Flood Zone Change: Full Basements Instead Of Piers And Pilings?

It’s not easy living in a flood zone. Superstorm Sandy made the risks real. Since then, dozens of Westporters living near the water have raised their homes, using piers or pilings.

That may no longer be the only option.

Gloria Gouveia reports: At last Thursday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting, 2 local design professionals presented a potential amendment to Westport’s flood zone requirements.

The pre-application process gives applicants the opportunity to explore ideas with the P&Z in a brief, informal, non-binding discussion, saving the time and expense of a formal application.

Citing a desire to provide full basements for homes in some Special Flood Hazard Zones, the proposal would permit filling properties to FEMA-mandated elevations in lieu of raising residential dwellings on piers or pilings.

A home being raised on Compo Cove.

The applicants testified that the benefits associated with raising the height of the land and the use of flood-proofing, versus elevating the structure, included: more (basement) floor area: egress at grade: enhanced flood protection and improved esthetics.

Typically, residential construction in SFHZs requires elevating and supporting structures with piers or pilings that are less of an impediment to flood waters than traditional foundations.

P&Z staff and several commissioners expressed concerns about the effect of foundations and basements on subservice drainage, and neighboring properties at lower grades.

Other issues addressed by staff members included the impact of future sea level rise, and the departure from best practices which support raising flood prone structures over raising the grade of flood prone lots.

Current zoning regulations prohibit the use and/or placement of fill for any purpose in Special Hazard Flood Zones.

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