Island Contractors Hear Post-Sandy Building Rule Changes

Property Owners Must Acknowledge 'Risk' of Rules Changing Again
By MARIA SCANDALE | Apr 11, 2013

If you see a house sitting on the road right-of-way for a few days in the off-season while pilings are installed to raise it, it will be part of the ongoing post-Sandy rebuild.

That allowance comes by resolution in Long Beach Township, one of many recent construction rule changes outlined to builders at an annual contractors’ meeting held in town hall recently.

The room was full, evidence that rebuilding is not a cut-and-dried process – not when federal requirements have changed due to flood zone re-mapping, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency has not yet finished. In fact, homeowners must now sign an “Assumption of Risk Statement” before a building permit will be issued in Long Beach Township, zoning and construction code officials said.

This was one of the more surprising new rules to some builders, but township building and zoning officials explained that it aids in making property owners aware that the federal flood zone delineations in the current “advisory” maps are not permanent until the final flood maps come out.

To get a permit to construct, reconstruct, raise or elevate a structure in the township, the owners’ signature is required that they “understand that when the maps are finally adopted and become effective, the final elevation determined by FEMA may be the same, may be higher or may be lower than the elevations shown on the December FEMA maps,” the statement says.

On the second page, property owners are also signing that they “voluntarily assume the risk of any future reconstruction of change in elevation which may be required by further FEMA mapping or by further changes in Chapter 13, Volume 7 of the New Jersey Administrative Code.”

“This is something that was drafted by our town attorney … that the owner assumes the risk that the zone they are in is going to be in compliant with the new maps,” said JoAnne Tallon, zoning officer.

“The advisory maps are going to change; FEMA has told us that,” said Construction Code Official Dane Sprague. “When and how much they’re going to change, where they’re going to change, we don’t know.”

One builder in the audience questioned the rule.

“You’re asking the homebuyer to take the risk in a situation that’s already a little bit crazy,” he said.

Sprague answered, “We’re trying to be helpful, to say, this is the current situation but six months from now this might be different.” In fact, maps have changed since July. “There was a new house in Loveladies going up – the guy just got started, and right now it’s below base flood.”

The meeting covered many specifics about new height limits, new specifications for breakaway wall and slab construction, and more. Township ordinances are on the website, as is a link to the current flood elevation map. The website is longbeachtownship.com.

Builders are calling and coming in to the township to ask about their projects on a case-by-case basis. Building department employees said at the meeting that people should leave a message with their phone number if employees are occupied and can’t come to the phone immediately.

Regarding the allowance to temporarily relocate structures into the public right-of-way to allow for the process to raise them onto pilings, there are several prerequisites. First of all, it is not allowed in the summer, but only from October 15 to May 15. An application for the permit is required in town hall at least 10 business days before the moving occurs. The application gives seven days, weather permitting, for the relocation, and it requires traffic control, insurance and a bond.

The structure cannot encroach on the center line of the road “in order that traffic may safely circumvent the structure relocated in the public right-of-way,” says the resolution.

If the house is to be placed on an easement rather than a street, the applicant must obtain the signatures of all of the other property owners who use the easement.

On another topic, builders can get a break in state CAFRA (Coastal Area Facilities Review Act) rules post-Sandy, in that “bayfront and oceanfront properties previously subject to CAFRA approval may receive a local ‘permit by rule’ if they meet the conditions of local zoning and expansion permitted by CAFRA with one foot of freeboard above ABFE (Advisory Base Flood Elevation),” said the handout given to contractors.

Tallon explained, “There is at this point an exemption to the CAFRA permit requirement and that is in the repair of substantially damaged homes that would normally require a CAFRA permit. … If you build to the advisory base flood elevation plus one foot, you can be handled through just this office as the permit by rule, bypassing the CAFRA permit step. So again, that would be oceanfront or bayfront homes, not lagoons. That can be very helpful to streamline the process.

“Also, for reconstruction of a legally existing dock and bulkhead, you don’t have to go to CAFRA,” added Tallon.

In other discussion, many changes fall under a township ordinance (12-32-C) that sets minimum and maximum elevations and also officially adopts the FEMA advisory maps that are currently the building standard. The overall ordinance took effect Jan. 24.

One new specific is that all “mechanicals” for new and substantial improvement must be elevated to the new base flood elevation. That is a change from the past when they were allowed at a lower level.

Sprague mentioned one case of loss during Sandy. “Specifically, we had a garage slab that was above the base flood elevation and we had mechanicals hung from the ceiling, so the mechanical equipment could have been four or five feet above the base flood elevation, and yet we still lost everything down there,” he said. “Breakaway walls started going; it just tore everything out from underneath there. So the elevation wasn’t enough. What this allows for is to bring it up to the actual first floor (level). If you can get the equipment up there and just maybe run the ductwork right up to the ceiling of the garage, we will have reduced that profile down there that would hopefully reduce damage, should we ever have this again.”

Building heights are also addressed in this ordinance and one other. Building heights in V-14 oceanfront zones can now be 36 feet above the western grade next to the house.

Maximum building heights are also listed in another ordinance that just became effective March 29. In the A-zone, the maximum height is 34 feet; in the V-9 and V-10 zone, it is 35 feet; in the V-11 zone, 36 feet. In V zones, elevation is measured to the bottom of the lowest horizontal structural member.

“The heights have been adjusted according to whatever flood zone the house is located in,” said Tallon.

“The other thing we were asked to mention is insurance implications of enclosures,” Tallon said. “In the flood insurance industry, if you have an enclosure that is 300 square feet or greater, apparently your premiums are much higher. That is in a V-zone.

“We have also come to find out that some of the houses that were flooded that had enclosed entries at ground level were not covered under flood insurance. Some of our homeowners were a little upset about that, saying, why do we allow that? But there is a disconnect between the regulatory side and the insurance side, and we have a lot of insurance questions that need to be answered by the flood insurance agents. But I think people should be made aware about these enclosure issues and the living space that is just at base flood – the premiums are going to be a lot higher. If you’re three feet above base flood, you’re going to get the biggest discount on flood insurance.”

Said Sprague, “I think they’re going to try and close that disconnect between flood insurance requirements and construction allowances. They’re looking to try and mesh those a little bit better than what they are now.”

“The best thing you can do is ask,” Sprague advised homeowners and builders.

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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