HURRICANE IRENE’S LAND USE LESSONS

Land Use

Hurricane Irene provided very important lessons for land use law and development.  In no particular priority, here are several to consider:

  1.  Strict building codes requiring buildings to be designed and constructed to take into account natural events, such as hurricanes, or earthquakes, are vitally important.  These codes work.  They may, in some instances, add cost or expense to a construction project, but the protection of the public that these codes provide far outweighs the costs to a particular building project.  Although “Green” building codes or “Sustainability” laws are at the forefront of many development discussions right now, building codes that address natural weather events must always be a major land use law focus.
  2. Intergovernmental cooperation works.  The coordination efforts of various governmental agencies to effectuate storm warnings and evacuations show that different levels of government, federal, state and local, can work well together when there is a discreet focus to accomplish a common goal.  Similarly, planning for this emergency showed that these different governmental authorities can successfully coordinate efforts with the private sector as and when necessary.  There is no reason governments, in conjunction with the private sector, cannot apply this same focus to some of our region’s important land use issues, such an affordable or workforce housing, infrastructure improvements, transportation friendly developments and regional planning initiatives.
  3. Coastal erosion regulations, flood management plans, environmental controls on waterfront development, and similar rules and regulations are essential pieces to our region’s land use planning.  Given that our region is virtually surrounded by water, we need to review the inter-relationship of general zoning law with these special development regulations.  Where necessary, we should amend these laws, or adopt new laws to address any areas that require greater consideration.
  4. Site specific improvements designed to protect against natural events, like hurricanes, must be considered as part of the approval process for most new projects.  For instance, when approving a new residential subdivision, planning boards should consider a requirement to install public utilities, like electrical lines, below grade.  Likewise, when considering residential or commercial developments located in or near areas known to be affected by weather events, planning authorities should consider, among other criteria for approval, the impact of the proposed development on the ability of those working or residing in the area to appropriately evacuate to a safer area when circumstances warrant.

More points on this topic will follow.

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