I’d been planning on providing information to Mayor and Council and other Board Member bodies as my contribution to the discussion and understanding what you all are responsible for on behalf of our town. Your actions will shape the future of Point Pleasant Beach and determine the path to recovery for every citizen of this community. Your actions will also dictate the behavior, performance and in no uncertain way affect the work load and responsibilities to be shouldered by your municipal employees (ie) the Building Department, but also the demands of time, talent and energy that would be required of the citizen volunteers on the Planning Board and Board of Adjustment.
We are mostly pretty fortunate here in Point Pleasant Beach as respects the V Zone/A Zone dilemma many local towns are now dealing with. The fundamental real world changes that will be imposed on each and every property owner in PPBch is daunting. Based on my expertise gained from my years in my professional life and specifically following the overwhelming issues from daily contact I have had with hundreds of our town residents I feel compelled to pass on to you in whatever way possible the pain, confusion, fear, resignation, determination and yes hope I hear hour after hour, seven days a week since Sandy washed our shores.
I’ve followed keenly the measures and proposals other shore towns are considering or have implemented in the wake of Biggert-Waters and NFIP plan changes on how their community will respond and help their citizens in recovery. Conceptually what seems to make the most sense to me and addresses the very specific conditions you need to address are these:
The ABFE is the new ground level or starting point for height calculations. That point to going to be very different home to home, neighborhood to neighborhood. Point Pleasant Borough has made just such a proposal. Height calculations are ABFE + 3 feet + plus whatever the current building height limit is for the zone in question as the maximum structure height restriction not the total height limit. As reported in the Ocean Star in some places in Point Pleasant that total height might be 45 ft. using the typical current definitions. Roof lines will be higher and in many cases over 35 feet but you will not have a cookie cutter height result. Such a common sense standard will allow for any land elevation difference in town. Bill Mayer’s ground is at a very different height than Mayor Barrella’s. One lot may have a curb height of 7 feet while another area on the same street could have a curb height of 3.5 feet. The difference and the real world standard is if you ONLY say “we’ll go from a height of 35 feet to 37 feet” you fail to address the fact that the ABFE does not care but very much dictates that the house you build at a curb height of 7 feet is going to have an advantage the house with a curb height of 3.5 feet is penalized because of a “static” height limit vs. the need to have the first floor above the ABFE. There are many existing structures in Point Pleasant Beach that are well above the 35 foot limit and they have no real impact on the neighborhood or the “greater good” of the community at large. A standard is a standard. Equally applied is the key, and just adding 2 or 3 feet is not creating a level playing field, NOR DOES IT ALLOW for any given property owner to qualify for the best cost of flood insurance possible.
Modify height restrictions zone to zone that address not only the flood insurance premium impact but also do something to make a substantial planning improvement – for example along Ocean and Randall Avenue and similarly affected non-conforming lots. You elevate for flood mitigation purposes, but you also should encourage elevation that promotes off-street parking where possible. That is good municipal planning. Again by saying, “In the RR-1 zone we’ll add 2 ft. for a 22 ft. height restriction” you are not addressing the ABFE differentials that exist lot to lot and street to street. You do not encourage investment or promote/reward quality of design and the contribution to property values therefore tax ratables that would follow with such forward thinking. Maybe you say ABFE plus 3 feet plus 1.5 stories with a maximum structural height from the sill plate to roof ridge of 27.5 feet. Let the actual elevation of the lot site dictate the final total height. If someone needs/wants to elevate higher and they have a lot exposure that allows for off-street parking then put that application in front of the Board of Adjustment. But do you want to force every single homeowner/applicant to do that?
Here is just one example for a pretty standard two story home a couple of blocks back from the beach in the Point Beach. This is an older construction (Pre-Firm) home that up till now has enjoyed the “Standard” subsidized NFIP flood insurance rate of $1400 per year. With the NFIP changes now in place when FEMA adopts the new mapping (this should happen by August 2013) that same home will have a new annual NFIP premium of $8900. That homeowner has some serious decisions to make. The first floor of this home was inundated by Sandy flood waters with significant sand having been washed into the home and crawl space. The estimated cost to clean up, tear out and rebuild is in excess of $130,000 just to get back to square one. Maybe the flood insurance will pay the majority of that expense and perhaps it won’t. That homeowner however knows with certainty that next year their flood insurance premium is going to go up $7500 per year PLUS any general rate increase NFIP will be making on top of the calculated difference due to being a non-compliant structure. That homeowner will have to pay that $7500 difference every year thereafter unless and until they make their house “flood proof”. That gets done by having a house raiser elevate the house above the required ABFE zone height (in this case 11 feet and the house is now at 7 feet) with a cost of about $18,000. Next they need to repair and build the additional foundation walls to support the house with an expected cost around $20,000. There are clearly going to be other related costs on top of the these expenses but don’t forget they have the obligation of the original clean-up repairs of $130,000.
So, does the physically remaining structure for any given homeowner warrant being lifted, blocked and rebuilt? Should the dwelling be demolished and the money put into newer “better” construction that meets the necessary NFIP guidelines? Does the homeowner have the financial capacity to meet these obligations through any combination of insurance claims proceeds, grants (if any), loan capacity or cash on hand to “save themselves”? And what if they don’t? That house still needs to be resolved in some way by someone. So now calculate this scenario for every waterfront community in New Jersey from Brigantine to Jersey City. What does that economic reality look like?
More than a few owners some being elderly or ill, financially maxed out, under or uninsured; they are simply tossing in the towel and Ward Realty is listing homes for sale every day. I am doing my best to determine property values that are marketable but there are no reliable marketplace indicators for this “perfect storm”. The easy answer is a damaged home may be worth the perception of land value alone. Much of the stress, disruption and anxiety expressed by friends, clients and strangers calling me distills down to the same underlying questions; “What can I do and how can I do it?”
As some of you may know Harcourt S. Ward, Jr. led the committees and professionals authoring the first comprehensive Municipal Land Use Ordinance for the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach. He personally drew out the first comprehensive Zoning Map that with few minor changes is the map you use today. I’ll pay respect and honor him using his words from April, 1963 when he submitted as Chairman of the Planning Board a revised plan for development of our community that was the culmination of over 11,000 hours of meetings and studies by members of his committee to express to each of you the challenge and opportunity before you in true service to the citizens of Point Pleasant Beach.
“They have given gladly in the interest of a better community – a community with direction – a community with a plan to show us and assure us our rights in living and investing here now and in the studied foreseeable future – a community with a plan to show others interested in living and investing here what they can expect of the future.”
I am asking that you as a governing body step back away from the traditional formats and formulas typical of Municipal Land Use regulations and avoid placing minimal “qualifiers” on bulk variances as your “solution” that no longer have real world applications nor benefits how the people of Point Pleasant Beach can best build and recover. I am asking you to be thoughtful, considered and bold in facing the issues and making decisions that will forever shape the Point Pleasant Beach of tomorrow.
Paul Ward – for all the Ward Family, past, present and future.