartzell said.

He said that building height has to be considered, but safety is of utmost important.

“Unfortunately, when Sandy came along, the rules have changed,” he said. “Safety has to come first.”

“This ordinance was talked about before we started working on the re-exam in the planning board only because we know that we have to look towards safety, as Mr. Hartzell has said,” at-large Councilman Scott Ping said. “I, personally, am a firm believer that were in an area in history where there is global warming and we do have sea level rise, and because of that we have to look toward the future.”

Ping said that Hurricane Sandy only increased the need to make changes to zoning flood elevation. He said city code is a living document that can be and should be revised over time as the needs of the city change.

Councilman Tony Wilson of the 3rd Ward said it would be irresponsible for council not to consider the change.

“Buildings have to go up. The neighborhoods are going to have to adjust to the new heights,” he said.

Councilman Mike DeVlieger of the 1st Ward said that while he is for the ordinance for the majority of the island, he is concerned about the historic homes that would be adversely affected by the change, specifically if they decided to renovate or sell.

“For the large majority of the island, it is absolutely in our best interest,” he said. “My concern with it, as it’s written today, is it will have a direct and serious impact on the historic community.”

He said owners of historic homes that are looking to renovate are going to incur substantial costs if they are forced to elevate their homes.

State building code dictates that any structure where renovations would exceed 50 percent of the value of the structure are required to bring their home up to current building codes, including height.

Understanding that it may only help those structures that are currently at base flood elevation plus 1, DeVlieger asked that council consider a future amendment that will exempt the historic community from base flood plus 2.

“I think the majority of us agree with you, and we did not really consider the historic zone when we were dealing with this and putting this together,” Ping said.

He said that the planning board should consider DeVlieger’s suggestion and make a recommendation to council.

“There’s no reason you can’t bring forth a separate ordinance addressing just the historic district,” McCrosson said.

Mayor Jay Gillian said he saw where DeVlieger was “coming from” and agreed it should go to the planning board.

Guinosso asked that council also consider future changes for elevations in Merion Park and Ocean City Homes.

Although some in the audience urged council to wait until FEMA releases its new flood insurance rate maps to decide on raising its buildings standards, others said they would like to see swift action from council.

“I’ve been studying this ad nauseam since the hurricane,” Mike Hyland told council in reference to the advisory base flood elevation maps released by FEMA.

He said he wants to define base flood elevation in the ordinance in a way that recognizes the advisory maps. He said buildings are going to be higher.

“I’m here to say, ‘so what?’ It’s more important that the buildings be safe,” Hyland said.

Former 4th Ward Councilman Roy Wagner, speaking as a member of the public said, “I’m frankly shocked that you are going ahead on the second reading of this ordinance.”

He said that council should wait and consider some changes before moving forward.

Lauren Perkins said she just moved to Ocean City this year and is interested in raising her home, but has been given two conflicting points of view.

“I have been talking to contractors. I have been talking to engineers. Nobody has an answer and they’re urging me to wait,” she said, adding that on the flip side of that, everybody is also telling her the longer she waits, the more it will cost.

Perkins asked that council vote as quickly as possible.

“It’s kind of holding everybody back,” she said.

Bill McMahon with McMahon Insurance said, “We need to get these houses out of harm’s way and do it the right way.”


Base flood elevation plus 2 feet ordinance approved by Ocean City


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