Dewey Beach property owner Kevin Monigle doesn't want to combat sea level rise by lifting his home 1 or 2 feet at a cost of $100,000.
“I wouldn't want to go up 1 or 2 feet. If we do move, we want to move substantially,” the Read Street resident said.
Monigle was one of a handful of concerned Dewey Beach citizens who showed up to comment on the impact of sea-level rise during a Dewey Beach Planning Commission meeting Saturday, April 12. It was the first of three public-hearing style meetings to garner public input on zoning issues related to increased coastal flooding and sea-level rise.
The issue garnering the most discussion was whether the town should increase the 35-foot maximum building height stipulated in town code. If some homes go higher than 35 feet, the view of other property owners will be lost, but staying with the status quo means property owners responding to changes in FEMA's Flood Insurance Rates Maps will likely have to lose living space.
Commission Mike Harmer said as the process continues to move forward, he will support a recommendation that allows property owners to build higher than 35 feet, but he understands that position will not satisfy everyone.
People will be mad no matter what, Harmer said.
Tim Arnold lives in the north side of town on Jersey Street, in an area not often affected by flooding. He wanted to know how any changes in the building code would work; he said raising the 35-foot height limit would change the character of his neighborhood.
There are different architectual styles associated for different parts of the town, Arnold said, and creating a sweeping, townwide change would dramatically change the north side of town.
Also under discussion is increasing the required freeboard, which the town has set at 1 foot. Freeboard is additional elevation required for any building in a flood zone for towns, including Dewey, that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. Participation in the program results in flood-insurance rate reductions for properties in a flood zone.
Bill Colbern lives in Sussex County immediately south of Dewey Beach. A man with 20 years of experience designing buildings in coastal floodplains, Colbern said he attended the meeting to see how the town was going to address height issues.
He said the town can't increase in the town's freeboard requirement without an increase in the maximum allowable height. You can't do one without the other, he said.
Also discussed was flooding associated with 100-year storms, which continues to change on FEMA flood maps.
Colbern said one way other coastal communities have addressed the changing elevations is to create a floating level that doesn't fall below a specified base level, based on predicted flood heights for 100-year storms. Colbern suggested a building code that doesn't allow properties owners to go below the predicted flood level, but gives them some flexibility above the predicted level.
Commissioner Marty Seitz said what Dewey Beach chooses to do and what the state of Delaware wants the town to do may not be the same thing.
The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control published a sea-level rise adaptation plan in September 2013. The seven-objective document is a general guideline intended to assist government agencies, businesses and individuals so they can make well-informed choices about preparing for and responding to sea-level rise.
Seitz said the state suggests a planned abandonment approach as one method of dealing with residences in the flood zones, but the town may not want to move in that direction.
“We have to be responsible to the state and be responsible to the residents, but there are some discrepancies,” he said.
The second sea-level rise meeting is scheduled for 3 to 5 p.m., Saturday, May 10, at the Dewey Beach Lifesaving Museum, 1 Dagsworthy Ave.