Awaiting rescue by the P&Z
While it is true that FEMA flood regulations have been with us for decades (1974?), the latest round of height increases to reflect the (non-existent) rise in global warming waters has brought many homes into non-comliance with those regs and thus subject to the requirements that they brought up to “proper” height. That’s stilts, baby.
So if your home is now in the direct-wave-action zone – “VE”, or the next zone lower, “AE”, it must be a specific height above what they call the “base flood level” but which, for these purposes, I’ll refer to the mean high water mark – solely because that’s a term people are more familiar with and although the two are different, either will serve the illustrative purpose I’m trying to achieve.
So: If your house sits, say, 8′ above sea level, and the new AE zone requirements demand that it sit at 13′, your house is non-compliant. If you wish to complete a project that costs more than 50% of the value of the house – not the total value, land and house, but just the structure itself – you must not only bring your house up to 13′, you must go to 14′ because – I kid you not, Diane Fox and her partner in folly Denise Savageau, a large (her size suggests that she’s emitting far more CO2 than ought to be allowed) environmentalist unassociated with the Planning & Zoning Department but who comes over from her own department to meddle, have drunk deeply from the Al Gore Kool-Aid cup and are both convinced that we’ll be drowning under 50′ higher waters by 2040,and have arbitrarily added an extra foot to the FEMA requirements. With more to come, Fox warns.
Remember, the 50% rule applies only to the structure: a $1,500,000home in Old Greenwich might easily be comprised of land worth $1,250,000 and a house appraised at $250,000. If so, your improvement budget is $125,000 less anything spent on that house since, again per Fox fiat, 1986. Exceed that amount and you must either raise or raze the house – Fox and her flunky Katie DeLuca have expressed their strong intention that it be razed and replaced. “You can raze it or relocate,” say DeLuca, and presumably, having just sold your home for its land value alone, the next owner will build a new house. Hope you enjoy Florida, don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.
How do you raise your 8′ above sea level to the new mandatory/minimum of 14′? Stilts: you must go up 6′. You might think you could just jack up the house build a new, higher foundation and let the house back down to rest on it. This will likely run you afoul of FAR regulations, another Greenwich invention that limits the size of houses. If you somehow avoid that, or even if you go the stilt route, you have to deal with the 35′ height cap. How do you feel about a flat roof?
And so on. And here’s how it affects your property value: First, not everyone wants to live in a house whose first floor is 14′ off the ground – it makes carrying infants and groceries a real pain, and should elderly parents want to come visit well, there’s always the Hyatt. Second, assuming you are willing to live with your 1984 kitchen and the four bedroom, two bath configuration of your present house, will the next owners share your taste? And even if they do, will they want to pay you for house that can never be modified or improved again without tearing it down and starting over? Face it, you have almost certainly just experienced the complete loss of the value of your existing house.
Is every house in, say, the VE zone afflicted this way? Not necessarily, but that’s why you as a seller and certainly if you’re a potential buyer should get a flood elevation certificate prepared by a surveyor to determine the exact height of the existing structure. If it’s 15′ above “sea level”, you’re okay, until Fox and Savageau raise the minimum again. You can modify, modernize to your heart’s delight. But the odds are pretty good that the house is not compliant, in which case, you are well and truly screwed.
There’s lots more, but that should be enough to alert you to the difficulties and issues involved. Be wary.