Queens, New York

Seaside community withstands Sandy’s devastation

Arverne By The Sea is a 120-acre, mixed-use master-planned community with 2,300 residential units along Rockaway Beach in Queens, New York. The community was midway through construction in October 2012 when Hurricane Sandy destroyed much of Rockaway Beach. However, because the property is just 100 feet from the ocean, developers included comprehensive flood resilience features that each met or exceeded the city’s strict building codes. As a result, Arverne By The Sea survived without significant damage. Its remarkable resilience has become a model for other shoreline developments.

Photo by Adam DuBrowa - FEMA

Community facts

Population
2,310,011
Homes
846,689
Businesses
265,643
Source: US Census Bureau.

Mitigation actions

Planning for Arverne By The Sea considered not only flooding and the impact of future storms, but also the requirements for plans that would pass a rigorous, city-mandated approval process, known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure Act (ULURP). This planning approach led the developers to invest an extra 10-15% of the total project budget in flood mitigation measures, which included raising the grade of the site by an average of eight feet. These measures delivered benefits even before the project was completed. An Environmental Defense Fund report suggested that if the developers had reduced the grade of the site by even six inches, the damage from Sandy would have been much worse.

Arverne By The Sea’s ability to withstand the storm, and its use as a recovery and emergency response center to help those affected, attracted extensive media coverage. Developers from around the world continue to visit the site, looking for ideas on how to mitigate flood risks in their own projects.

Benefits of mitigation

Total investment
$100 million
Investment in resilience measures
Total investment
10-15%
Percentage of investment in flood resilience to total cost
Other benefits
Over 90%
Estimated proportion of the project that weathered the storm without any flood-related issues
Source: Urban Land Institute (2015). Returns on Resilience: The Business Case—Arverne By The Sea, Queens NY.

Project challenges

Extra time and money invested up front delivered huge benefits

The flood mitigation features, including raising the grade, building dunes, burying electrical utilities and creating an underground drainage system, added 10-15% (an additional $100 million) to the project budget and extended the development timeline. Raising the grade of the site took several months for each section, and roughly 30% of the fill was rejected for not meeting environmental standards.

“Amidst all of the destruction and chaos of the worst natural disaster we've ever faced in New York City, Arverne stood out as a bright light […] It was a valuable lesson in how building codes work in providing the highest degree of safety”
Dan Zarrilli, senior director, climate policy and programs and chief resilience officer at the NYC Office of the Mayor

Future considerations

Coastal waters invade the beach.
Arverne By The Sea’s developers avoid flood-related losses and attract positive attention for their commitment to resilient design

Investing in extensive flood mitigation measures as part of the development process saved these developers repair costs after Sandy and helped to establish them as leaders in resilient waterfront design. Many sections of the development are now open, but construction on the entire site won’t be completed until 2023. The contractors will continue to rebuild homes in New York City incorporating flood mitigation measures to make them more resilient during future storms.

“The lesson learned from Arverne By The Sea is to make sure you understand where you're building and what the risks are,” Zarrilli says. “Because the dollar you spend today will repay itself countless times over in avoided future damages.”

Flood mitigation resources

Below is a non-exhaustive list of other flood mitigation information resources.