Rowayton caught in Catch 22, property value-wise

Rowayton properties on Farm Creek.

NORWALK, Conn. – Problem: The valuation period for the latest round of Norwalk’s property assessments ended the same day new federal flood insurance rules went into effect. Those new rules alter the value of seaside property, but the timing means the rules could not be figured into the reval, Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Mike Barbis, a real estate agent, said.

Connecticut law requires that municipalities revalue real estate no later five years after the Oct. 1 effective date of the previous revaluation. In Norwalk, that was Oct. 1, 2008, so this year’s reval date of Oct. 1 coincides with changes mandated by the federal Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.

“It was just coincidental … but the Federal Flood Insurance program was completely overhauled and the implementation date happened to be 10/1/13,” Barbis said in an email.

To compound the pain, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) changed the country’s flood zones, which became effective July 8, he said.

“It used to be that much of coastal Rowayton/Norwalk required new houses and heavily renovated houses to be at 13 feet above sea level (much of our land is around 8 to 10 feet above sea level),” he wrote. “If you weren’t at that 13-foot level, new and heavily renovated were not eligible for flood insurance. The 13 feet above sea level setting was determined by the Feds to be the level at which only once in 100 years would the water get that high … Older and unrenovated houses were grandfathered.”

The new maps changed much of Rowayton to 15 feet, and some of it to 17 feet, he said. Some of the homes are now also in “velocity” zones, meaning they now require special construction measures and materials, he said.

“The problem is … these flood insurance and flood zone changes definitely lower the value of waterfront/coastal property – and this is happening to the most valuable parts of Rowayton,” he said.

One Rowayton homeowner complaining at a recent revaluation meeting said his home insurance had gone from $16,000 to $53,000 a year. His assessment “barely went down in value at all,” he said.

No one would buy a house that had insurance that costly for $250,000 of coverage, he said.

There is a move afoot in Congress to delay premium increases for some federal flood insurance policyholders. Sponsors expect a Senate vote on the legislation next month and vow to spend the holiday recess working to build support for it, according to MyCentralJersey.com.

Other Rowayton residents pressed officials on whether they used accurate FEMA maps when they made their valuations.

“We had maps that we had early in the year from the public works department,” Tax Assessor Michael Stewart said. “My understanding is that they have since been changed. I have not seen it since the new FEMA regulations have come out.”

That’s a point Barbis made as well.

“The fact that the Assessor’s Office did not have the new flood maps and did not use them in their assessments means they are missing a key piece that determines a current home’s value.  And I can tell you that buyers are already very aware about all of this,” he wrote.

Stewart and David Arnold of Vision Governmental Solutions, the company that has done the assessments, said the valuations are based on the opinion of the marketplace.

“We don’t make a decision on what a property is worth, the buyers and sellers do. We just analyze that data and develop models from that,” Arnold said.

Rowayton residents protested that there hadn’t been many sales post-Sandy. Officials conceded that was true, but Assistant Tax Assessor Michael O’Brien said there was no evidence that Sandy had negatively affected home values.


7 responses to “Rowayton caught in Catch 22, property value-wise”

  1. anonymous

    Sandy happened before the reval began. Not only far from a typical winter storm, it devastated the Northeast shorelines, and resulted in FEMA changing their flood zones and regs up the East Coast. How the Norwalk’s assessor’s office could ignore or disregard or feign ignorance of new flood maps when assessing a SHORELINE community like Rowayton, and Norwalk, is unfathomable. It makes the entire Norwalk revaluation process suspect.

  2. jlightfield

    The new FEMA maps were in discussions as far back as 2010, when the Zoning Commission was reviewing them in order to assess what zoning regulations needed to change.

  3. Don’t Panic

    And they were the second round of changes to the flood zones. Flood insurance had already been going up in other Northeastern communities for several years.

  4. dlauricella

    Great article that should lead to action for the new Rilling administration on the topic of department communication:

    It is my understanding that Mike Green , the well-paid Director of the Planning and Zoning Department, is the City’s official FEMA point person, so several questions arise…
    Why didn’t the Assessor contact Mr. Greene?
    Does Mr. Greene let any other land use staff from other departments know that he is the ” go to guy” for mapping, policy, etc and give regular updates, forums, emails in writing.?
    Can these communications, even if officially from either the Zoning Commission or the Planning Commission, be proven? If not, why not?
    Why was the DPW department sought out by the contractor for their baseline reference mapping?
    Why didn’t the DPW Director Alvord tell the assessment contractor to speak to Mr. Greene? Can this be proven in writing?
    Why didn’t anyone direct the asessment contractor to instead speak with Mike Greene?
    Knowing that Norwalk is a coastal community, why didn’t the assessment contractor suggest their work be slightly delayed until the maps were ready?
    Did anyone ask state OPM allow the slight delay for a good reason? Can this be proven in writing?

    Isn’t the Assessor Director job an Ordinance position, meaning that they serve at the pleasure of the Mayor?
    Did the right hand know what the left hand was doing this last year?

    A happy holiday to all who read this site, and let’s ensure NON continues bringing light to important matters by donating $$$ (Pls note: this last utterance was not solicited by NON)

  5. EveT

    Since the 1950s, waterfront and water view property has been coveted and built up to saturation with upscale homes. Living near the water is a status symbol, even if you don’t swim or fish. Throughout history it was a little different. Waterfront land was considered undesirable for residences because of dampness, mosquitoes, mold, exposure to storms and flooding, etc. After World War II developers began capitalizing on the widespread use of pesticides, disinfectants, and air conditioning as well as denial about coastal erosion and a “man over nature” attitude about modern construction engineering. Spectacular photos of waterfront homes — taken on calm sunny days, of course — have altered the public mindset. Maybe it is time to face the reality that shorelines erode.

  6. Piberman

    Maybe Rowayton folks will pay attention to the City’s budget now that their share has risen. The rest of the community appreciates their “contributions” to our top paid “public servants”.

  7. Real Estate Mogul

    CT state regulations dictate how the tax appraisals are done and they are based off of actual sales history – not on pending FEMA flood maps or insurance costs increases. There is no reason why the tax assesor should have spoken to the P&Z director about new flood maps for the reval process. There have been sales of homes in Rowayton since Sandy – it is innaccurate to say otherwise. Rowayton is and will continue to be a desirable area regardless of flooding issues. The land valuations will continue to be high. The quality of most of the homes in Rowayton is much better than in the rest of Norwalk, hence higher building values.. While no doubt there are some exceptions, I see little justification to argue that property values have declined in Rowayton.

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