Canals Homes Rise From the Ashes
Rebuilding underway where a fire ripped through seven homes during Hurricane Sandy.
By Joseph Kellard
Greg Vedder and his girlfriend, Tarrah Hirsch, had been hunting for a house to redo after Hurricane Sandy ripped open the roof of an apartment he owned on West Broadway in Long Beach one year ago.
The couple eventually turned to a cluster of properties in the city’s Canals neighborhood, where a fire tore through and destroyed seven homes on Barnes and Farrell streets in the midst of the storm, before Long Beach firefighters prevented the blaze from potentially transforming the area into another Breezy Point.
They bid on one property, 46 Barnes, on Multiple Listing Services, but when that fell through they eyed instead an adjacent lot on Farrell. In April they closed on the property, which sold for $175,000 according to Trulia.com, and now, one year after the storm, the couple hope to celebrate Thanksgiving in their new home that is on the rise.
“It’s been a very stressful, long year,” Vedder said when he and Hirsch were at the construction Oct. 17, having driven in from their apartment in Northport to check on the exterior siding that was installed that day.
Vedder and Hirsch are building a home that will rest on a nine-foot foundation, as requested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for properties deemed “substantially damaged” in flood zones such as Sandy-ravaged Long Beach. When completed, the home will feature three bedrooms, two full baths, but the ground floor must be devoid of any living space.
“We basically built it for the next storm,” Hirsch said.
Of the seven homes the fire destroyed a year ago, only one previous owner will return and rebuild, a neighbor familiar with the families there told Patch. Vedder said the family that formerly owned the property he bought decided not to rebuild. “They were happy to sell,” he added.
Directly behind Vedder’s property, at 48 Barnes St., Eli Hazen, owner of Hewlett Partners, a Long Beach-based modular home company, will construct a home for a family that lives elsewhere in the Canals.
“Their home got pretty wiped out and it’s going to take some time to rebuild, possibly a good two or three years,” Hazen said. “So we’re going to put a modular home [at 48 Barnes] that they can live in and then the owner is probably going to keep it as an investment property thereafter.”
The home will be elevated about eight feet, Hazen said, and depending on the materials used to finish the kitchens and bathrooms, and on other optional features such as high ceilings and fireplaces, the modular home alone can range in price from about $225,000 to $450,000.
The costs for rebuilding either fire- or flood-damaged homes are tied mostly to all else surrounding the redevelopment, from demolition of the former structure, to hiring architects and engineers, to obtaining building permits and complying with environmental regulations, Hazen said.
Karen Adamo, a broker with Petrey Realty who will represent a home that will be rebuilt next door, at 46 Barnes, the property Vedder and Hirsch originally bid on, sold for $180,000 and the newly constructed home will come with a nearly $700,000 price tag.
“The brand new home will be FEMA compliant with four bedrooms and three baths,” said Adamo, who noted that the previous owner left Long Beach.
Canals Post-Sandy Real Estate
Along with the West End, the Canals were among the Long Beach neighborhoods that bore the brunt of Sandy’s wrath. Adamo said that of the 25 homes currently on the market in the Canals, 10 remain distressed from the storm. The asking prices of the 25 homes, depending on their condition and location, range from $197,000 to $482,000, two of which are located on canals. “A lot of the other [storm-damaged] homes sold already,” Adamo said.
Nevertheless, on each block in the Canals, there are at least one or two vacant house, or families that are rebuilding, she noted. Hazen said that Canals residents are having a “very tough time, much more so than the West End” rebuilding and returning to their homes. Asked why, Hazen said he still scratches his head trying to figure it out.
He indicated that the gradient in the Canals is more challenging for builders to work with than in the West End, and said that even though the bay waters during Sandy rose in the northeast neighborhood just as high as they did in the west, the base flood elevations that the federal government require homeowners build to is lower in the Canals.
“So it becomes much more of a challenge trying to get garages and two stories of living space above,” he said. “The heights in the West End are a little more gracious.”
Homeowners can only rebuild to certain heights, as demanded by city code, and this makes split levels easier to build that two-story homes, Hazen said. Adamo noted that the owners of future FEMA-compliant homes must check the elevations of their properties before rebuilding, since they can vary, typically from eight to 10 feet, even on the same street.
“You have to check your elevation with the building department, and then you have to add the footage,” she said.
Hazen said he has many projects in the works, and while he is building another modular home in the Canals, most of his company’s work remains in the West End.
“We’ve already completely built three homes in the West End and the people have moved in, and two others in which the people should be moving in within the next few weeks,” he said.
* This story originally appeared on Long Beach Patch in 2013.