LINCROFT, N.J. -- One month after Superstorm Sandy, Dan Shields and his business partner, Robert Higgins, were thanking their lucky stars.
Their waterfront restaurant, Windansea in Highlands, had withstood the raging flood tides and winds of Sandy with only relatively minor damage.
The rest of Highlands was not so fortunate. Flood waters had inundated dozens of homes and businesses in the low-lying sections of the borough. Debris littered the streets; a mobile home park on the north side of the borough was in shambles.
As flood waters receded in the business district, store owners had to reckon with the physical destruction of their businesses and the loss of their livelihoods.
Many of Shields’ and Higgins’ fellow restaurateurs were essentially out of business for the long term, faced with major damage from the storm.
What saved Windansea?
The borough’s new building code that required properties in flood zones to comply with tough new Federal Emergency Management standards. “We had to stick to ‘V’ zone construction,” said Shields, referring to the strictest standards for properties located in high-risk flood zones. “I felt like we were the poster child for FEMA.”
When the business partners bought the restaurant in 2000 for $690,000, they planned to invest approximately $300,000 in renovating the old restaurant, formerly known as Branin’s Wharf. But as work on the building progressed, hidden problems came to the surface. “It was just a terrible, terrible building.” Ultimately, more than 50 percent of the existing building had to be demolished. One day, as they worked on the restaurant, officials from FEMA and the borough drove up and told them to stop work. “You’ve got to do it our way,” they told the partners.
The structure would have to be rebuilt in compliance with FEMA standards for “V” zone construction, the strictest standard that applies to properties at high risk of flooding.
To put it mildly, the partners were not happy. The shoestring budget they had assembled to pay for what they thought would be a fairly simple remodeling job wouldn’t cover the extensive construction that the town demanded. “It was a completely different animal from buying a little restaurant and (fixing it up),” Shields said.
Making the bayfront building flood-resistant required driving 80 pilings that measured 12 inches in diameter into the ground to a depth of 30 to 40 feet, reinforcing the roof and walls with steel rods and connecting the elements of the entire structure with steel plates and structural steel to hold the floor to the walls.
The project took a year longer than the partners anticipated and cost over $1 million more than they had originally budgeted.
“I felt like I was victimized,” Shields told the Asbury Park Press a few weeks after the storm, “like FEMA was trying to prove a point, trying to flex their muscles and trying to take it out on a little guy like me.”
He doesn’t feel that way anymore.
Though the building sustained some damage to its first floor lobbies and outdoor Tiki bar, Windansea was able to re-open less than three weeks after the storm. “There was not a crack in the sheetrock, not a thing out of place.”
Next, the One Year Later series examines the ways in which New Jersey’s private sector got down to business to aid in the recovery process.
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