Two New York City neighborhoods heavily affected by Hurricane Sandy received City Council go-ahead for two new (and very different) rezoning plans last Thursday, September 7.
The first was the approval of Mayor Bill de Blasio administration’s proposed rezoning of Far Rockaway, a historically under-served coastal neighborhood. This is the neighborhood’s first rezoning since 1961. The plan committed around $288 million to commercial development, public amenities, schools, and affordable housing in the downtown area. This includes more than 1,000 affordable housing units, 250,000 square feet of commercial space to attract new businesses and jobs, the neighborhood’s first new library since 1976, and its first new park since 1960, according to local City Council member Donovan Richards. Additional funds will renovate and build new parks as well as improve open space at the public housing complex. This development plan is the result of two years of community engagement.
For Staten Island’s East Shore, the City Council approved the creation of a new Special Coastal Risk District. This plan, a response to flood vulnerability, will buy out two swaths of land – including parts of the Oakwood Beach, Graham Beach, and Ocean Breeze neighborhoods – and tightly restrict future development. Any land re-use will be restricted to the creation of open space.
The goal of creating the Coastal Risk District is to form a storm surge barrier between the coast and developed areas. Of the 10 neighborhoods identified by the Bloomberg administration for rezoning after Sandy, the Staten Island’s East Shore is one of only three neighborhoods that has advanced to City Council with an actual proposal addressing flood risk.
In the plan, homeowners in the two areas of the Coastal Risk District will be offered a voluntary buyout of their homes at pre-storm values, and those who choose not to participate will be very limited in how they rebuild their homes.
Those in affected areas now face the question: continue on living in a designated flood zones under the new, restrictive ordinances, or move to a more secure inland location but lose their home? For many, this is not an easy choice, and voluntary retreat is disproportionately skewed to affect low- and middle-income households.
As New York approaches the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Sandy and watches Houston and Miami begin the process of recovering from Harvey and Irma, it’s clear that the need to build resilient cities is more urgent than ever.