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Hamptons Life

Aug 26, 2014 3:13 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Sothampton Village Ponders Moratorium In Light Of FEMA House Elevations

Aug 26, 2014 4:17 PM

With an expansive historic district and residents with the wherewithal to erect some of the largest mansions in the country, Southampton Village is exploring how to continue to limit the height of homes to prevent them from looming over neighbors, yet at the same time allow them to comply with new flood regulations that encourage building significantly higher than in the past.

Southampton is a beach community, so Federal Emergency Management Agency flood insurance regulations often come into play here, as they do in many other communities on the East End. And a new FEMA regulation altering the base height for a home has been causing tension among village officials, prospective homeowners, and neighbors who have already built their own piece of paradise—so much so that the village is considering a moratorium while it reevaluates its building codes.

“FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) regulations require that the lowest floor of a building must be elevated above the base flood elevation,” said Jason Fenn, a hazard mitigation specialist at the federal agency.

According to Mr. Fenn, the base flood elevation is the level to which flood water is anticipated to rise during a flood, as determined in flood maps. FEMA draws a line where a house can begin to rise from the ground, so that if the required base flood elevation is 10 feet, enough fill must be brought in to elevate where the house, including its basement, will start 10 feet off the ground.

In Southampton Village, that could have a large impact on the look of many neighborhoods. Under present restrictions, new houses built in the village cannot be more than 35 feet tall, but that height is measured from the bottom of the house, not from the natural grade from which the house would normally rise before an elevated grade or pilings would be added to comply with FEMA regulations. A 35-foot-tall house, as measured by the village, once elevated could actually be 45 feet or higher, depending on the height of the base flood elevation.

“FEMA has a federal emergency management act,” explained Southampton based attorney Beau Robinson, who advises the village’s Board of Historic Preservation and Architectural Review, in a phone interview. “It has shorelines listed as low areas near water divided into zones, and depending on what zone your property is in, if there is a substantial amount of construction value, it has to meet that FEMA standard, meaning the bottom of the house—the absolute lowest line—has to be above the FEMA line.”

If they not comply with the FEMA regulations, homeowners will not be issued building permits; if homeowners proceed without a permit, they face fines and legal action.

FEMA regulations also require homes throughout New York State to be at least 2 feet above the base flood elevation in certain areas prone to flooding, like along the beach, further elevating the starting point of some houses.

There are several ways for contractors to meet the height requirements. “In A zones, buildings may be elevated on properly compacted fill, on a solid slab foundation, or on a raised foundation that is built with flood-resistant materials and includes flood vents to allow flood waters to enter the foundation, equalizing the water pressure on the building and thus preventing foundation failure,” said documents provided by Mr. Fenn.

According to the FEMA regulations, living space is not allowed in property below the FEMA line. That space can be used only for entering or exiting the building, parking or storage.

“Where there is a compliant enclosure or crawl space below the lowest floor, the floor of that enclosure or crawl space may not be below outside grade on all sides,” the regulations state. “That would cause it to be defined as a basement, which would then be the lowest floor.”

While several village officials have expressed a desire to curb the construction of large houses, there are many logistics to consider. The easiest way to change the code would be to say that new houses built in the village cannot be higher than 35 feet tall including the FEMA line.

However, Mayor Mark Epley has expressed concerns that would alter the views in the community, particularly the historic district because of the style of houses that would be likely to be built. In order to have large houses that meet the 35-foot requirement, with the FEMA line included and without losing living space, many people may opt to build large, flat-roofed houses. While the houses will meet both village and FEMA code, they would most likely not be in keeping with the majority of homes in the historic districts, something that should be considered, the mayor said. The result, he said, would be a more modernist look to the community.

“It will be hard to find a balance,” Mr. Epley said.

Mr. Robinson agrees that it will be tricky, saying other surrounding municipalities, like Southampton Town, are having similar problems.

“What happens is that potentially, by doing this based on FEMA, is that even with the limitations people still want the same living space and to comply with the lower height regulations they opt for a flat-roofed buildings,” Mr. Robinson said. “That is the issue, because we certainly do not want the entire beachfront lined with these flat-roof houses.”

The village scheduled a public hearing at 5 p.m. on August 26 in Village Hall on a proposed moratorium on all building permit approvals for new homes that would require the altered FEMA height line. The moratorium would include all single-family dwelling applications for homes exceeding 35 feet in height from the average elevation of the natural grade along the front of the dwelling. It would also apply to homes with a roof pitch of less than 7/12 (or 7 inches of rise for every 12 inches of run) for buildings that are more than 27 feet high.

For the moratorium to be put in place, the village would need to adopt a local law detailing the parts of the code to be evaluated and banning permits from being issued for affected properties; however, applicants would be able to ask the Village Board for exemptions. While Southampton Village is considering the proposal, the Southampton Village Planning Commission is evaluating how the municipality should proceed with such construction projects, among others, in the future.

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The mayor and Mr. Robinson are full of baloney with this "flat roof" nonsense. Just a scare tactic. The code already limits to 27ft all houses with a pitch below 8/12 (this includes flat). I am sensing an ulterior motive here with this purposeful misinformation. Probably pressure from the "I've got mine" one per-centers, or worse. Watch out because your lot is only worth what a potential buyer thinks he or she can do with it. Make no mistake, this is a just another incremental "taking" of your property ...more
By Zorro (66), Southampton on Aug 27, 14 2:58 AM