Austin, Texas Will Change Code to Expand 100-Year Floodplain

Among the changes is a provision that will re-designate the city's 500-year floodplain as the new 100-year floodplain, meaning that any structures built in those areas are at greater flood risk and will be subject to additional building regulations.

by Mary Huber, Austin American-Statesman / November 15, 2019
The Austin City Council approved code changes Thursday that increase the number of homes in the 100-year floodplain, based on new rainfall data that shows the city is at greater flood risk than previously believed. TNS

(TNS) - The Austin City Council on Thursday approved changes to the land development code that will put more homes and businesses in the 100-year floodplain.

Among the changes is a provision that will re-designate the city's 500-year floodplain as the new 100-year floodplain, meaning that any structures built in those areas are at greater flood risk and will be subject to additional building regulations. These include requirements that structures be built to a certain elevation and have safe access in and out.

Existing homes and businesses in the new flood zones, of which there are an additional 3,200, will also have to meet these requirements if they choose to significantly remodel or redevelop their properties.

The changes come after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released new rainfall data last year, known as Atlas 14, which showed that much of Texas, including Austin, was experiencing more major rain events than previously believed.

The code changes, which were approved unanimously by council, also will require structures in flood zones to be built at least 2 feet above the floodplain, instead of the previous 1-foot requirement, to further mitigate flood risk.

Property owners who redevelop in the floodplain will not be able to increase the number of dwelling units on the site, to prevent them from adding density in these areas.

Additionally, property owners who remodel and redevelop their properties and who meet floodplain requirements also will no longer be required to go before boards and commissions to approve their plans; staff will be able to do so, making the process easier.

"We are fortunate to live in a community that acknowledges that climate change is real because only when we accept that this is reality can we begin to brace ourselves for the risks and challenges associated with it," Council Member Paige Ellis said at Thursday's council meeting. "This ordinance gives us key regulatory changes we need to do just that, to ensure our development standards proactively confront the heightened flooding risks outlined in Atlas 14."

The bulk of the changes to the code are permanent, however the floodplain boundaries themselves will be temporary, until the Watershed Protection Department can restudy the city's basins and create new flood maps with the Atlas 14 data, likely in the next two years. Those maps will then be sent to the Federal Emergency Management Administration to re-write its flood insurance rate maps, which determine who is required to purchase flood insurance. Homeowners in these areas will not have to purchase flood insurance until that time.

The city's floodplain administrator, Kevin Shunk, however, urged people who are in the 100-year floodplain to get a flood insurance quote now, so they may be grandfathered into a lower rate when FEMA does change its rate maps.

"If the building is in the 500-year floodplain now, they need to consider flood risk," Shunk said.

He also stressed to homeowners now in the 100-year floodplain that they do not have to do anything to their properties immediately as a result of the code change.

"Only when you are going to renovate the building, at that point in time that's when the requirements kick in," he said.

The Watershed Protection Department will be re-sending letters to more than 25,000 property owners who are in the city's new flood zones to notify them of the changes and what they mean. Property owners can check if they are in the new flood zones at atxfloodpro.com.

———

©2019 Austin American-Statesman, Texas

Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at www.statesman.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

Platforms & Programs