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Oak Bluffs Coastal Floodplain Zoning Bylaw and Regulations

Find information on this StormSmart Coasts 2009-2011 Pilot Project managed by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

Oak Bluffs is a resort town on the northeast shore of the island of Martha's Vineyard with approximately 3,700 residents. The coastline is nearly 23 miles long and consists of beaches, barrier beaches, ponds, and bluffs. This island community currently experiences erosion and flooding during coastal storms and recognizes the future threat of sea level rise.

Project Goal

The town's goal was to review all local regulations pertaining to coastal floodplain management and revise their regulations and/or laws to reduce damages to public and private property and reduce costs associated with emergency response to coastal storm events.

Approach and Results

The StormSmart Coasts team, led by the Oak Bluffs Conservation Agent, spent significant time discussing and coming to consensus on proposed amendments to their zoning bylaw for the floodplain. The team launched an impressive outreach campaign for public comments, which were carefully considered and incorporated into the bylaw. In addition, all town boards and departments were fully engaged and, as a result, supportive of the changes before they went to Town Meeting. Consequently, voters adopted amendments to the Town of Oak Bluffs Floodplain Overlay District Bylaw (PDF, 40 KB) by an overwhelming majority at the Spring 2010 Annual Town Meeting.

The zoning bylaw now prohibits new residential development and expansion of existing development in the most hazardous flood zones—those designated as V, VE, or AO zones on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). The bylaw also requires that all new development in less hazardous areas—those designated as A zones on the FIRMs—go through a special permit process to ensure proposed development and redevelopment projects meet design criteria and performance standards that minimize threats to public health and safety and increase the town's capacity to recover after a storm by reducing damage to personal and public property.

The town selected regulatory language to include in their zoning bylaw and regulations based on a menu of options compiled by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone (CZM). These options included a range of choices to move the town toward more effective coastal floodplain management. The process of getting all Town Boards involved in selecting appropriate regulatory amendments for the town can be considered by other communities as a model for upgrading coastal floodplain management regulatory tools.

The Vineyard Conservation Society produced a ten-minute video tour of erosion along the coast of Oak Bluffs. The video includes a presentation by the Conservation Agent, who describes the StormSmart Coasts pilot project as well as other town projects aimed at minimizing loss of life, property destruction, and environmental damage from severe flooding and storms. See Oak Bluffs: A Storm Smart Town on YouTube.

Other Pilot Projects

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