Following Executive Order 225 (extending the State of Emergency caused by Hurricane Sandy) and the release of FEMA’s new advisory base flood elevation maps for areas impacted by Sandy (containing the most up-to-date information on flood hazard zones and necessary buildings heights to prevent flood damage) New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued Executive Order 230. Executive Order 230 suspends height limits and other restrictions for new construction and reconstruction in areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. Additionally, as part of the recovery and rebuilding effort New York City adopted new rules in the building code to increase flood-proofing requirements and to increase the required minimum flood-proofing elevation so damaged buildings and other new construction will withstand greater flood events. Prior to suspension, New York City Zoning required all new construction or reconstruction comply with the specific zoning regulations for the zone and with building codes. Although these are seemingly commonplace requirements the new building requirements along with the existing zoning could have prevented buildings from being built or rebuilt at elevations consistent with FEMA’s new recommended base flood elevations. For example, techniques such as building on columns would raise the building’s height and without the suspension of zoning height limitation place a significant onus on people attempting to build or rebuild in these impacted areas.
Using an Executive Order to suspend zoning requirements is an innovative method to provide short term relief for those affected by natural disasters. Passing an Executive Order during a State of Emergency is far easier than enacting a zoning amendment. An Executive Order only requires action on the part of the executive and does not have the same procedural process requirements, which may present and undue delay for those impacted by disasters. However, a simple suspension of requirements through Executive Order is only a short-term solution; the underlying zoning should be revised to keep the zoning current and to promote orderly development consistent with the community’s plan for development. This Executive Order recognizes the limitations of an Executive Order as a temporary solution and as a result requires renewal every five days.