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Lewes property owners push back against effort to account for sea level rise in building elevation

Sophia Schmidt, Delaware Public Media

Stakeholders in Lewes spoke out Monday night on a local building code proposal that would account for sea level rise. 

Residents and realtors opposed the ordinancethat would require some buildings in Lewes to be built up higher, to guard against the increased flooding that could come with higher sea levels in the future. 

The ordinance would likely be the first of its kind in Delaware. State and county officials say they’re not aware of any other municipal or county building code that explicitly incorporates future sea level rise projections. 

The measure proposed in Lewes would require critical facilities and properties being substantially redeveloped in certain flood zones to be elevated beyond current requirements—by at least the amount sea levels are expected to rise a certain number of years out. 

For example, a residential redevelopment built this year in the 100-year floodplain near the beach would need to be raised an additional 2 feet to account for 50-year sea level rise projections. A critical facility built or redeveloped in the 500-year floodplain  would need to be elevated an additional 39 inches, to account for projected sea level rise by 2100. 

During Monday’s public hearing, Lewes property owner Tonya Flickinger noted that in the proposed ordinance, sea level rise-based elevation would be on top of flood level-based elevation requirements and an 18-inch buffer. 

“It just seems extremely excessive,” she said. 


Cole Flickinger took issue with the fact that the ordinance, as currently written, does not raise the maximum building height.

“What’s going to happen is, houses are going to architecturally have to be designed with flat roofs,” he said. 

The ordinance would only apply to critical facilities and redevelopment that fits the City’s definitions of “substantial damage” or “substantial improvement.” But with few empty lots left in the City, it would likely affect a significant portion of major construction in the flood zones. 

Public comment will be accepted through May 14. Council expects to vote on the ordinance either later this month or in June. 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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