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



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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31 responses to “Important news for anyone on or vaguely near Greenwich’s coast

  1. anony

    As a former costal homeowner I am glad I sold when I did, however, who knew the Gore predictions would come true?

    Living on the coast and seeing the nonending view is an amazing lifestyle. Accept the consequences, don’t complain or don’t buy there.

  2. Central Greenwich Long-Time Resident

    Planning and Zoning has a new flood map. It is sort of shocking, as some areas you would not think are flood zones are now considered flood zones, and that includes properties far from the sound or large rivers.

  3. firsttimebuyer

    I am wondering if height restrictions will need to be revised because raising might make homes too tall. Otherwise you’ll need to lop off the 2nd floors of some of the two story homes.

  4. More info on what FEMA is up to:
    They have the mussel (over bank financing) to force a major withdrawal from the coastline.

  5. Accolay

    What will this do to the Indian Head area? Can you imagine the gorgeous old “mansions” there being raised up 8 ft? Don’t think it would do anything to harm some of the other coastal areas in town — not naming any streets in particular…

    Where’s this new Greenwich flood map?

    • It’s going to reduce almost everything on the shoreline to basic land value, period, is my prediction. As for how much of our town will be affected, check the link Mike Finkbeiner supplies to FEMA maps. You’ll find that far, far more of the town than you might imagine is going to be whacked come July. In fact, I think our GAR ought to get going on educating us agents (if they haven’t already – I tend not to read notices of meetings they send out). In just a couple of months, we agents had better be up to speed on this if we intend to sell real estate in most areas of town.

      • Anon

        This also impacts renters. I recently called State Farm and was told that they don’t write renters insurance policies within .5 miles of the coast in the Greenwich n’hood I’m moving too.

  6. Greenwich P&Z Details on FEMA July 2013 re-mapping of coastal Fairfiled and New Haven Counties:

    • Mickster

      Important PZ Meeting – Please share with your clients
      The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public information meeting on Tuesday March 26, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall Meeting Room.

      The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the mandates from FEMA and how that will impact property owners who live in a floodplains. PZ will discuss the updates to the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) also called Flood Maps, and the substantial improvement rules that have been in place since 1986. There will be opportunity for the public to speak. As dictated by FEMA, the new flood panels will become effective July 8, 2013.

      Please take a look at the Town Website for more information about this meeting, by clicking on the link below. You will also find PDF’s of the proposed Flood Insurance Rate Maps and links to the FEMA website to look at the official panels.

      Lastly, if you have any specific points that you would like covered please feel free to e-mail them to

  7. Anonymous

    Mr. Horton got quite a few things wrong. For starters the regulations are not changing only the flood maps – who is in a flood zone and who is not. The 50% rule is not based on a 1986 appraisal. No one can possibly know what the structure of the house was worth in 1986. It’s based off of the current appraisal of your structure using a replacement value estimate minus the cost of improvements put in the house since 1986.

    I live in a flood zone and recognize the value of these rules. By requiring first floors to be above a certain level including mechanicals we are saving taxpayer dollars. It’s the right thing to do.

    • firsttimebuyer

      It’s the right thing to do *if* you think the ghovernment should be in the insurance business.

  8. George W. Crossman

    Here is one of the maps. Try to make it out.

  9. Pulled Up- What’s happening in NY & NJ is in a political phase of interaction called the Post-Sandy FEMA advisory. The links I provided above were to that info, which is not final – only advisory – and subject to the winds of politics. But FEMA holds the trump cards – getting the House and Senate to write the bail-out checks to the flood insurance carriers, so that Sea Bright can put its Ferris wheel back in the ocean.

    Coastal Fairfield and New Haven Counties (Byram River to Connecticut River on LI Sound) ended their advisory period on Christmas Day 2012 (not making this up – and not a peep out of Greenwich.) From 12/26/2012 on Towns were authorized to implement more draconian building and flood zone codes, but not less so, and to implement accumulative improvement logging from 1986 onward. MAndatory FEMA dictum, w\if Greenwich wants to stay in the flood insurance program. FEMA’s clients in the flood program are whole municipalities or towns.

    NY has had this since 2007. In Mamaroneck which got hit badly in the April 15, 2007 floods, if you want a building permit to do anything to a non-compliant structure, you must bring in all receipts for all improvements since 1986 and prove you are still under the 50% limit of the 1986 value.

    This is what will force the pull-back from the coast lines in the long run. So start saving those receipts – you will be subject to audit.

  10. jack cooper

    I have a couple questions — perhaps someone has an answer.

    I notice in Greenwich Cove that FEMA has classified many properties in the velocity zones (VE) requiring higher height requirements and different building standards. Since Greenwich Cove is a cove it substantially limits the size of waves. For individual properties located in a cove inside Greenwich Cove, the possibility of getting waves above 1.5 feet is nil. There is not enough fetch for waves to develop. Is there a way to appeal these FEMA classifications.

