Tag Archives: FEMA regs

Another quirk in Tesei’s Rules

"What do I do as First Selectman? Boy that's a tough one."

“What do I do as First Selectman? Boy that’s a tough one.”

A lawyer who wishes to remain anonymous because he has to deal with Diane Fox, Peter Tesei’s choice to head our P&Z staff, points out this little kicker in FEMA regs as interpreted by our P&Z employees:

Scenario: you are in the AE zone, 8′ above base flood level, and you are 7′ below compliance height (6′ FEMA, 1 ‘ to grow on courtesy of the Tesei bunch). You’ve never spent a dime on improvements on the house since you built in 1986 and, because it’s a lovely house, it – the house, not the land it sits on – has an appraised value of $1,000,000. That means you can spend $500,000, half that appraised value, on improvements without having to jack the house 7′ into the air, right?

Like an old man’s scent, it depends. If you have it in mind to bump out the kitchen to add a 15X15 breakfast nook, say, or perhaps a small library or, God forbid, an entire wing, you’re screwed: Diane and her crowd insist that if you leave the existing footprint, whatever you add must be built to comply with the new FEMA code, regardless of your allowable 50% budget. You want that breakfast nook? Bring a ladder, because it will be hovering seven feet above your cereal bowl. Same with that library and that wing? It just took off, soaring to the heavens. In other words, if you buy a non-complying house, you are buying, and stuck with,  its exact footprint as it exists now – no adding on unless, of course, you bring a pogo stick to the table.

Does FEMA require this? Absolutely not. Does Diane? Absolutely yes. And by his acquiescence, so too does First Selectman Peter Tesei. I think that, just as our president has claimed ObamCare as his own, we should start referring to the FEMA code  as interpreted and enforced by Tesei’s staff as TeseiRegs. Just a suggestion.

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2013 FEMA Zones, Old Greenwich

Courtesy of Mickster – check this link for the entire map, plus the 2010 map, so you can appreciate how your government has expanded its grasp. There’s not too much change from before, but you can look up your street and see what’s what.

Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 12.58.02 PM

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More on FEMA zones

Lucas Point

Lucas Point, 2015

Long conversation with architect and Riverside native Ed Davis (203-637-2748) just now on the FEMA regs. Here’s (some of – call Ed directly for more) the deal – errors are mine, not Ed’s, as is any animus expressed towards Diane Fox here.

AE Zones: house must be, per federal guidelines, and dependent on which of the AE zones the property’s located,  13, 14, 15′ above the baseline elevation (my term – not certain of the exact term used by FEMA), plus an extra foot.

That 14′ in the AE-13 one, for instance, is measured from the finished floor level if, and only if, there are no mechanicals below that floor. If you have electrical wires -one foot in conduits, and duct work – another foot, you will end up 16′ in the air before stepping foot in your house.

Nothing can impede flood waters below that space, so solid walls are out. If you have a crawl space, with flow-through ports, more than 5′ high, the space between the ground and that floor 16 feet above it count as the first story. This is true for crawl spaces in all sections of town, but is particularly troublesome down in the VE zone where, presumably, you’d want some height to shield things from the water or if, say, you have to raise your house six feet (because it’s already 8′ above the baseline) and want a semi-closed foundation below the main house instead of lattice work or plain air. Can’t do it and still have a 2 1/2 story house without appealing for a varience.

Worse, and rather puzzling, Diane Fox has decreed that any such 5′ crawlspace will count against your FAR – this is unlivable space, but under the Fox regime, it still counts against you.

Cost of elevating your house. Ed tells me that he’s received 11 bids for four different projects and they’ve come in between $220,000 – $260,000, with one project costing over $300,000. Work involved includes disconnecting, moving and reconnecting utilities, raising furnace, raising the house itself of course, stairways to get you and your groceries up those 16 feet, etc.

The town of Greenwich can apply to FEMA for funds to pay 75% of such costs for individual owners, but the deadline for filing with the town is October 23rd, so if you haven’t filed already, you’re almost certainly out of luck. You can try calling First Selectman Assistant Michael Rosen at Town Hall for soothing words – he’s coordinating all this – but you need an approved preliminary application from the state before you can apply to the town (which in turn, applies to the federal government on your behalf), and the chances of getting anything from the state between now and October 23rd are nil.

To apply to the state, you must submit photos, a current elevation certificate, copy of the tax card and a complete record of all past flood losses. To apply with the town you need that state approval, plus one bid from a house raiser and three bids from contractors who will do the work before and after the house is raised. Assuming you can accomplish all that in 12 days, you can expect to begin construction next spring or summer.

In short, if you haven’t done all this already, you’re on the hook for the full cost of repairs. And if you’re negotiating to buy a house in the VE zone now, and the owners have not already applied, be sure to add $250,000 – $300,000 to your estimate of costs, the disruption of construction, and the end result of a house stuck 16′ in the air.

