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New rules to save boro homes

Council Speaker Christine Quinn (l.-r.) and Mayor Michael Bloomberg discuss ways to make the city's buildings more resilient in the face of extreme weather events. Photo by Joe Anuta
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The city’s building code will probably be modified to better prepare for storms following recommendations unveiled last week by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) in Long Island City.

The Building Resiliency Task Force — made up of a group of professionals gathered at the behest of the Bloomberg administration and led by the nonprofit the Urban Green Council — listed a number of post-Hurricane Sandy changes that could affect new construction in Queens neighborhoods listed in federal flood maps currently undergoing revision, including Broad Channel, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, the Rockaways and parts of Astoria, College Point, Rosedale and Long Island City.

“Superstorm Sandy was a serious wake-up call that cost billions of dollars in damages and repairs, and another extreme event is inevitable,” said Russell Unger, executive director of council, at the City Lights Building near the corner of 48th Avenue and Center Boulevard June 12.

Unger and the mayor made it clear the task force did not mandate any costly upgrades to homes.

But many of the measures suggested in the report, like raising homes above the flood plane, would need to be undertaken anyway to avoid skyrocketing flood insurance premiums in future years for homes more likely to be inundated with water, according to the mayor.

“There is no requirement for you to raise an existing building,” Bloomberg said. “But your insurance is going to go up so much that you might very want to say, ‘Well, I’d rather raise the house, pay the money and keep my insurance from going up.’”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is in the process of updating flood maps which will eventually be used to adjust insurance rates, but encouraged homeowners to take advantage of current economic programs to make modifications based on the latest information available.

The changes in the city’s building code will eventually provide relief for homeowners in flood zones who do not want to raise their home, but want to move vital utility equipment above the new flood plane, which is currently not allowed in some cases.

New homes built within the new flood zones would also need to have a special valve fitted onto sewage pipes to prevent backup from inundating the house in a flood event and infrastructure to enable toilets and sinks to work without power, according to the report, since the pressure of the water coming from upstate automatically flows up to about the fourth story.

The task force also recommended changing roof materials to deflect heat during the summer months and modifying the zoning code to allow for higher building heights in some areas. Otherwise, it might be impossible to raise a home’s base elevation above the flood plane without obtaining a variance or zoning change.

New homes are already required through the existing building code to be built at the minimum height identified by FEMA.

Many of the new building codes that would apply to new residences in Queens will be implemented as soon as possible, according to Quinn.

“The drafting process has already begun,” she said.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

Posted 2:02 am, June 21, 2013
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