Mayor Dawn Zimmer, along with a city planner and a floodplain expert, presented ways to lower residents’ flood insurance and talked about anti-flooding building guidelines at a workshop for residents Tuesday night, Oct. 25, at the Wallace Elementary School.
Jennifer Gonzalez, principal planner for the city, Brendan Kane of Flood Risk Evaluator, helped the mayor lead the discussions.
Four years after the city was devastated by Superstorm Sandy, community-wide flood protections are being implemented, including new pump stations and parks with water retention features. The city is also in the midst of a federally funded “Rebuild by Design” project that includes adding flood walls to protect the city from storms.
The city also implemented “resilient building design guidelines” in Oct 2015, a 53-page document that outlines the city and state laws and regulations governing construction in Hoboken’s flood prone areas. It also details the approval process for repairs, improvements, and new construction.
Zimmer said about 40 buildings in the city will not be protected by Rebuild by Design initiatives, as they will be on the outside of the flood barriers.
Nine insurance and flood protection technology vendors met with residents at the meeting and spoke about their services and products.
Resilient building design guidelines
Eighty five percent of Hoboken is in a flood zone, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its 2013 regulatory flood map, drawn up the year after Hurricane Sandy.
The flood hazard map is used when determining property owners’ anti-flooding construction options and insurance premiums. It divides the town into three zones.
If your residence or business is in one of these three zones you may need a floodplain permit, issued by the city, to do construction on your home.
The three zones; Zone A, Zone X, and Zone V, have different risks of flooding and thus different guidelines.
Zone A, the area that has a 1 percent chance to suffer a flood in any given year, covers most of the city from the western border to Garden Street. Zone Shaded X, subject to a 500-year flood or a 0.2 percent annual flood chance, is the smallest zone. It is found within Zone A. The waterfront is called Zone V and is subject to 1 percent annual flooding and waves.
Under the resilient building design guidelines, there are three categories of construction, two of which require a floodplain permit from the city.
Minor repairs costing less than 50 percent of the building’s assessed value are considered rehabilitation, with no need for a permit. Major repairs and renovations that cost more than 50 percent of assessed value are considered substantial improvements and will need the floodplain permit. So will new construction.
Many of the requirements that make a building flood resistant occur below a building’s Design Flood Elevation (DFE), usually found by adding the first one to three feet above the base flood elevation (BFE). BFE is determined by which flood zone the building is in, according to 2013 Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps.
As of 2013, no new residential units are allowed below whatever the DFE is in that zone, with some exceptions. Existing units can remain, but if substantial improvements are made, the property owner must adhere to the Resilient Building Design Guidelines.
Residences on lower floors such as garden or basement apartments may be insured under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) with some exceptions.
Commercial spaces below DFE must be dry flood proofed, and obtain a flood proofing certificate.
There are other zone restrictions on what kinds of construction and flood proofing methods people can use.
The forum allowed residents to find ways to lower their flood insurance fees. Gonzalez used the example of a four-unit condo building on Jackson Street that lowered its flood insurance premium from $14, 000 to $2,000 by retrofitting their space below DFE.
According to Kane, who was the consultant on that project, the construction cost was roughly $30,000. The expense broke even about two and a half years later and resulted in savings past that point.
While there have been a handful of residential buildings who have made these upgrades voluntarily, Melli said he believes more haven’t done so “because they just don’t know enough about it.”
“This is our target group, and the main reason for the Resiliency Workshops,” said Melli.
Flood insurance rates are based upon how well a structure complies with the regulations of the NFIP.
In 2012, Congress passed the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform act, which required the NFIP to raise its rates to more accurately reflect flood risks.
Melli said Hoboken residents pay the highest in flood insurance premiums in Hudson County.
“According to NFIP statistics, as of June 30, 2015, the City of Hoboken had 9,269 NFIP policies in place (the highest in Hudson County), with premiums of $6,734,044 (the highest in Hudson County and fifth highest in New Jersey),” said Melli in an email. “In addition, the overall liability to the NFIP from property owners in Hoboken was over $2 billion (third highest in New Jersey) with an average claim amount of $26,243.”
To reduce flood insurance premiums, the city recommends reviewing the elevation certificate, eliminating below grade space, installing flood opening, and incorporating mitigation.
Marla Decker of Garden Street, who has lived here for 13 years, said her building is one of the 40 that will not be protected by the Rebuild by Design Project.
She said she found the workshop explanation of flood insurance helpful, and she is looking into viable flood protection because flood vents aren’t something that would work to stop residential units from flooding.
Ira Landgarten and Robert Wetteland, neighbors who live on First Street between Madison and Monroe streets, said they came because they lost a lot during Hurricane Sandy. Wetteland lost his recording studio and 40 years of work, and Landgarten lost all his photographs.
Landgartan said that although he has been a resident since 1990 he still contemplates leaving, and the workshop hasn’t changed his mind.
He said he would investigate some of the technology, but he doesn’t know how applicable it will be to his living situation.
As for the anti-flooding projects the city currently has underway, he believes they are taking too long.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.