Then perhaps consider finding another house.

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Greenwich conservation director: tear down everything at Tod’s Point

Not by the hair on my chinny chin chins

Not by the hair on my chinny chin chins

Denise Savageu, the employee we for some reason have turned over the entire town to (along with her counterpart, zoning staffer Diane Fox) is dead set against anything left standing at Tod’s Point.

Savageu gives a lot of blather about “conversations” and “long term planning, but here’s her bottom line:

“Whenever you build a building or a bridge, it has a lifespan,” said Savageau, “There may be another discussion on whether to rebuild it another time in the future, and that should be part of the bigger discussion. As a town asset, we should ask what will the town do if this does get damaged again.” [Rebuild it with private funds, Denise - Ed]

Understand that every original building at Tod’s is below the new FEMA flood elevation. In fact, even the ticket booth is in violation – will the staff there lower a basket for visitors to place their beach cards in? Savageau’s logic demands that it all be torn down, so this isn’t just about the old barn, it’s about every building down there. Her dream is clearly a windswept collection of dunes and woods, preferably without evil humans despoiling her sanctuary.

You can get the full flavor of this “conversation” in an earlier post here, “Wonder where the concession stand is?” but in essence Savageu and Fox have bought the global warming-imminent flood Kool-Aid of Al Gore and spiked it with vodka: everything along our coast must be razed and rebuilt, if it’s rebuilt at all, on 9′ stilts. This isn’t required by federal law, and, like the Tod’s Point buildings, the money involved is private – as private as the property homes in Shorelands sit on – but these two petty hysterics want it gone, all gone.

The Planning & Zoning Commission is entirely free to ignore the recommendations of these two staffers. Will it? There’s no record of common sense ever rearing its ugly head on that panel before, but let us push on, like the groom in a second marriage, and perhaps we’ll witness the triumph of hope over experience.

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Live blogging the P&Z FEMA session

P&Z. Ogilvy on floor, Gideon refuses to give up his seat Mean.

P&Z. Ogilvy on floor, Gideon refuses to give up his seat Mean.

Bad start- microphones don’t work, commission members too deaf to (a) notice or (care). These are the people who brought us FAR, of course.
Coastal areas only are affected by new FEMA rules.
Base flood Elevation changes- old Greenwich, you’re f’d
Flood zone houses any part of town- “your insurance premiums will go up significantly”. You betcha.
The 50% rule (I’ll explain later) is going down to 30% in the future. Want a new bathroom? Plan on tearing down your house.
David Ogilvy is sitting on the floor(photo later) in direct violation of the FEMA minimum height level.
Question posed(sorry Walt, no answer to amount needed to bribe for a variance) – are these new maps “final”? Answer: it’s the federal government, nothing is final. Build now, regret later.
BTW- your furnace and generator will be joining the rest of your family on those stilts.
Katie Deluca – another politician’s child who’s found employment with the town* -  is not answering a question – incapable or duplicitous? Both?

Wrap up: 466 homes in Old Greenwich are being moved into flood zone with these new maps. Once there, they will all be by definition “non-conforming”, which means that anything done to the existing structure- new windows, new roof, interior walls moved, kitchen updated, etc. cannot exceed 50% of the market value of the house – not the land and house, just the house, less the cost of all improvements made since 1986. If your house is worth $350,000 and you  added a $50,000 addition in 1986, a new $75,000 kitchen in 1996 and $75,000 again in a redone master bedroom bath in 2010, you are already over your limit and should you want to install new storm windows, say, you’ll have to tear your house down and start anew. That ought to send the value of older homes soaring.

Why does our own P&Z go back to 1986 in calculating prior improvement costs instead of using FEMA’s much more lenient policy of a one-year look back? “Because we’ve always done it that way”, explains Ms. Deluca. Pressed for a reason beyond mere tradition, a P&Z member contributes a stirring story of a mother and her infant trapped on the second floor of their house in another town during Hurricane Sandy. That must not be allowed to happen here, she insists (apparently the mother and child were safely rescued, and no reason for their ignoring evacuation orders in the first place was supplied) so Greenwich P&Z intends to force property owners into compliance and damn the cost. Presumably the P&Z will be banning assault rifles on the same “if it saves the life of one child” theory of regulation, but they didn’t bring it up at tonight’s meeting.

So there you have it: if your home was built before July, 2013 and is now or will be reassigned to one of our two newly-redefined and expanded flood zones you are officially non-compliant and must meet the P&Z’s rules for future improvements. What that means is that older homes -I’d guess anything built before 1985-1990 cannot economically be expanded or improved and must remain as they are now, until replaced with the new FEMA House model, which is one built on stilts. Stay put, and you will soon be surrounded by giant homes looming over you and blocking your views and your sunlight. Move, and expect to get the land value of your property and not a penny more. Your house is now officially obsolete. Just like its FAR and lot coverage regulations, the P&Z has just confiscated your property and your wealth and isn’t planning to compensate you for your loss. You will be entitled, however, to use the town dump to dispose of your current residence.

