Property Acquisition and Demolition

Land acquisition programs are commonly used to reduce a locality’s vulnerability to flooding by acquiring/removing structures on parcels repeatedly flooded & converting parcels to open space. On undeveloped properties: secure development rights through conservation or open space easements. On developed properties: fee simple acquisition allows locality ownership of parcels to (1) demolish structures, relocate to higher ground, & create/revert open space for multiple benefits (CRS, TMDL, etc.) or (2) rent out properties for a specific amount of time before demolishing/relocating, & creating open space.

The resulting open space from acquisition, demolition, & relocation can serve as a buffer, protecting localities against damage from increased flooding & storm surge.

Middle Peninsula: An innovative approach to turning acquired parcels into assets- the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority was created in 2003 to manage donated land (Code of VA § 15.2-6600 et seq). The Authority has received donations of 46 parcels in 4 jurisdictions, with a combined value of over $4 million. The MPPDCwhich manages the Authority, has used this land to generate revenue & multiple benefits. Examples include renting properties out to private citizens & organizations (boy/girl scout troops), using donated land as a match for grant funding, allowing banks to clear liability on bad debts (by obtaining an appraisal for the highest land use & then donating land to the Authority), and a pilot project to plant oyster beds to achieve TMDL credit through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Nutrient Credit Exchange. 

Newport News: Flood Assistance Program funds acquisition of houses & conversion back into open space. Annual funding for the voluntary program (50/50 split between city & federal funds) = around $200,000 in City’s Stormwater Management Fund.

Gloucester: Recently inactive land acquisition program to purchase & restore repetitive loss properties to open-space & conservation areas. This program was discontinued due to the County’s disinterest in becoming a land management entity, although some viewed the program termination as a lack of political will, which highlights the importance of support from the public & elected officials.

Portsmouth: Using Community Development Block Grant Funding to demolish derelict structures. Property owner retains land & can rebuild compliant structure - keeps property on City tax rolls.
 
Mathews County: Using money from FEMA Mitigation Grant to acquire and demolish two homes, converting the land into open space.


New Jersey: The Blue Acres Buyout Program acquires flood-damaged properties, flood-prone properties, & property that can act as a protective buffer to other development & converts the land to open space.

Bowers, DE: used a combination of ICC coverage, FMA funding, & a grant from the Delaware Land and Water Conservation Trust Fund to acquire a house suffering from recurrent flooding. The structure was demolished & replaced with City created community park with recreational amenities.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, NC: Encourages the relocation of homeowners in flood-prone areas and the restoration of property to its natural state through their Floodplain Buyout Program. To date, the program has purchased nearly 400 buildings, resulting in the restoration of 185 acres of public space (including greenway trails, community gardens, constructed wetlands & reforested areas) within the floodplain. The County finances buyouts through FEMA mitigation grants, local stormwater fees, and a "rainy day fund" that allows County Commissioners to allocate funds for rapid acquisition after a severe-weather event. Storm Water Services has estimated that these buyouts have already resulted in $25 million of losses avoided. 


Ordinance of Virginia Beach: Agricultural Reserve Program (Appendix J)

"a program by which the City acquires, in accordance with the provisions of this Ordinance … the development rights on eligible parcels of farmland in the areas of the City … The acquisition of development rights shall be accomplished by the purchase of agricultural land preservation easements upon such parcels … the city manager is hereby authorized and directed to establish, subject to the approval of the city council and applicable requirements of law, methods of payment for such easements"

Albemarle County: Acquisition of Conservation Easements (ACE) Program (Appendix A.1)

"a program by which the county can acquire conservation easements voluntarily offered by owners to serve as one means of assuring that the county’s resources are protected and efficiently used" (full text)

James City County: Capital Improvement Program classifies “the acquisition of land for a community facility such as a school, a park, or for green space or conservation purposes” as a Capital Improvement Project. CIP funds stormwater projects as a line item, including the acquisition of property or easements to protect watersheds.


FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance Programs: Property acquisition & structure demolition/ relocation is eligible through HMGP, PDM, FMA, RFC, & SRL programs. Only voluntary acquisition eligible. Deed-restricted in perpetuity for open space usages.

Land and Water Conservation Fund (DCR): state assistance program provides matching grants for land acquisition or development of public outdoor recreation areas.

Community Development Block Grant Program: funds property acquisition, building demolition, & relocation costs (Ex: City of Portsmouth - see above)

VA Water Revolving Loan Fund Land Conservation Loan Program: Provides low interest loans to localities for property acquisition.

VA Removal or Rehabilitation of Derelict Structures Fund: awarded $6 million since 2012 in grants to localities to acquire and demolish, remove, or rehabilitate derelict structures. (Code of Va §36-152)

Virginia Shoreline Resiliency Fund: Revolving loan program for shoreline protection. Although not yet funded, the program may one day be a useful tool in financing property acquisition.

