Amendment the Result of BP Katz’s Hurricane Relief Task Force and de Blasio Administration’s Build it Back Overhaul, Which Prioritized Interagency Collaboration and Community Engagement to Accelerate the Recovery

QUEENS, NY – Borough President Katz issued an approval of  the Citywide Flood Resilience text amendment – proposed by the Department of City Planning, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery – which will lift regulatory barriers that have slowed the recovery process in Sandy-impacted neighborhoods in Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn.

In the wake of Sandy, thousands of properties are being elevated, repaired and rebuilt to comply with flood-resistant construction standards and to protect property owners against higher flood insurance premiums. Yet the city’s existing Zoning Resolution includes a number of restrictions on construction that have inhibited such recovery efforts. The amendment facilitates the elevation of existing homes and the resilient reconstruction of significantly damaged or destroyed homes by simplifying the process for documenting non-compliances and non-conforming uses, removing disincentives for property owners to make resilient investments, and establishing a new zoning envelope so that rebuilt homes fit the visual character of the neighborhood.

“This is a vital text amendment that will finally relieve the red-tape that had burdened entire neighborhoods and prevented thousands of homes from fully rebuilding since Hurricane Sandy,” said Borough President MELINDA KATZ.  “Thanks to joint inter-agency collaboration, home and property owners will soon be able to rebuild their homes to their original form prior to the storm, with improved flood resiliency elements. While many in the communities damaged by Sandy may have long given up, the message from the City is that we have not given up on you, and we hope to re-engage you in the recovery process to make our neighborhoods whole once again.”

The Citywide Flood Resilience text amendment has been approved by affected Community Boards 10, 13 and 14.  The need for the amendment emerged from Borough President Katz’s Hurricane Relief Task Force, which brings together multiple local, state and federal government agencies, elected officials and civic leaders to one table to discuss relevant recovery and rebuilding issues. The resulting proposed amendment is a testament to Mayor de Blasio’s 2014 overhaul of Build it Back, which prioritized effective inter-agency collaboration and increased community engagement in the planning process.

The proposed amendment must next be approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council before it can take effect.

“From its inception to now, the proposed text amendment tells the story of Build it Back’s dramatic progress under Mayor de Blasio’s leadership: the idea for the amendment came out of a community-level meetings in Queens, it was produced with collaboration across agencies, and it is being passed to help homeowners who were stuck because of burdensome regulations so that they can begin rebuilding their homes and making their neighborhoods more resilient,” said AMY PETERSON, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery. “It is one more piece of a comprehensive program overhaul that has brought us to this point, and ensured that relief has been felt by thousands of homeowners in Queens and across the City.”

“These proposed zoning changes will speed up the process for owners of Sandy-damaged buildings to obtain building permits for elevation and reconstruction and will reduce their vulnerability to future flood events, as well as protect property owners against higher flood insurance premiums,” said CARL WEISBROD, Director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chairman of the New York City Planning Commission. “This responds to Mayor de Blasio’s mandate to increase our resilience and epitomizes our commitment to streamlining government to make it work better for the people we serve.”

The amendment would make the following changes:

Before construction can take place, existing zoning codes demand that homeowners produce documentation detailing any changes made to a home since the enactment of the 1961 Zoning Resolution, or other subsequent zoning changes. This burden of proof is often impossible to meet: the fact that many properties have changed hands since 1961 and that many properties were severely damaged during Sandy means documentation is often inaccessible, incomplete, or has simply been destroyed.  As a result, homes which have had even minimal alterations made cannot be approved for elevation or reconstruction unless those homes revert to their 1961 layout. The amendment would remove regulatory barriers to allow homeowners to elevate or rebuild homes according to existing conditions (even if non-compliant or non-conforming).

Just as with non-compliances, there are significant gaps in the documentation history of Sandy-affected properties that make it difficult to determine the boundaries of a zoning lot. The amendment would remove regulatory barriers to allow homeowners to use a tax lot rather than a zoning lot for the purposes of zoning calculations.

Under current regulations, homes must be rebuilt according to existing zoning regulations– which for narrow and shallow lots would result in extremely tall buildings that do not provide quality living space and are inconsistent with the overall character of the neighborhood. The amendment would establish “zoning envelopes” where homes would be allowed to have wider footprints. The resulting homes will be shorter and wider, making them more appropriate to the character of the surrounding neighborhoods and more livable for the homeowners.

Restrictions on elevating parts of a structure that are below adjacent grade level have deterred some homeowners who use their basements for living space from elevating their homes. That is because current rules say any elevation can only include habitable spaces that are adjacent to or above the adjacent grade level. The amendment would remove these restrictions by allowing dwelling spaces that are up to 50% below adjoining grade) to be elevated.

To date, Build it Back has: