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Queens Chronicle

Cuomo offers $400 million for coastal buyout; city eases zoning rules in flood zone

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Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:26 am, Thu Feb 14, 2013.

The new advisory maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency placed in flood zones tens of thousands of people who, before Hurricane Sandy may have seen storm surges as a problem exclusive to tropical coastlines.

Now, faced with a new reality on the city’s shorefronts, Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Cuomo are taking steps to make it easier for coastal dwellers to rebuild stronger — or leave altogether.

Bloomberg issued an executive order last Thursday that will exempt homes and other buildings being reconstructed in flood zones — including those areas in the new advisory maps — from city zoning codes in order to comply with FEMA’s suggestions to build higher. At the same time, the mayor said the city would be updating regulations to fit the new standards to safeguard coastal communities from a storm surge like Sandy’s.

“As a coastal city, our geography has required us to take extra precautions to protect homes and businesses from the risks that come with being close to the ocean, and climate change is increasing and accelerating those risks,” Bloomberg said. “We are beginning the process of updating our building code and zoning regulations so that new construction meets standards that reflect the best available data about flood and climate risks. This is particularly important for homes and businesses damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Sandy — and the rules we are putting in place today will enable them to rebuild and reopen safely.”

In the meantime, the Department of City Planning announced it would be changing zoning regulations in areas added to the advisory maps, but that process could take many months and FEMA’s advisory maps could change by the time the agency releases final regulatory maps, expected in the next year.

Flood-proofing requirements have been in place since FEMA’s last flood zone maps were released in 1983, but Sandy’s storm surge struck parts of the city — including Howard Beach — that had not previously been mapped as a flood zone.

The entire Rockaway Peninsula, Broad Channel, Howard Beach, western portions of Lindenwood and parts of southern Rosedale are all considered flood areas under FEMA’s new advisory maps. The agency said it will be releasing maps that will include northern neighborhoods like Long Island City, Astoria and College Point later this month.

Meanwhile Gov. Cuomo announced he is allocating $400 million of the $50 billion in Sandy aid money approved by Congress last month toward buying out properties along the coast that owners want to sell, including Queens neighborhoods, such as the Rockaways.

Cuomo announced the idea in his State of the State address last month, but did not specifically put a price tag on the plan until this past week. At least 10,000 homes citywide could qualify for the buyout.

Joseph Martens, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, said Monday that the land “would be held as open space” by the state and could be converted into wetlands or dunes to serve both as parkland and shoreline protection.

The governor’s plan would need approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — the agency Cuomo headed from 1997 to 2001. HUD’s current Secretary Shaun Donovan was appointed by President Obama to head the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force.

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