VA Coastal Zone Management Program 306A Grants: awards $200,000 annually for land acquisition.

NOAA’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program: awards matching funds to purchase threatened coastal land.

FWS National Coastal Wetlands Grant: awards $20 million to protect, restore, &  enhance coastal wetlands & adjacent upland habitats.

FL Failed Bill (SB 384 Peril of Flood): $50 million annual matching grant program to fund acquisition & other flood mitigation projects


Some localities noted FEMA requirements for acquiring eligible houses are too restrictive. HRPDC is exploring new funding programs for property acquisition.

Growing concern over what to do with acquired properties (maintenance costs, loss of tax base). To make land acquisition financially viable, acquired parcels must be an asset. Restoring wetlands or natural vegetation can increase ecological value of properties + help a locality achieve multiple benefits (CRS, MS4, TMDL credit, etc.).

Acquisition efforts are most effective at neighborhood scale. Individual acquisitions can be expensive for small flood mitigation benefits. In Oakwood Beach, New York, state officials implemented a neighborhood-scale buyout program of 170 properties post-Sandy. Properties will be demolished turning area into buffer against future floods.


  • Permanent solution - removes development in high-hazard areas, most often the locality’s floodplains
  • Can generate a number of other benefits (CRS, TMDL, MS4, etc. credits)
  • Reduces need to maintain infrastructure in recurrently flooded areas
  • Long-term adaptation strategy
  • Reduces impervious surface in most vulnerable areas
  • Provides support to property owners unable to sell structures
  • FEMA estimates the average economic benefit of an acquisition project in the SFHA = $276,000 (FEMA HMA Guidance 2015)
  •  High initial cost. USACE estimates the average cost of acquisition & removal of one building = $349,000.
  • Requires homeowner participation
  • Acquisitions are typically far more effective on a neighborhood scale. For example, city costs for services would remain the same for a neighborhood block with only portion of buy outs. Holdouts make the process harder.
  • Tedious administrative task & time consuming process.
  • Removing a property leads to a loss of revenue tax & former property owners may migrate out of locality boundaries.
  • Acquisition programs are more difficult to implement in dense urban areas
  • Identifying acquisition priority areas in comprehensive plans may be politically difficult & impact real estate values & sales

Creating a plan for acquiring properties in connected areas (a shoreline street or repetitively flooded block) achieves a more adaptive solution than a piecemeal acquisition strategy. Priority areas should include land serving ecological functions (absorbing floodwaters & improving water quality) - wetlands, forests, & areas that enable shoreline migration will generate the most benefits for the community.

Property acquisitions require policies for relocation. Areas for targeted development should be identified & homeowners should be incentivized to move to these areas (retaining tax base & community). Ex incentives: bonus payments for relocation within the locality.


1: Up to 2,250 points (Activity 520, Acquisition & Relocation, Manual pg. 520-1):

Credit for acquiring or relocating buildings from the floodplain. Extra credit for acquiring repetitive loss, critical facilities, V-zone, & Coastal A-zone buildings.
Note: After a locality has acquired property, CRS credit can be generated if property is converted back to open space. Credit is most likely generated for parcels adjacent to the shoreline.

2: Up to 1,450 points (Activity 420, Open Space Preservation (OSP), Manual pg. 420-3):

Credit for preserving open space in the floodplain. Extra credit for open space land protected by Deed Restriction (Activity 420, DR, pg. 420-11) & extra credit for open space that serves natural functions of floodplains (Activity 422C, Natural Functions Open Space, Manual pg. 420-3)

3: Up to 1,000 points (Activity 530, Flood Protection, Manual pg. 530-6):

Credit for small-scale flood control projects that protect insurable buildings - the living shoreline must protect against the 25-year flood.


Code of Virginia, § 10.1-1701

Virginia Open Space Land Act

Code of Virginia, § 15.2-1901.1

Localities may acquire land, buildings, & structures by condemnation

Code of Virginia § 15.2-6600

Authorizes the creation & powers of the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority
Code of Virginia, § 62.1-229.3: Loans may be made for acquiring fee simple titles to protect the natural or open-space values of a property

16 U.S.C. § 1455a

State coastal zone management programs can allocate up to 10% of federal funding for land acquisition.



FEMA. (2013). Local Mitigation Planning Handbook .

FEMA. (2010). National Flood Insurance Program: CRS Credit for Habitat Protection. FEMA.

Gore, J., Lam, T., & Vargas-Castro, T. (2011). The Public Funding of Land Acquisitions and Easements Purchases in Virginia. College of William & Mary, Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy.

Grannis, J. (2011). Adaptation Tool Kit: Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Land USe. Georgetown Climate Center.

Siders, A. (2013). Managed Coastal Retreat: A Legal Handbook on Shifting Development Away from Vulnerable Areas. Columbia Law School, Center for Climate Change Law.

VA APA. (2014). Managing Growth and Development in Virginia: A Review of the Tools Available to Localities. Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association