The guideline is designed to inform the implementation of flood mitigation techniques, list potential solutions that communities could pursue to protect historic buildings.

Flood Prone Historic Structures: Designing Guidelines

STC’s Design Guidelines for Flood Prone Historic Structures: Request for ProposalsClick here

Project Background

Flooding is a growing concern in our region. As we learn to mitigate and adapt to these events, it is imperative that we enact an efficient method for increasing resiliency. In rebuilding flood damaged structures, many municipalities find that they lose their sense of local character or individual identity. Historic structures represent local history, often providing this sense of community character. When these structures are damaged during floods, they are often rebuilt by gaining variances and avoiding elevation to standards. The struggle with reconstructing by variance is that though the structure’s architectural value is maintained, elevation is not implemented and the structure is not fully protected from future flood events. This often results in increased loss and greater investment over time.

It is also important to note, as one of the primary economic drivers in our area, tourism relies heavily on heritage sites. Structures that continue to flood without appropriate resiliency measures in place may lose their original architectural value in which heritage tourism thrives. It is imperative to protect our historic structures and provide municipalities with the proper tools to guide owners in the right direction.

The goal of this project is to provide municipalities with the guidelines and designs that will allow owners to elevate structures while maintaining their historic value. The structure’s historic value is then restored, and the owners may avoid future flood risks. Individuals will experience long-term financial benefits by minimizing future risk, the local tourism industry can thrive from providing continuous heritage experiences, and key stakeholders can work together to unceasingly protect public water sources from excessive runoff and contamination.

The Economic Benefits of Protecting Vulnerable Historic Structures

A variety of disasters effect the local economy, impacting businesses and residents along the way. For the Southern Tier Central Region, this impacts tourism on the Finger Lakes and historic downtowns in need of revitalization.

Many of the region’s downtown areas include local-, state- or federally-recognized historic structures. According to the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, at least 25 percent of businesses affected by disasters such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and building fires do not reopen. Those that do, often struggle to stay in business for a variety of reasons.

Non-floodproofed buildings and structures are more likely to flood in future events than those that are elevated or otherwise floodproofed. Not only is this costly for building or homeowners, but many may choose to leave the property rather than rebuild altogether. This leads to abandonment of entire downtowns as well we individual structures.

For those who choose to rebuild, and rebuild at an elevation, insurance premiums decrease as well as the likelihood of flooding in future events (Figure 1). Historic structures, however, may apply for variances. This requires the purchase of a higher premium while waiving the requirement to elevate the structure. In these cases, the variance results in a higher cost of insurance with the same probability of future flooding.

Though many choose to abandon the property altogether, variances often provide for a more costly alternative to floodproofing. The LWRP project for “Design Guidelines for Vulnerable Historic Structures” will provide communities with an in-depth look at floodproofing while preserving the character of buildings. Examples from the Southern Tier Central Region will be provided while keeping the document open for application throughout New York State.


Community Workshops

All workshops were held virtually with members from each of the participating communities attending meetings on different dates.  The sessions were run by the Cornell students through Design Connect and supported by Southern Tier Central Regional Planning & Development Board Staff. The purpose of these community workshops was to get feedback so that the guidelines being produced are useful for the community. During these sessions the students introduced ideas for the guidelines and shared information on flood mitigation techniques and the members of the community gave feedback.

Below is a video recording of one of the Community Workshops.