Norfolk focuses on becoming flood resilient with new zoning ordinance

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Norfolk City Council unanimously voted to adopt a new zoning ordinance Tuesday night, which they hope will address the issues with sea level rise in the coastal city.

They’ve been working on the re-write for several years, dedicating a website to the project and hosting their first public input meeting in 2015. The last time the city re-wrote their zoning ordinance was in 1992.

Reducing risks from flooding, conserving energy and managing storm water are some of the ways the city states in the 811 page document they will promote resiliency and make Norfolk the “coastal community of the future.”

Related: Sen. Kaine tours flood-prone areas in Norfolk

Under the new ordinance, developers and builders of both residential and non-residential structures will be required to follow a “resilient point system,” unless exempted.

The system allocates points to builders for including things like operable storm shutters and elevating the bottom floor of their structure by three feet. For each component of the system, the document states there is a minimum total of points they need to have.

While many citizens and council members praised the City Planning staff for their efforts, some expressed their concerns at the meeting on Tuesday.

Chairman of the Norfolk Municipal Affairs Committee Bob Widener spoke on behalf of the Tidewater Builders Association during the public comment period.

“To date, there has been no significant study of the costs, efforts or time that will be needed to comply with these new regulations, but they will no doubt be enormous,” said Widener. He feels the organization was not given enough time to address all their concerns with the council and planning staff.

Jack Blake, a realtor with Keller Williams Realty, also expressed his worry with the cost of implementing the new ordinance and asked the council, “Having the most resilient zoning code in the country is a great headline, great for PR, but if we short-circuit the recovery we’ve had in the housing market in order to accomplish that, have we really made a step forward?”

Members of the public weren’t the only ones reluctant about the new ordinance’s resiliency system. Some council members were initially on the fence too, they said.

Norfolk Councilman Thomas Smigiel, Jr. said during the meeting he fully supports the resiliency efforts, but wished they had more time to go through the ordinance together.

“I didn’t come here tonight to vote against this ordinance, I never did,” said Smigiel. “I’ve been sharing my concerns along the way, probably more than any other council member, just as they’ve been coming through.”

Norfolk’s new zoning ordinance will require new buildings to have several components to endure the increased tidal flooding in the city.(WAVY Photo /Chris Omahen)

 

Angelia Graves, another member of the Norfolk City Council, said she was skeptical at first, but was ready to vote in favor of the re-write.

“I would like to see some more balance between our resiliency efforts and how we implement them and what is necessary between builders, developers and the general public and homeowners alike,” Graves said before she voted. “I want to make sure that if I’m still alive in 50 years and I still want to sell real estate in 50 years, there are houses that are here for me to sell.”

Smigiel reminded the citizens who attended the council meeting that they are going to continue to work on fine-tuning the document.

The new zoning ordinance will go into effect on March 1.