Long range, the goal and the vision of our P&Z and the federal government is a waterfront of homes on sticks, like the quaint native fishing villages seen in old WWII movies. That will be different from what we see today.

*Katie Deluca, I am informed, is the daughter of John Blankley, former candidate for First Selectman, future member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, raising the question, is there anybody working for town government who isn’t related by birth or marriage to a town politician?

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Important news for anyone on or vaguely near Greenwich’s coast

Shorelands

Shorelands

Bob Horton has an excellent article detailing some, but not all of the impacts we can expect as the new FEMA regulations hit with the force of a storm surge. And I say “not all” not because Horton isn’t thorough but because as he writes, no one knows the full implications of all this yet (and as he notes, because our town keeps our emergency plans in a safe, secure location under double secret super probation). It will be worse, however, not better than you can imagine.

Houses sitting on stilts or columns well above ground level, perhaps no new building at all allowed in certain flood zones, and more widespread evacuations during certain storms are some of the policy implications from new maps that will govern coastal development starting in July.

For example, the northernmost concession at Greenwich Point that was severely damaged by the October hurricane now sits some 6 to 8 feet below the height required by federal regulations. And the Byram Pool, which is under consideration for replacement and improvement, rests 4 feet below the new minimum elevation, raising doubts about the wisdom (or legality) of proceeding with that much-needed new facility.

For owners of private homes or commercial buildings, the new flood zones pose serious obstacles to major renovations. As explained on the FEMA website, existing buildings will have to be brought into compliance (raised above base line flood level) once the value of improvements or restoration exceeds 50 percent of the assessed value as of 1986. And, this is a cumulative total, meaning the town will have to consider the value of any and all improvements made since 1986 when granting building permits.

It seems that even relatively minor improvements will mean property owners will have to raise entire buildings to be in compliance.

It is important to understand what “raising a house or building” means. Again, according to FEMA, the lowest floor, including a basement floor, has to be at least 1 foot above the base flood level. So using the Greenwich Point concession building as an example, the floor would have to rest on stilts or columns 7 to 9 feet above where it is now. The space below the lowest floor has to remain open to allow for the unimpeded flow of floodwaters. No fill is allowed. Now translate that look across all affected buildings, and you get a village of houses on stilts towering over the neighborhood, which is a very different look indeed.

FEMA has a very big stick with which to enforce compliance: flood insurance. That agency sets insurance rates, and the less compliant a town is, the more expensive flood insurance becomes for individual property owners. And in cases where a town is deemed to have far too many non-compliant buildings, FEMA can deny flood insurance coverage altogether. Just try selling a house in a coastal zone when flood insurance is not available. There is not a bank in the land that will lend money in that case.

The expanded flood zones have serious ramifications for emergency management plans as well. However, I have no idea how it will impact Greenwich emergency plans because those plans are a well-guarded secret. We just have to trust that our elected officials and the town emergency management director are adjusting the plan accordingly. If that seems ridiculous, I agree with you.

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It never stops

Ledge Road, Old Greenwich

Ledge Road, Old Greenwich

This, from the Greenwich Association of Realtors:

FEMA Flood Maps Public Hearing

The Greenwich Planning and Zoning Commission is planning to hold a public hearing regarding the proposed FEMA Flood Zone elevation changes that will take place July 1 2013. These new elevations will affect over 1900 properties. They will also be discussing how to administer the requirements.
Of imminent concern is the 50% rule. [Expenses exceeding 50% of the building's value - not the land, which is generally far more valuable than the house that sits on it, fall subject to all FEMA requirements - no grandfathering - Ed] This is particularly onerous to homes that have sustained recent damage and may have reached the 50%. They may now have to get variances for building height and also possibly for setbacks since raising a house up to 5 feet will require stairs etc that may have to be in required setbacks.

Another issue is the properties that are being made non-conforming by the new increase in elevation. If you are in compliance now, and will not be in July, the current regulation states that any improvements made since 1987 will count toward the 50% of improvements rule. This means that although your home may have been renovated and compliant on June 30, you will not be able to improve the home after July 1, without lifting it, if your total improvements since 1987 exceed the 50%.

The value for these homeowners should be reset to zero starting in July, but this is not a given and we need to make sure that P and Z comes up with some equitable and non-discretionary policy that is fair and reasonable.

The architectural and quality of life implications of having the first floor of a neighbor’s house being elevated to the 2nd floor level of your home may be quite disruptive to the neighborhood fabric. [emphasis added]

I do so love understatement.

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