In what many shore property owners are calling a "death warrant," Gov. Chris Christie announced Thursday that New Jersey will adopt the Federal Emergency Management's (FEMA) Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps.
Christie's intent: to give owners whose homes were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy the guidance necessary to rebuild their homes without further delay.
The maps determine how high property owners must build to be safe from the floods and waves of the worst possible storms.
But the net effect in Ocean City is quite different: on the new maps, many homes have been moved into "V Zones," the most dangerous "velocity zones" where homes could be damaged by ocean waves of at least three feet.
These owners now face two grim choices: pay huge sums to elevate homes that suffered only minor damage ... or pay huge sums in annual flood insurance premiums because their homes are below base flood elevation.
The maps had carried the label "advisory" because they were just that: preliminary estimates of what the final maps might look like. FEMA officials had signaled that advisory maps did not take into account many of the factors that would mitigate floods, and that the final maps would include lower elevations and smaller "V Zones."
If nothing else, Christie's announcement caused confusion.
City Council voted unanimously on Thursday to table an ordinance that would have allowed residential properties fronting the Boardwalk to measure height restrictions in the same way as other residential properties — measuring from the new base flood elevation map (plus two feet).
With the new maps dramatically increasing base flood elevations in some cases, the overall height of Boardwalk properties could be significantly higher.
"We are reviewing a rapidly developing situation," Business Administrator Mike Dattilo said in discussing the proposed ordinance. "I don't want to speculate about all the implications of this."
Council ultimately decided to wait for more information on Christie's announcement before deciding anything about requirements contingent on base flood elevation.
Speculating on the potential choice of a homeowner paying as much as $31,000 annually for flood insurance or paying to raise or rebuild a home, Councilman Scott Ping said he worries that "the shore will become even more elitist" as working-class and middle-class families move off-island to places they can afford.
Mayor Jay Gillian said he worried about seniors.
"This is their livelihood," Gillian said. "Homes are where everyone's money is."
The following are resources on the "Advisory Base Flood Elevations" from FEMA: