Sat11222014

Last updateMon, 27 Nov 2017 12am

   201411metrocastweb

Planning Commission forges ahead despite lack of new floodplain maps

The Colonial Beach Planning Commission has conducted its organizational meeting, electing Maureen Holt to continue to act as chairperson for another year and selecting Robin Schick as vice chair. The commission also welcomed new members Maureen McCabe and Robert Busick.

A public hearing was also conducted regarding changes that must be implemented to the floodplain overlay district. Changes involve additional regulations to any new construction within the floodplain areas.

The need for these changes came to light in response to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) updating the current floodplain maps (also called Flood Insurance Rate Maps) in Westmoreland County and Colonial Beach.

FEMA regulates flood insurance rates, which are expected to increase with the new Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

Not only do town officials anticipate a larger floodplain area, but areas with a     500-year flood risk are expected to be raised to a higher risk of 100-year or less flood risk, due to more frequent occurrences of flooding.  

Existing homes will be grandfathered in, but any rebuilding of damaged properties or additions to existing structures will be required to follow the new guidelines.

One of the most significant changes in building standards requires new construction to build residential structures with the lowest floor, including basements, elevated to at least three feet of the flood depth specified in the Flood Insurance Rate Map.

New construction plans, whether in or out of a floodplain district, must prove that any changes to the land will not cause additional flooding during runoffs. For example, runoffs that would increase the water surface elevation of that flood event more than three feet, at any point, will not be allowed.

During a phone interview on Monday, Colonial Beach Building and Zoning Director Gary Mitchell explained that with the new regulations in the floodplain ordinance, if a home is destroyed by 50% or more, it will be held to the new standards when rebuilt. In some cases, he said, it might require a structure to be built, maybe twenty feet in the air at the lowest point, to avoid future flooding. Mitchell explained that this would be too costly for homeowners. Although Mitchell did not mention current height restrictions, they too, could play a factor in rebuilding for some structures.

Mitchell stated that a public meeting would be held to notify residents of changes in the floodplain maps. Residents who will be directly affected by FEMA’s new maps will be notified personally, as well as be invited to attend the meeting. Mitchell is hoping to schedule this meeting in February, but the town must first wait for FEMA to issue the new maps.  

Although the new maps have not yet been released by FEMA, the town must be proactive and act quickly. The council will need to hold public hearings, as well, and implement the changes in order to keep residents within the existing and new floodplain areas from losing the ability to buy flood insurance. Therefore, the planning commission is addressing the issue now in order to pass it on to the council in time to complete the necessary steps.

Many of the changes involve extensive administrative work on the part of the town staff. For example, the town will be responsible for providing technical or scientific data to FEMA if there are any changes to the community’s base flood elevation, within six months of discovering such.

The new ordinance has been drafted to FEMA’s specific requirements, and the town must implement it as written, or residents will no longer be eligible for flood insurance. So with their hands tied, the planning commission voted unanimously to forward the new floodplain overlay district ordinance to the council with a favorable recommendation.


Linda Farneth

 

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