Annapolis And St. Augustine Balancing Preservation And Community Values In An Era Of Rising Seas


Annapolis, Maryland, and St. Augustine, Florida, are colonial cities on the East Coast of the United States with national historic landmark designations recognizing the strong blends of natural and cultural resources that make each community unique. Annapolis faces nuisance flooding that is challenging the above-ground resources and the natural settings and cultural frameworks that support and enhance them. St. Augustine has witnessed dozens of hurricanes and frequent coastal flooding, impacting the delicate balance of natural and cultural resources in a fast-growing population with significant vulnerabilities.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides a model for determining “community value” in cultural resource hazard mitigation planning. These communities can prioritize the protection of historic places threatened by natural disasters by comparing that model against the United States Secretary of the Interior’s factors for deter-mining historic integrity. This framework can serve as a model approach for evaluating public sentiment for the protection and preservation of historic places within the larger context of disaster preparedness and recovery. This can enable communities to evaluate and prioritize places that matter to prepare for and recover from rising waters.

Two colonial and contemporary coastal cities. English colonial Governor Francis Nicholson designed Annapolis in the baroque style. A public circle sur-rounded the State House and a smaller circle framed the Anglican church with a system of radial streets extending outward toward the harbor and the edges of the city.2 With few changes, Annapolis developed in harmony with this original plan. Main Street, Maryland Avenue, and the City Dock served as the economic heart of the city by the early 1700s.

Annapolis’ location as an historic colonial port and a major governmental and institutional center reflects a city of 33,000 residents that, today, is the state capital, the commercial center for Anne Arundel County, the home of St. John’s College and the US Naval Acade-my (USNA), and the regional boating center for the Chesapeake Bay. The location enables access to major cities and Washington, DC, yet the community retains its small-town ambience. The combination of a historic city with an active recreational waterfront ensures that Annapolis remains as a city with a high quality of life.4

From 1950–2011, Anne Arundel County experienced 60 floods, two hurricanes, three tropical storms, 19 tornadoes, 41 thunderstorm and high-wind events, 41 lightning events, and 56 hailstorms. Many of these events caused property damage, injuries, and deaths. Between 1957–1963, Annapolis saw 3.8 days on average per year of nuisance flooding, a term defined as occasional minor coastal flooding experienced during high tide. Fifty years later, between 2007–2013, Annapolis had on average 39.3 days of nuisance flooding per year, or a tenfold increase.5 In a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, by 2065 Annapolis is forecast to experience daily tidal flooding, almost another tenfold increase. Geographically, the downtown flood risk area rises rapidly from the shoreline toward the hills occupied by the State House and St. Anne’s Church, leaving a narrow coastal plain. The waterfront incorporates the original harbor as shown on early plans of the city, an area modified over decades through fill and bulkhead construction. Many people living in Annapolis have vivid memories of this area from Hurricane Isabel in 2003 when floodwaters rose to 6.4 feet. At that level, 60 out of 140 properties with verified elevations flood. If an Isabel-equivalent storm surge happens in 2050, 84% of the historic properties will be flooded.

Spanish St. Augustine, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuous European and African-American city in the United States, with archaeological resources dating back 14,000 years. St. Augustine is the first city de-signed on Spanish King Phillip II’s 1573 Laws of the Indies. The plaza was the center of the city geographically, symbolically, and socially and continues in that role. The nation’s only 17th-century fortification, the Castillo de San Marcos, anchors the north boundary. The nation’s oldest Catholic mission and the site of the first muster of citizen-soldiers troops add significance to the city.

Downtown, Flagler College is one of the city’s major cultural assets and largest employers. In 2017, the campus that includes 19 historic buildings earned a ranking as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. The centerpiece of the college is the former Hotel Ponce de Leon, an elaborate Gilded Age hotel designed by New York architects Carrère & Hastings, with the world’s largest collection of Tiffany stained glass windows, electricity by Thomas Edison, and murals reproduced a decade later in the Library of Congress. As noted in the New York Times, “St. Augustine has be-come an idyllic city of colleges, museums and tourism.” The small coastal city of 15,000 residents is one of the nation’s most popular cities in which to retire, as well.9Among St. Augustine’s memorable hurricanes were three the city experienced in the summer of 1886 while the Hotel Ponce de Leon was under construction. In 1944, during World War II, when the Coast Guard Reserve occupied the Hotel, sailors rescued stranded residents and shared the hotel with evacuees. Three weeks after Flagler College opened in 1968, Hurricane Gladys passed through the city, dropped five inches of rain in a short time, and assisted in motivating the withdrawal of 15% of the new student body.

St. Augustine experiences brushes with hurricanes on an average of every 2.2 years. Most recently, two in 11 months, Matthew on October 7, 2016, and Irma on Patriot Day, September 11, 2017, drew international attention. City streets flooded, and hundreds of residents experienced displacement. In the year since Hurricane Irma, the city’s historic African-American community of Lincolnville has witnessed the demolition of more than 100 buildings. Storm surges, increased tidal flooding, and an estimated one foot of sea-level rise by 2050 jeopardize the future of the city’s urban core and surrounding historic districts. Building a more resilient and sustainable city requires a variety of activities, one of which is establishing community value for historic properties and cultural resources. A ranking process is created that responds to many variables, i.e., historic designation status, level of significance, degree of integrity, public sentiment, and economic importance. Planners and preservationists must engage the community to understand the “public sentiment” for historic places as a critical component of hazard mitigation planning. Guidance for developing this framework is provided through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) publication Integrating Historic Property and Cultural Resource Considerations into Hazard Mitigation Planning: State and Local Mitigation Planning How-To Guide.

In preparing a Cultural Resource Hazard Mitigation Plan (CRHMP), FEMA considers the special status of designated landmarks and defines how they “may complicate recovery efforts.” More importantly, FEMA addresses how these historic places serve as assets and their protection creates multiple benefits for “citizens who love their communities and want to protect their historic and cultural assets.”

Developing a Hazard Mitigation Plan (HMP) is a way for communities “to identify risks and vulnerabilities associated with natural disasters, and develop long-term strategies for protecting people and property from future hazard events.” This is a four-step process: (1) organize the planning process and resources, (2) assess risks, (3) develop a mitigation strategy, and (4) adopt and implement the plan. Each governmental jurisdiction must have an HMP to qualify for FEMA post-disaster assistance.

Contact us for more information regarding Hazard Mitigation Plans.