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Rezoning could permanently curb housing in flood-prone Staten Island neighborhoods

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“Managed retreat” has transformed three Staten Island neighborhoods, possibly permanently

Hurricane Sandy Oakwood Beach Staten Island
A home being demolished in Ocean Breeze in May 2016.
Nathan Kensinger

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, several Staten Island neighborhoods have undergone what’s known as “managed retreat.” More than 200 homes in the areas of Oakwood, Ocean Breeze, and Graham Beach were purchased from their owners as part of a state-sponsored buyout program; the homes were then torn down, with the intention of letting the land return to nature.

And now, the Department of City Planning is exploring a rezoning that would permanently curb residential construction in those neighborhoods. According to Crain’s, the City Planning Commission will discuss the rezoning of what it calls the Staten Island East Shore Special Coastal Risk District. The goal, per the DCP, is to “limit[] future residential development in areas highly vulnerable to flooding and other natural hazards, while ensuring preservation of ecologically sensitive areas.”

While this would largely limit what could be built in those three neighborhoods, Crain’s notes that “the new rules would allow only single-family homes to be constructed in the future and only if the builder is able to obtain a permit from the planning commission”—which the DCP would be likely be less than eager to grant.

Though it’s transformed the shoreline of Staten Island, the idea of “managed retreat” hasn’t taken hold in other parts of the city that are similarly flood-prone. As Camera Obscura columnist Nathan Kensinger has noted, the city “is currently moving tens of thousands of new residents into waterfront areas that were underwater during Hurricane Sandy,” including Williamsburg and Long Island City.

“This new process of planned relocation may soon encompass much larger swaths of land as coastal areas become increasingly uninhabitable and humans are forced to relocate away from densely populated waterways,” Kensinger writes.