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New Lavallette Ordinance Places Improvement Rules on Homes That Have Not Been Raised

Lavallette Borough Hall (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Lavallette Borough Hall (Photo: Daniel Nee)

An ordinance adopted by Lavallette officials will place new requirements on homes that do not meet federal height requirements for flood mitigation.

The ordinance, adopted by the council at its meeting last week, is a localized variant of similar measures that FEMA is requiring coastal communities across the country to put into place. Without having the ordinance on the books, officials say, the federal government could increase flood insurance premiums for all residents and levy a number of other types of penalties against the borough and its residents.

Known as a “substantial improvement” ordinance, the law adopts the federal government’s language that has largely followed up the controversies over “substantial damage” during Superstorm Sandy. The ordinance requires the borough to track all improvements made to existing homes and keep a record of the value of those improvements for three years. If, at some point, the improvements exceed 50 percent of the value of the physical structure (not counting the land value) the borough will not issue a permit unless the homeowners elevates the residence to the minimum height required by FEMA’s floodplain maps.

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“FEMA is dictating this to every community,” said Councilwoman Joanne Filippone. “You’re going to need a zoning permit for everything you do – you won’t need a building permit, but you’ll need a zoning permit.”

Filippone said FEMA “wants the town to count everything, including interior painting.”

While the borough’s ordinance does not go quite so far as to specify painting activities, any improvement that requires a permit will start the counter. The ordinance covers the “reconstruction, rehabilitation, addition, or other improvement of a structure.”

The borough had some latitude to localize the ordinance.

“Who came up with the three years?” asked Councilman Robert Lamb, noting that Toms River tracks the value of improvements for only 180 days before resetting the calculations.

“We discussed it quite a few times, and everybody else is at the three-year period” said Mayor Walter LaCicero, explaining that most coastal communities have adopted longer time periods.

“Our floodplain manager went through this with a fine-toothed comb,” added Filippone. “She is currently in training to receive new certification and this is coming from the training as well.”

Though exact figures were not discussed, LaCiero said between the recovery from Superstorm Sandy and the ongoing building boom in town, there are not many homes left for which the new ordinance will apply.

“In Lavallette, anyone who’s not elevated is not dumping substantial amounts of cash into the properties at this point,” he said.

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