Highlands Restaurant Built According to FEMA Code Withstands Sandy

By Lauren Wanko
NJ Today

Sandy wiped out shore businesses along the coast but in Highlands, the waterfront Windansea restaurant still stands with no structural damage. Managing Partner Daniel Shields credits FEMA, saying “This building, it was just amazing. It didn’t shake, it didn’t move. There’s not a crack in the sheetrock.”


Thirteen years ago, Shields and his partner decided to remodel the restaurant. As crews knocked down walls, the structural problems grew.

“And then we took more than half the building away and when that happened, FEMA showed up out of nowhere and said, ‘Hey, you know you have now taken more than half the structure away, you’re in a velocity flood zone, you now have to build it to our specifications because it’s considered new construction. And at the time it was devastating to us because we didn’t have it in the budget,” Shields said.

The owners faced a $700,000 price tag.

“We felt like a victim at the time because we were just a couple young guys trying to open a restaurant on the Shore,” Shields said.

Flash forward 13 years later after Sandy hammered the Jersey coast, Windansea is open for business as nearby restaurants struggle to rebuild.

The waterfront restaurant didn’t escape Sandy’s wrath entirely, but the damage that did occur here happened outside. The Tiki bar was completely washed away by the storm and the dock was ripped to pieces. But the restaurant now sits on 80 pilings, 14 feet above the ground, towering above the despair.

“They proved me wrong and I’m just real happy about how the whole outcome of the big spend for us came out to be,” Shields said.

“For every dollar that you spend on mitigation you should save $4 in the long run,” said FEMA Hazard Mitigation Specialist Paul David Lear. “FEMA gives recommendations. They make a recommendation to the local municipality, to the city or county, lowest level and then in turn they accept it, make it part of their standard operating procedure.”

Next door to Windansea is the damaged Twin Lights Marina building. Owner Wayne O’Neil can’t imagine recouping the cost of elevating the office space to withstand future storms.

“If they had to raise it, I think it would devastate the business because of the cost of doing something like that to this building here,” O’Neil said.

Meantime Daniel Shields is grateful his rebuilding days are over so he can focus his energy on the business.