    Second question- If a homeowner purchased a home in a flood zone, say in 2000. Subsequently, the owner tore down the old house and built a new house in compliance with the then existing FEMA regs. Under the FEMA new regs to go into effect July 8th, the owner’s new house is not high enough to comply with the new regs. Under the 50% rules, does the owner have to subtract the value of the new house from the current value of the house. If so, it would seem the homeowner has no allowance to upgrade the house under the 50% rule. Is this correct?

  11. Jack Cooper-

    1. Greenwich Cove is a cove only when Greenwich Point is above water. But under the new system with VE16 water sweeping over the elevation 8 parking and concession area, FEMA is seeing waves in excess of three ft (base flood to peak) on top of elevation 16. So FEMA sees a fetch starting in the open ocean and blowing waves down the Sound that wash over Greenwich Point with breakers above elevation 19.

    2. Post storms Oct 31, 1991 and Dec 2,1992 many homes were raised to become FEMA compliant – by an inch or two. A good number of those homes will be non-compliant on July 8, 2013. One of the few options left to P&Z is how to answer your question on which value to use. I suspect if the house moves to non-compliance in 2013, the receipt box approach to cost-based improvement accounting begins then.

    For the record, the language adopted in the last adjustment on June 18, 2010 was: SECTION 6-139.1(c)(40) Substantial Improvement – means any combination of repairs, reconstruction, alteration, or improvements to a structure taking place during the life of a structure, in which the CUMULATIVE costs equal or exceeds fifty percent of the market value of the structure.

    • All of which means, doesn’t it, that homes in the VE zone are going to have to be left untouched in the future or raised (or razed)? If so, then hundreds of homes will be reduced to the value of the land they sit, or float on come July. Not a problem for the Fountains of Ole’s Creek who’ve been living in squatters shacks for decades, but perhaps a rude awakening for folks who will discover that they’ve just dumped a couple of million bucks into Long Island Sound.

  12. jack cooper


    Thank you for your answer.

    Couple additional questions:

    Is there a way to appeal the FEMA classifications for VE zones. High water conditions in Greenwich almost always come from wind blowing from NNE to ESE along the length of LI Sound. For some properties in Greenwich this results in an offshore wind and no waves. If the wind swings around to SW, the wind actually blows the water out of LI Sound. Does FEMA consider this in their calculations?

    I’ve noticed in the Town of Greenwich listing of individual properties, that some properties have two or more height requirements. Do you know what the difference is? The list I saw was from the GAR.

  13. Jack- We do electronic filing with FEMA for letters of map change. This must be based on survey results that prove the case to the FEMA analyst and engineers, who do reviews. So yes, there is a process.

    But filing with soil to build up the land is not permitted in a VE zone. In
    AE (still water base flood) zones, it is the best defense. The VE/AE interface in the new system is based on the dissipation of wave energy to below the three foot (base flood to peak) height.

    • Cos Cobber


      In the AE zone, cant you “waterproof” the basement area located below the base flood elevation in order to preserve your structure and if so, avoid a complete rebuild above BSF – even under the 50% rule?

      Not to dismiss ‘waterproofing’ as an easy and inexpensive task.

      Seems like the VE zone is where the real heartache is and looking at the new maps, not many homes appear to be in the VE bullseye. Lots in AE, but not in VE.

  14. Fred2

    “So start saving those receipts – you will be subject to audit.”

    Receipts since 1986? Retroactively? Seriously? Are they even READABLE that far back?

    This is like the idiot employment applications that insist on knowing what MONTH you graduated/left an employer/joined school etc… 30 years ago. I have no blessed clue. Didn’t care then, don’t care now.

    • The trouble comes when, regardless to your indifference to such an insane requirement, yu run into a bureaucrat at the building department who does care, and who won’t grant you a permit inless you come up with the information. And then you’re screwed.

  15. InfoDiva

    Chis, is all this uncertainty having a chilling effect on sales of high-end waterfront homes?

  16. Anonymous

    Florida insurance rates come to New England…..LMAO

  17. Pete

    I think the Greenwich Building Dept. goes by building permits issued since 1986 to arrive at the cumulative amount spent. Also, a clarification on Horton’s piece. Assessments have nothing to do with the current depreciated value of the dwelling. A cost estimate is prepared by a certified real estate appraiser to establish value.

  18. Libertarian Advocate

    It’ll be interesting to see how many of the mega-millionaire proggies who own land on CT’s gold coast develop a sudden new appreciation for libertarianism once their houses are effectively condemned by the Obamaphate.

  19. Pete

    My avatar looks like my high school yearbook picture.

  20. Pete

    I resemble that comment.