Climate change skeptics or not, property owners in low lying areas are quickly becoming aware of the impacts that rising sea levels are having on real estate investments. Rapidly increasing insurance premiums alone are reason enough for investors across the country to examine the issue and find ways to get ahead of the associated escalating costs. Some hope to get ahead by demolishing existing properties and rebuilding with construction designs they think will last through the coming ecological changes.
Some property owners in historically designated neighborhoods, however, are facing uphill battles when it comes to redeveloping their properties to make them sustainable to sea level rise. Historic conservation districts often prevent owners from making significant changes to their properties in order to maintain an overall neighborhood appearance consistent with the theme or era intended to be preserved.
Needs are constantly evolving and we rely on our elected officials to take legislative action to make sure our communities are well equipped to adapt to those changes. But in many communities elected officials are refusing to amend the laws in order to permit the structural changes needed to stay usable as the sea level continues to rise. In such a situation, some are starting to argue they should be liable for the resulting damages. After all, what benefit do historic preservation laws provide when their strict application puts the properties intended to be preserved at risk of total ruin?
Rather than permit well intentioned conservation laws from being an obstacle to responsible community planning for sea level rise, governments at all levels should work toward creating a regulatory environment in which property owners are incentivized to redevelop their properties so that they will remain vibrant even as the sea level moves up. Hopefully, that will preserve their historic significance.