Council Backs Freeboard Code Change

OCEAN CITY – A code amendment to adopt a one-foot freeboard requirement in downtown Ocean City moved forward this week with a favorable vote from the Mayor and Council.

Last Wednesday, the Ocean City Coastal Resources Legislative Committee (Green Team) voted to advance a code amendment adopting a one-foot elevation requirement above base flood elevation for new or substantially improved residential and commercial structures south of 3rd Street.

“That is the new minimum standard,” Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville told committee members. “We’re just cleaning up the flood code to match what the building code has already done, which is to adopt this one-foot requirement.”

As a prerequisite for maintaining Ocean City’s Community Rating System flood insurance rating, the community must adopt and enforce at least a one-foot freeboard elevation for residential buildings in the Special Flood Hazard Area, Neville noted in a memo to committee members.

While town code generally requires additional elevation of three feet above base flood elevation within the Special Flood Hazard Area, Neville said portions of the downtown area were exempt from freeboard elevation requirements adopted in 2015, recognizing zoning criteria that encouraged direct sidewalk access to retail stores with minimal setbacks.

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“The reason our flood code was adopted in 2015 with this exemption for the downtown area is exactly the situation that we felt like we wanted to encourage retail and commercial on the street level, to engage people going by, and not create that barrier of being elevated,” he told the committee.

While officials noted there were discussions of implementing as much as a three-foot freeboard in the downtown area, City Engineer Terry McGean said setbacks and ADA accessibility issues were a concern.

“Even with a one-foot freeboard that we’re talking about means you can have some buildings that can be five feet above the street,” he said. “If you have a building that is five feet above grade, you have to have a handicap ramp that’s 70 feet long, with landings It makes it very difficult to do.”

Neville said adopting a one-foot freeboard was reasonable.

“I think it accomplishes what we wanted in terms of protection from a flood risk,” he said. “Pursuing a higher freeboard creates some construction problems.”

After further discussion, the committee voted unanimously to forward the code amendment to the Mayor and Council. On Tuesday, after little discussion, the council voted unanimously to move forward with the code amendment and move to a first reading.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.