Press Releases

For Immediate Release
May 2, 2019

Rachaele Raynoff, Joe Marvilli – (212) 720-3471

Department of City Planning Announces Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency

New zoning measures will enable structures to be more flood resilient, allowing homeowners and businesses to recover more quickly from future storms, protecting life and property

NEW YORK – Department of City Planning (DCP) Director Marisa Lago today announced details of Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency, a set of recommendations to help floodproof buildings in vulnerable neighborhoods against storms and incorporate sea level rise into their design as projected by the New York City Panel on Climate Change. The initiative proposes several actions to make sure zoning promotes resilient buildings and reduces flood risks in the city’s most vulnerable areas now and in the future.

“Through the devastating damage of Hurricane Sandy and the ensuing recovery process, we learned that our zoning laws inadvertently keep New Yorkers from building more resiliently. Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency will help us withstand the next major storm or flooding event, creating a better, stronger, more sustainable shoreline for decades to come,” said DCP Director Marisa Lago.

“Flooding is a serious and growing concern for New York City’s coastal neighborhoods,” said Jainey Bavishi, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency. “We must give coastal residents and businesses the flexibility they need to prepare for the next storm—which is exactly what these changes will do.”

“We applaud our colleagues at the Department of City Planning for spearheading this essential framework for sustainable and resilient development. This plan is important not only because it builds upon improvements to city zoning rules put in place after Sandy, but because it sets the table for future zoning changes that take into account our changing climate,” said Department of Buildings Acting Commissioner Thomas Fariello, R.A.

As home and business owners were recovering from Hurricane Sandy, many ran into building envelope constraints when they attempted to elevate or retrofit their buildings. This left many to choose between losing an entire floor of space or remaining vulnerable to flooding. In early 2013, DCP enacted emergency zoning measures on a temporary basis to address these constraints and accommodate the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s construction requirements for the areas covered by their Flood Insurance Rate Maps. The recommendations released by DCP today would improve upon and make these rules permanent.

With 520 miles of coastline, a significant portion New York City’s geography is vulnerable to flooding during storm events. More than 430,000 people and 80,000 buildings are currently within the 1% annual chance floodplain. An additional 350,000 people and 44,000 buildings are located within the 0.2% annual chance floodplain. With sea level rise projections, the extent of today’s 0.2% annual chance floodplain closely reflects the extent of the 1% annual chance floodplain by the 2050s. The 1% annual chance floodplain would also increase to encompass nearly 800,000 people and more than 120,000 buildings.

Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency would expand the area where flood resilient zoning provisions apply, more than doubling the number of buildings that could utilize these provisions. It would accomplish this by allowing buildings in both the city’s 1% annual chance floodplainand 0.2% annual chance floodplain to fully meet or exceed flood-resistant construction standards, even when these standards are not required by FEMA and NYC’s Building Code. This change would allow building owners to proactively raise living space and important equipment out of harm’s way.

To achieve this goal:

  • Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency would change building envelope provisions to allow height to be measured from either the minimum required elevation for it to be floodproofed, or to a higher plane above the ground-level that incorporates sea level rise projections.
  • It would expand a provision for detached homes on small lots, called the ‘Cottage Envelope’ that produces a shorter, better-designed, resilient home that is more in keeping with the surrounding neighborhood character.
  • It would offer flexibility to buildings that predate the underlying zoning. Since these buildings do not conform or comply with zoning, it is very difficult for owners to make major changes to them. Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency would add exceptions for retrofitting and reconstructing these types of buildings to meet minimum flood-resistant construction standards while balancing broader planning goals.

The proposal would also:

  • Allow mechanical, electrical and plumbing equipment as permitted obstructions, to elevate them above the expected height of floodwaters, whether within a building or on a separate platform. These rules would also apply to resiliency measures like retaining walls, berms and flood panels.
  • Allow emergency generators as permitted obstructions in side and rear yards on a citywide basis.
  • Exempt floor area for ground floor spaces that are wet-floodproofed (meaning water can freely flow in and out of the building), which can only be used for parking, access and storage.
  • Exempt floor area for the first 30 feet of the ground floor of a commercial or community facility use, if it is dry-floodproofed (meaning water cannot enter the building).
  • Allow mixed-use buildings to recover the loss of commercial cellar space as part of floodproofing the building by relocating it to the second floor in areas where this is currently prohibited.
  • Exempt floor area for industrial buildings that build a small mezzanine or second floor to store essential materials or equipment.
  • Provide a wider range of design options to soften the impact of elevated uses on the public realm.
  • Create flexible curb cut rules, to allow for parking below elevated homes.
  • Provide a pathway for expediting recovery efforts following a future disaster

“CHPC applauds the Department of City Planning’s continued effort to work with communities in the floodplain to understand and address their needs. Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency is a bold step to update zoning to reduce the city’s vulnerability to coastal flooding now and in the future. By removing zoning hurdles, proactively expanding the area to which resiliency zoning would apply and encouraging more buildings to be flood-resilient, the Department is helping to ensure that residents and businesses can recover faster after the next major storm,” said Jessica Katz, Executive Director of Citizens Housing & Planning Council.

“We applaud the Department of City Planning for proposing these forward-looking zoning changes that promise to remove substantial obstacles to communities that are confronting the challenges of rising tides due to climate change,” said Christie Peale, CEO/Executive Director of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods. “We’re particularly gratified to see homeowners integrated into these recommendations, underscoring the need to design our built environment holistically to strengthen neighborhoods against future flood risk.”

“The reality is that flooding and storms will continue to threaten our communities, putting homes and lives at risk and exposing vulnerable New Yorkers to displacement and homelessness. With Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency, the Department of City Planning is showing that it’s taking the situation seriously,” said Laurie Schoeman, senior national program director for resilience and disaster recovery at Enterprise Community Partners. “Enterprise has worked for years to increase resiliency in New York City neighborhoods and across the nation prone to flooding, many of which house predominantly low-income families, and we know what works. The tools provided by the DCP initiative will help preserve some of the city’s most critical housing stock for generations to come and help inform resiliency planning for many communities across the nation prone to flooding and storms.”

Since August 2016, DCP has been working with stakeholders in flood-prone neighborhoods throughout New York City to develop these zoning recommendations that promote resilient buildings and neighborhoods, and reduce risk. During this public engagement process, we briefed 2,500 stakeholders at 138 community events, including elected officials, community boards, civic associations, non-profits, architects and more.

DCP will continue public engagement as this proposal moves forward. Environmental review and the formal public review process are anticipated to start before the end of the year.  

Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency is the latest in a series of actions and reports from DCP to increase resiliency and reduce flood risk across New York City.