New Ocean City Flood Insurance Regs Nearly Done

OCEAN CITY – An ordinance adopting new flood rate insurance maps and related changes passed through first reading last week with little concern.

A couple of weeks ago, City Engineer Terry McGean explained the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notified the city that the proposed Flood Insurance Study for Ocean City has been completed, all public comments have been addressed and the appeal process for the proposed new Flood Insurance Rate Maps has ended. The new maps will become effective on July 16.

McGean recalled in February, staff presented recommended code changes that were approved by the council for submittal to the Maryland State Flood Insurance Coordinator for review.

Changes to the maps impact the city’s Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance, and by association, the town’s building code. The flood maps had not been updated since 1986, and largely because of the ongoing beach replenishment, the creation of the dune system, the construction of the sea wall along the Boardwalk and the town’s own stringent building codes on elevation, the new maps significantly relax the flood insurance requirements for most resort properties.

For example, the 1986 maps had most oceanfront properties in the V zone, which had the highest risk and, therefore, the highest flood insurance rates. However, the new FEMA maps take most oceanfront properties out of the V zone. In fact, all oceanfront properties south of 143rd Street are no longer in the most onerous V zone.

Many resort property owners will see their flood insurance rates reduced significantly because of the map changes. Some at-risk bayside properties will likely see their rates increase, but many in the resort may drop their flood insurance policies altogether.

The adopted maps will maintain the town’s stringent building codes in terms of elevation for at-risk properties. Those building standards, along with beach replenishment and the dunes, for example, have protected Ocean City properties during storms when other resort communities without similar standards have seen devastation from storms.

McGean furthers, although the state was pleased with Ocean City’s proposed revisions, FEMA and the state have mandated numerous additional provisions that communities must include in their flood plain ordinance in order to remain in the National Flood Insurance Program.

McGean highlighted two major changes proposed by the state, starting with the creation of a “Coastal A” zone that staff did not include in their proposal.

According to McGean, the Coastal A zone essentially converts a portion of the standard A zone to a new zone with building requirements similar to those in a V zone, such as pile foundations and break away walls. Under the proposed new Ocean City flood maps, these zones would all be located on the bay front in a narrow strip of the A zone that wanders along the shoreline. It would significantly alter the typical construction of homes in these areas that staff felt with the proposed three-foot freeboard requirement flood protection in these areas was adequately addressed.

“We felt that given our proposed change where we were making properties in the A Zone elevated to three feet above Base Flood Elevation was sufficient rather than forcing one house in the A Zone is right next door to a house that would be built on piling,” McGean said. “It is a voluntary request for cities, and it is up to the local jurisdiction whether to adopt this or not. I will say adopting it would potentially have benefits for CRS [Comprehensive Ranking System]. We could adopt it later if we want to but at this stage are uncomfortable recommending adoption of the Coastal A zone.”

The other area of concern was the state’s recommended change to add language involving variances. Most of which are acceptable, McGean states, except for the instances where the word “may” is being recommended to be “shall” when it comes to city’s existing ordinance language allowing staff to grant variances for accessory structures less than 600 square feet.

“This item deals with a variance process that was added to our code some years ago because the entire town at the time was in the flood zone and any time someone wanted to put in a two-car garage they would have to receive a variance by hearing because the garage would be located below Base Flood Elevation,” McGean said. “The council at the time felt that it was becoming burdensome, and changed the code to basically make the variance an automatic process for structures up to 600 square feet, which was to allow for a two-car garage.”

Last week McGean reported back to the council on the matter. FEMA said it would not approve the ordinance unless the automatic variance for accessory structures is limited to 300 square feet. If FEMA does not approve the ordinance, city residents will not be able to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.

The council agreed to allow for the change and voted unanimously to approve the ordinance in first reading. The ordinance in its entirety can be viewed on the town’s website at