Getting the go-ahead for major construction on Balboa Island is no easy task, but homeowners may get some relief since a federal agency acknowledged an error in the way it calculated a key flooding threshold.
The recalculation could also ease insurance rates for those in the area, a flood plain.
Until now, any homeowners who wished to make improvements that cost more than 50% of the value of the home (excluding the property value) also needed to comply with a requirement that the home stand nine feet above sea level. In some cases, this has meant that homeowners would need to raise the house — a difficult and expensive task — or tear it down.
That minimum height, known as the base flood elevation, reflects the level to which water is expected to rise during a flood.
But the Federal Emergency Management Agency determined the nine-foot minimum using incorrect calculations, meaning the requirement should be eight feet, city staff said during a study session Tuesday.
In late 2003, FEMA concluded that the elevation in Newport Beach should be nine feet when the agency updated its maps to reflect a new calculation methodology.
Old tools held the measurement to be six feet. To convert it required adding 2.3 feet, yielding 8.3 feet.
When FEMA rounded this new calculation to the nearest whole number though, the agency pushed it to nine instead of to the nearer eight.
FEMA acknowledged that error in an email to the city Tuesday, said Seimone Jurjis, the chief building officer for the city.
"That's going to be a dramatic help to property owners in determining their flood insurance premiums," he said.
For example, a property owner who spoke at the study session would be able to follow through with his home improvements as planned because the top of his bottom floor is at an 8.39-foot elevation, which would be considered above — not below — the city's flood line.
FEMA will initiate the map revision, but city staff are still awaiting word on the timeline for an official change to the base flood elevation, Jurjis said.
Consultants for Newport Beach also collected data, rather than rely on the FEMA maps, to determine the elevation. They concluded the level should be 7.7 feet, which would also round to eight feet, information that will be shared with the agency, Jurjis said.
The adjustment also comes into play with upcoming changes in the way FEMA's National Flood Insurance program calculates flood insurance premiums.
New rates will vary depending on whether the lowest floor of the property is four feet below, four feet above or equivalent to the base flood elevation, instead of being the same for all homes within the flood plain.
Meanwhile, the Public Works department continues to research other possible ways — such as the construction of a newer and higher sea wall and the installation of updated storm drains — to help lift the island out of the flood plain and eliminate the need for flood insurance altogether.
Council members cautioned that the focus shouldn't all be on Balboa Island because other areas of Newport Beach are also susceptible to flooding.
As Councilwoman Nancy Garner put it: "This one project could take all of our budgets for years, so one of the keys is going to be how do we finance it and still be able to do the other things that we need to do in the city and also the other protections that we need to take in terms of this future with sea rise."
Lido Marina Village project
Also during the meeting, DJM Capital Partners President Lindsay Parton presented plans for the redevelopment of Lido Marina Village.
"We're excited," he said. "We think we're going to create a great gift and prize jewel for the city of Newport Beach."
The company, which also oversaw the redevelopment of the Bella Terra shopping center in Huntington Beach, plans to change the area's character with updates to the color palette, landscaping and signage.
Proposed renovations include changing the colors of the buildings to white, charcoal and gray, widening the boardwalk by at least three feet and better streamlining the use of 47 boat slips in the marina, he said.
The real estate development company hopes to attract one or two new restaurants.
"The experience is going to be completely different from what the history of it has been," he said, explaining that he wants the place to feel family-oriented.
The stores will feel more curated and unlike what you would typically find in a major shopping center, he said.
With no changes in use or square footage to existing properties, he affirmed to the council that DJM Capital was ready to go.
"We don't intend to wait around," he said. "We're kind of wanting your blessing."
Pleased with his efforts to include community input, the council members gave it.