On June 21, 2017, City Council adopted the Broad Channel and Hamilton Beach resiliency rezonings which are now in effect.
As part of the Resilient Neighborhoods initiative, the Department of City Planning has been working with the communities of Old Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, and Broad Channel to identify zoning and land use changes to support neighborhood vitality and help residents and businesses withstand and recover quickly from future storms and flooding. These neighborhoods were identified for study as part of the initiative not only because they were among the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods during Hurricane Sandy, but also because of their unique vulnerabilities to long-term sea level rise. Through working with local leaders, DCP has developed a proposal for zoning changes to limit increases in density in Broad Channel and Hamilton Beach, which are the most vulnerable to frequent tidal flooding due to their low elevation. Additional recommendations include allowing additional zoning flexibility for property owners making resiliency investments in buildings on small lots, as well as coastal resiliency strategies, community preparedness efforts, and management of vacant, city-owned land.
View the summary report on Old Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach, and Broad Channel.
Visit the Broad Channel Flood Risk Atlas..
Visit the Old Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach Flood Risk Atlas..
The Department of City Planning worked closely with a community advisory committee comprised of area residents and business owners appointed by the New York City Councilmember for District 32. The group included representatives from Community Boards 10 and 14, New Hamilton Beach Civic Association, Broad Channel Civic Association, and Howard Beach-Lindenwood Civic Association. The committee reviewed issues involving zoning, infrastructure, and future tidal flooding during a series of meetings beginning in fall 2014. At several points, DCP brought in additional agencies including the New York City Departments of Transportation, Environmental Protection, and Parks and Recreation to discuss infrastructure challenges and opportunities, as well as the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency to speak to New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) sea level rise projections. Through these discussions, the committee provided local knowledge and context on flood-related challenges in the study area and helped shape the recommendations that are outlined in the final report.
The communities of Old Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach abut Shellbank Basin and Hawtree Basin, which are lined with docks and boats, and have a population of approximately 7,300 residents. Broad Channel is a community of approximately 2,500 residents and is surrounded entirely by water and marsh within Jamaica Bay. During Hurricane Sandy, all of these neighborhoods were devastated by significant inundation from storm surge. The narrow creeks and basins that wind through Old Howard Beach and Hamilton Beach allowed floodwaters to enter from the bay. Broad Channel, sitting at a low elevation in the middle of the bay, was completely inundated with large volumes of water.
Hamilton Beach and Broad Channel are some of the most low-lying neighborhoods in New York City, and already face regular flooding from high tides—a condition likely to become more severe over time with climate change. By the 2050s, portions of these two neighborhoods may face daily tidal flooding according to sea level rise projections from the New York City Panel on Climate Change.
While Broad Channel and most of Hamilton Beach were already designated within the 1% annual chance floodplain in FEMA’s 1983 Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), almost all of Old Howard Beach was added to the 1% annual chance floodplain with FEMA’s release of new flood maps, known as the Preliminary Flood Insurance Rate Maps (PFIRMs), in 2013. In addition to new areas being added to the 1% annual chance floodplain, the Preliminary FIRMs also have generally higher base flood elevations, ranging from 10 to 11 feet above sea level, or 2 to 8 feet above ground level. This expansion, in addition to national changes to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will result in higher insurance premiums for homeowners with federally backed mortgages, many of whom may not have had flood insurance in the past.
While building to higher flood resistant construction standards will reduce vulnerability to future floods, as well as help avoid higher flood insurance premiums, there may be physical, regulatory or economic challenges to doing so. The 2013 Citywide Flood Resiliency Zoning Text Amendment was adopted on a temporary basis to remove many of the zoning barriers to making resiliency investments; however, these changes don’t fully address some of the challenges in these neighborhoods, and need to be made permanent. Additionally, streets and other infrastructure remain vulnerable not only to storm surge, but also to frequent tidal inundation, particularly with projected sea level rise.
A separate resiliency framework was developed for each of the three neighborhoods, and includes recommendations for updates to zoning, capital improvements, and storm preparedness plans. The framework for Broad Channel is followed by the framework for Hamilton Beach and Old Howard Beach. These recommendations will inform the Department of City Planning’s work in 2017 and beyond, and will inform inter-agency coordination on resiliency issues. Check this webpage or find the contact information at the bottom of the page to learn about updates.
The proposed zoning for Broad Channel provides some flexibility to allow homeowners to make resiliency investments, while reducing vulnerabilities by limiting future development to single-family detached residences. This building type is the easiest to retrofit, results in low density development, and matches the predominant built conditions. In addition, the proposal would allow waterfront-based commercial uses on the southeastern shore and update a commercial overlay to match existing conditions. Other strategies to make this neighborhood safer include maintaining key egress routes, assisting businesses through emergency preparedness education, and identifying green infrastructure or other opportunities for vacant City-owned property. These strategies together would help provide current residents in Broad Channel with options to retrofit their houses, while ensuring that future development does not substantially increase the population of the neighborhood due to the vulnerability to regular flooding with projected sea level rise.
Zoning recommendations for Hamilton Beach are intended to reduce vulnerabilities to current and future risks by limiting new development to one-family detached residences on narrower lots and two-family detached residences on wider lots. Other strategies to make this neighborhood safer include updating zoning to enable homeowners to make resiliency investments on challenging narrow lots by providing additional flexibility that allows for a more functional and resilient building design, as well as maintaining emergency access and identifying green infrastructure or other uses for vacant, City-owned property. These strategies together will help ensure that current residents in Hamilton Beach have options to retrofit their houses, have safe access to and from the neighborhood, and that increases in residential density is limited due to the neighborhood’s vulnerability to regular flooding with projected sea level rise.
While still vulnerable to coastal storms, Old Howard Beach is at a higher elevation than Hamilton Beach and Broad Channel, so does not face the same long-term risks to sea level rise. Recommendations are geared toward updating residential and commercial zoning to reflect the built context and prioritizing investments in street-end bulkheads to prevent flooding during high tide under sea level rise projections. There is also as a need to update waterfront access zoning regulations specific to Cross Bay Boulevard, which is characterized by shallow lots that are strained by zoning and may face difficulty making retrofits. These proposed zoning changes are complemented by the Business Preparedness and Resiliency Program (PREP) run by the Department of Small Business Services, which offers risk assessments and other resources for small businesses.
The Resilient Neighborhoods Initiative is part of a broad range of efforts by the City to recover from Hurricane Sandy, promote rebuilding, and increase the city’s resilience to climate-related events, including coastal flooding and storm surge. Recommendations from this program have been developed in close consultation with area stakeholders and coordination with other initiatives, including:
For more information contact: ResilientQueens_DL@planning.nyc.gov