SEA BRIGHT ON THE RISE, HEIGHTWISE

Ed Wheeler’s house on Ocean Avenue is the first to have been raised since the hurricane. Many more are expected to be lifted under pending changes. (Click to enlarge)

By WIL FULTON

Sea Bright homeowners will have some wiggle room under new building codes hashed out at back-to-back council and planning board meetings Tuesday night.

The pending changes, expected to be adopted by the council February 5, are aimed at eliminating red tape for property owners whose houses might exceed overall height restrictions after they’ve been lifted to comply with the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s advisory base flood elevation levels, town officials said.

Mayor Dina Long, an English teacher by day, helped break down the new ordinance, which many residents and board members alike had trouble deciphering due to the highly technical language it was written in.

“What we are doing is adopting FEMA’s recommended ABFE levels, which recommends varying levels of elevation for structures at different spots in the town, depending on location,” she said.

“We previously had a height limit of 38 feet on our buildings. This new building code will give [owners of] pre-existing buildings that are forced to elevate leeway to raise their house based on the new ABFE levels and not have to worry about being under the height limit,” Long said.

“For example, if you need to raise your house say, two feet, to comply with the new ABFE levels, and your house is already 38 feet high, we give you the okay to go above that in this situation without having to go through us and apply for a variance and all that it entails,” she said. “What we want to be able to do is be as accommodating as possible, and make this rebuilding process as smooth as it can for our residents.”

The ordinance will only apply to existing structures, she emphasized. Numerous homes are expected to be lifted, as one homeowner, building inspector Ed Wheeler, has already done to his Ocean Avenue home.

According to FEMA’s website, the new ABFEs were created “to show a more current picture of flood risk for certain communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. The ABFEs can help communities better understand current flood risks and ensure structures are rebuilt stronger and safer to reduce the impact of similar events in the future.” The ABFE’s for the region can be found here.

Planning board members, though, wrestled with the terminology before recommending the council approve the measure, with some members questioning the new use of measuring height based on the average of a roof’s elevation from a structure’s four base corners, as opposed to the ‘crown of the road,’ the standard that’s historically been used in Sea Bright.

While Councilman Marc Leckstein and others assured the board that this method was recommended to the town by multiple engineers, some board members questioned the move.

“It seems to me this makes everything just a little more complicated,” said planning board member Robert Knott. “It seems like this is the opposite of clear and concise, which is what we need.”

“Why not keep everyone at the same level? We don’t want a staggered type of skyline with buildings of all different sizes throughout town,” board member Dan DeSio added.

“I’m personally not an engineer, but the engineers we have worked with have told us measuring height by the crown of the road is an archaic way of doing things,” Leckstein said. “By doing it this way, we can actually help residents meet height requirements by giving them a more accurate measuring based on their physical structure, as opposed to some arbitrary measurement that may not apply to them.”

“We’re doing this to help people elevate their houses with more ease,” Leckstein told redbankgreen afterward. “Those houses with over 50 percent damages have to, in fact, and people will do it. The terminology is complicated, but from an engineer’s standpoint, it will make sense.”