AUGUSTA – On Feb. 16, the Maine Senate passed a bill from Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, with unanimous, bipartisan support. The bill, LD 1809, “An Act To Allow Exceptions to the Height Limitations under the Shoreland Zoning Laws,” will help owners of shoreline property protect their homes and afford flood insurance amid rising water levels.

“As water levels continue to rise, affected homeowners will be forced to raise their properties higher off the ground to keep them protected and safe,” said Sen. Brenner. “Currently, however, a conflict between federal guidelines in the National Flood Insurance Program and state law can prevent property owners from taking the needed actions to protect their investment. This bill resolves that issue, and will help shorefront property owners adapt their homes and afford reasonably priced flood insurance in the future.”

Currently, height limitations in the state Shoreland Zoning Act can pose a conflict with standards set forth in the National Flood Insurance Program, which require a property’s lowest floor to be a minimum of 1 foot above the base flood elevation. As flood water levels continue to rise, the need for homeowners to raise their properties off the ground to protect their investment will continue. However, state law currently limits the maximum height of a structure, while at the same time federal standards require properties be a certain height above base flood elevation. By changing state law to allow properties to be modified for compliance with federal guidelines, property owners will be able to raise their homes to protect them from flooding, while also maintaining the ability to hold reasonably priced flood insurance.

The Maine Department of Environmental recognizes that without changing the height definition, some coastal homeowners may be in an untenable situation of being able to comply with both zoning and other requirements, DEP Bureau of Land Resources Director Nicholas Livesay said in testimony to the committee.

“The department has observed that the existing shoreland zoning limitations on the height of structures may result in a scenario where it is impossible for a property owner to comply with both shoreland zoning and floodplain management requirements,” Livesay said. “A property owner needing to raise their structure to satisfy the local floodplain management ordinance may be prohibited from doing so by the shoreland zoning height limits. LD 1809 resolves this conflict and does so in a way that is consistent with the objectives of the Shoreland Zoning Act.”

“The bill retains the existing height limits but, within areas of special flood hazard, adjusts how the height of a structure is measured. Instead of measuring from the ground to the peak of the roof, the height is measured from the bottom of the sill of the structure, ” he said. “This allows posts or flood-resistant foundations, consistent with the National Flood Insurance Program requirements, to be added under a structure without counting against the height limit.”

The change in definition is needed for Scarborough and the other coastal communities that have adopted the most recent Shoreland guidelines, said Brian Longstaff, Scarborough zoning administrator.

“By amending the definition of building height for those structures that are in the special flood hazard area,” he said, “and also allowing those structures to be elevated to the minimum height necessary to comply with floodplain regulations in exchange for relocating to meet the setback from the resource to greatest extent possible, homeowners can at least have a reasonable and predictable outcome when contemplating building improvements or when elevating to reduce the possibility of flood damage and also reduce their flood insurance costs.”

LD 1809 faces further votes in the Senate and House in the coming weeks.

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