Zoning changes would limit building in floodplains | News

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Gloucester’s Planning Board is to host a public hearing Thursday on new floodplain zoning and regulations to limit housing development in areas at risk of current and future flooding while promoting resilient growth.

“If adopted,” Planning Director Gregg Cademartori wrote to the City Council on Dec. 7, “the city of Gloucester would join many other communities in the Commonwealth in more proactively meeting the resilience goals and managing coastal flood risks.”

The remote meeting on Zoom is scheduled for Jan. 5, at 5 p.m.

The Cape Ann Climate Coalition, which covers Essex, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Gloucester and Rockport, put out a statement alerting residents to the public hearing, noting the city’s 2022 Climate Action and Resilience Plan “identifies multiple areas where sustainability actions are needed.”

Changes to the floodplain code of ordinance were one of them, the climate coalition said.

“Gloucester’s Planning Board has proposed zoning ordinance changes that would create a Coastal Overlay District restricting future housing development in flood-prone areas in the city,” the coalition said. “New construction would not be allowed in the most vulnerable coastlines subject to storm surges, while in other flooded areas development would be limited to 10% of the lot area coverage.”

The Cape Ann Climate Coalition also put out a video called “It’s Time to Plan” on YouTube showing flooding during the Dec. 23, 2022, storm in the area of Stop & Shop on Thatcher Road, Good Harbor Beach, the I-4, C-2 parking lot off Rogers Street, the former Steve Connolly Seafood Company building on East Main Street, Cripple Cove in East Gloucester and Long Beach in Rockport. (You can watch this video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRgXz2hQG9s).

“Gloucester’s vulnerability to coastal flooding is well documented,” Cademartori wrote to the council, “with over 20% of the city’s parcels currently mapped in a FEMA flood zone. In 2019, flood damage insurance payments to Gloucester property owners totaled over $7 million, the sixth highest in the state.”

According to a draft of the proposed floodplain zoning amendments, a major change would take place in so-alled Velocity Zones or VE Zones on FEMA flood maps. In addition to mapping areas of high-risk flooding for national flood insurance purposes, FEMA’s maps are used as a tool to help communities know where there is a major risk of flooding.

VE Zones are described by FEMA as “coastal areas with a 1% or greater chance of flooding and an additional hazard associated with storm waves. These areas have a 26% chance of flooding over the life of a 30‐year mortgage.”

One proposed zoning change would be to prohibit new construction of a residential dwelling in VE Zones and the “movement, alteration or expansion of an existing residential dwelling or structure so as to increase its lot coverage in the VE Zone.”

In addition, in so-called AE Zones, new residential and/or accessory construction would have to conform to underlying zoning requirements, “except that lot coverage cannot exceed 10% of the AE Zone within the lot.”

In the case of movement, alteration or expansion of existing structures, “such activities shall not cause the lot coverage of all structures to exceed 10% of the AE Zone within the lot.”

Cademartori noted for the council that in addition to restrictions on development in the highest risk areas, “such as the waterside of Atlantic Road, the latter would limit seaward expansion into the flood zone in areas such as the properties lining the Annisquam River and its associated rivers and coves.”

The proposed regulations do not impose any new restrictions on commercial and industrial uses on the harbor, he added, while they encourage and support “resilience measures and adaptation.”

Future flood risk district

In addition to the Federal Floodplain District, the proposed zoning changes include the creation of a Future Flood Risk District.

This district, Cademartori wrote to the council, “will heighten the awareness of the flood zones and associated risk.”

The language, he said, is based on “a state model floodplain ordinance, which will be required to be adopted in the near future to stay in good standing with the National Flood Insurance Program and maintain Gloucester property owners’ access to flood insurance.”

“The Future Flood Risk District includes areas projected to be subject to future flooding with 2.4 feet of sea level rise,” according to the draft language.

Once the Planning Board makes its recommendations on the proposed floodplain zoning changes, the City Council would then hold a public hearing at a later date.

The Zoom link to the Jan. 5 Planning Board public hearing is located at https://gloucester-ma-gov.zoom.us/j/89349539130.

Ethan Forman may be contacted at 978-675-2714,or at eforman@northofboston.com.

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