City Officials Holds Flood Resilient Building Guidelines Open House

East Bostonians can take the snow, wind, frigid cold and space-savers, but a new element has been added into the wintery mix that may be something residents might have to get used to as the sea-level rises.

Last year’s ‘Bomb Cyclone’ which brought heavy snow and wind to the Northeast, also brought significant flooding to Eastie’s waterfront.

Portside at Pier I, the Shipyard and Marina, Clippership Wharf and Liberty Plaza all experienced significant flooding as the Boston Harbor spilled into the neighborhood and made waterfront developments like Portside look like a floating cruise ship.

For the very first time in Boston since record keeping began in 1921, water levels reached 15.16 feet on Jan 4, 2018. This is above flood stage, the level at which flooding is caused, and caused significant tidal flooding in many waterfront parts of Boston, including Eastie.

Floodwaters also flowed into Liberty Plaza, and the Mario Umana Academy and storm water filled the East Boston Greenway.

In response Mayor Martin Walsh unveiled his vision that will invest in Boston’s waterfront to protect East Boston residents, homes, jobs, and infrastructure against the impacts of rising sea-level and climate change.

Walsh said he would rather spend $160 million today through his new initiative, “Resilient Boston Harbor,” by building sea walls and natural barriers to make Eastie more resilient to flooding in order to prevent $450 million in damages in the future.

“Climate change is something that impacts everything we do in our city: all of our plans and policies, every sector of our economy, safety and quality of life in all our neighborhoods,” said Walsh. “We must do all that we can to prevent climate change and prepare for its impact. We’re not just planning for the next storm we will face – we’re planning for storms the next generation will face.”

Walsh’s Resilient Boston Harbor uses the City’s Climate Ready Boston 2070 flood maps and coastal resilience neighborhood studies to focus on Boston’s most vulnerable flood pathways.

The strategies laid out in the plan include elevated landscapes, enhanced waterfront parks, flood resilient buildings, and revitalized and increased connections and access to the waterfront.

Last week the city held a Flood Resilient Building Guidelines workshop at the East Boston YMCA on Bremen Street.

The open house gave residents, developers, architects and anyone with an interest in climate change an insight to the city’s efforts to promote buildings that are better adapted to coastal flooding and sea-level rise.

The event was also an opportunity for residents to learn about flood resilient building guidelines and zoning.

Planning is underway by the city to develop resiliency design guidelines for a Flood Resiliency Zoning Overlay District. Rich McGuinness, Deputy Director for Climate Change and Environment Planning at the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) said the plan will build on the Sea Level Rise (SLR) – Flood Hazard Area map released as part of the Climate Resiliency-Review Policy of October 2017. It provides new construction and retrofit projects in the Flood Hazard Area with a SLR – Base Flood Elevation (BFE) to build to avoid future coastal flooding conditions due to a one percent annual storm event with 40 inches of SLR. 

Chris Busch, Senior Waterfront Planner at the BPDA, described the scope of the resiliency design guidelines being undertaken that will apply to commercial, institutional, and residential uses. It will evaluate best practices used in New York; Norfolk, Virginia; and New Orleans, and will also review existing overlay districts in Boston to address possible conflicts. The guidelines will include zoning requirements for height, lot coverage, and set back, among other requirements.

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