In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, those living along the Shrewsbury River in the hard-hit West Park section of Rumson rallied to sift through soggy debris, dry out their homes and rebuild.
Three months after Sandy struck on Oct. 29, while there are still remnants of the storm peppering West Park, there are also many signs of completed rebuilding and in-process elevations. Things are literally "looking up" in some spots.
Even before everything from Sea Bright beach club cabanas to boats, liquor bottles and personal belongings were cleared from yards and streets, people were already crafting ideas for rebuilding.
In order to move forward and ensure insurance reimbursement and eligibilty for funding, the governing body decided to revise its home base height elevation (BHE) recommendations for homes in flood-prone areas of the borough. Rumson was the first municipality in the state to do so.
The contention was that rushing through — raising the BHE recommendation from 8 to 9 feet to a minimum of 13 feet above sea level — would allow homeowners to move forward to complete construction before the cold set in. It would also streamline insurance approvals and reimbursements, since insurance companies' adjusters first align the decisions with municipalities' individual codes and recommendations.
A companion ordinance was revised and adopted specifying that homes could also be built to 35 feet high, but measuring that height now from the finished floor as opposed to existing grade.
The BHE ordinance was adopted before the end of the year and before the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) came out with its guidelines. It did, however, stipulate that should FEMA’s revised standards come in at a higher level, then the new requirement would reflect that number.
“We felt it was really important to get residents the numbers so that they could make a decision on what they wanted to do," Borough Clerk Tom Rogers explained at the December meeting. "So we rushed through working with T&M (Associates, borough engineers) to come up with a plan and an ordinance to allow people to raise homes and also take into account whatever FEMA did.”
Some said they thought the ordinance’s wording should read the opposite: that the requirement should be whichever number is lower (the borough’s or FEMA’s) so as to not face residents with prohibitive costs in compliant building and insurance coverage.
Residents unable to afford to comply, objectors contended, may be forced to build to expensive, high standards, be denied coverage, or both, shouldering them with an overbearing fiscal burden and, perhaps, forcing them to move.
There are some in that situation in West Park. It's becoming a widespread problem of affordability in many cases throughout the state.
Rumson will soon be adopting the amended ordinance to reflect the FEMA guidelines.
Click here to see the ordinance, set for a public hearing at the Feb. 13 council meeting.
In the meantime, take a look at the photo gallery above for a glimpse into what's left of the storm and what's new since it struck. And tell us, are the elevation standards good or bad news for you? Will you stay or will you go in the future?