Iowa City looking at floodplain ordinance revisions - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa City looking at floodplain ordinance revisions

IOWA CITY (KWWL) -- The City of Iowa City is looking for public input on proposed changes to the floodplain ordinance.

The changes, proposed by staff from Building Inspection, Urban Planning, and Public Works, reflect changes and stricter standards they feel are necessary due to the amount of damage from the 1993 and 2008 floods.

The proposed changes would raise the elevation and flood proofing standards for buildings in the floodplain from a 100-year standard to a 500-year standard.  They would help reduce future flood risk, protect the investments of homeowners and business owners and increase safety and access for emergency crews.

The proposed changes include:

CHANGES IN TERMINOLOGY: Staff acknowledges that the current terminology, "100-year floodplain," which represents a 1% chance of flood in any given year, and "500-year floodplain," which indicates a risk of 0.2%, are largely misunderstood and cause people to misinterpret the actual, annual risk of flooding. Over the life of a 30-year mortgage, for example, property in a 100-year floodplain actually has a 26% chance of flooding. To reflect the actual risk of building in a flood hazard area, staff proposes to replace the terms with "Flood Hazard Area" in all sections of the City's zoning ordinance.

NEW DEFINITIONS: Under the proposal, definitions would be added for "Class I Critical Facilities" and "Critical Facilities." Class I Critical Facilities would include emergency operation centers and hospitals that must have access during a flood, as well as facilities that may be difficult to evacuate during a flood, such as jails and nursing homes. Critical Facilities, on the other hand, would include City Hall, courts, schools, water distribution, and wastewater treatment facilities that need to be protected from flood damage but do not necessarily need to be accessible during a flood.

IDENTIFICATION OF SHALLOW FLOODING AREAS: Currently, areas of shallow flooding are not addressed in the City's floodplain regulations. This proposed change would correct an omission and codify another class of flooding that is mapped where Willow Creek flows across the airport runways.

EXPANDING BUILDING STANDARDS AND REQUIREMENTS: The building standards and requirements in the current flood ordinance are written to meet the risks of a 100-year flood. The new ordinance would increase standards to meet the risk of a 500-year flood -- the levels the city witnessed in 2008. If the stricter regulations are adopted, it could result in lower flood insurance premiums for Iowa City residents.

Under the new standards, any new construction taking place in a floodplain would need to be elevated, or in the case of commercial buildings, elevated or flood-proofed, to one foot above the 500-year flood elevation. Depending on where a home or structure is located, that additional elevation could range from a couple of inches to a couple of feet.

Existing structures in flood hazard areas would be allowed to expand without elevating or flood proofing, as long as the planned expansion would not be larger than 25% of the structure's original floor area, and/or the planned improvements or repairs would not exceed 50% of the structure's current assessed value. When plans exceed those limits, property owners would be required to meet the new standards by elevating or flood proofing to one foot above the 500-year flood elevation.

The new standards would also require that any new Class 1 Critical Facilities be located outside of flood hazard areas. Existing Class I Critical Facilities would be allowed to remain in their current locations, but would need to adhere to new requirements if major expansions or improvements -- such as those outlined above -- were planned.]

The Planning & Zoning Commission will discuss the proposed on June 17 at 7:00 p.m. in Emma Harvat Hall in City Hall.  The public is invited to attend and make comments in person.

You can also submit written comments prior to the meeting to Julie Tallman, Development Regulation Specialist, at julie-tallman@iowa-city.org, or Robert Miklo, Senior Planner, at bob-miklo@iowa-city.org.  You can also mail or drop off written comments at City Hall.

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