Commission wrestles with rule changes related to new area floodplain map

By Corene Brisendine

Do no harm; that seemed to be the attitude of city commissioners at a work session Tuesday night, as they discussed proposed changes to construction regulations that would be in line with new FEMA and community floodplains.

Commissioners voiced concerns about the impact on existing structures, building costs, insurance premiums and how the changes might affect the floodplain in the future.

“The scope of all this is that we don’t do any harm to the existing building,” commissioner Wynn Butler said. “That’s got to be the key driving factor. We can’t make it any worse.”

The proposed changes to the building regulations would require any new buildings be built to the elevation of the future floodplain.

The city is using maps based on current building codes, but assuming that future construction will proceed according to an updated version of the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

The public’s final opportunity to view and discuss the new FEMA floodplain maps, which are based on the Manhattan area’s future growth, comes today from 4-7 p.m. at City Hall.

On the new FEMA maps, displayed today with plans for approval by next fall, the yellow area shows the current floodplain. Red areas represent the future floodplain, assuming building continues as projected without any changes to current regulations.

FEMA engineers and city planners will be available to explain the new maps.

Construction changes discussed by the commission on Tuesday would require that structures inside the FEMA floodplain must be raised to meet the community floodplain.

City planner Chad Bunger said that although the upfront foundation costs would be increased by $6,000 to $11,000, the overall cost to a homeowner paying a 30-year mortgage with flood insurance would be about the same.

The proposed regulations would give builders two options for raising structures above the floodplain: fill in the area with dirt or build a foundation with a crawlspace and openings to allow floodwater to pass through without damaging the structure or utility lines.

“It is better to build up the house than fill,” commissioner Rich Jankovich said. “They don’t have anywhere near the problems that slabs or basement type houses have.”

Butler agreed, adding that allowing builders to simply fill in to raise a structure above the FEMA floodplain wouldn’t mitigate problems with floodplain expansion in the future.

Bunger said the city will address that issue in future work sessions on compensatory storage areas, which are designed to reduce or maintain the current FEMA floodplain boundaries – using various mitigating tools like detention areas, retention ponds or fill dirt.

According to Bunger’s building estimates, filling in with dirt actually would cost homeowners more, both up front and in the long run.

Jankovich also said if homeowners have houses inspected to show the structure is built “out of the floodplain,” then there would be no requirement to carry flood insurance.

The proposed building regulations also would require structures built in the community floodplain to be raised, either by fill or elevated crawlspace.

In addition to the changes to building in the FEMA and Community floodplains, all residential structures built outside the two floodplains cannot have any livable structure built below the FEMA floodplain elevation, as with basements.

Butler said that if the city adopts these changes to the building regulations, the chance of the floodplain moving out to where the map predicts is highly unlikely because the changes would mitigate most or all negative impact new construction would have on the current floodplain.

He also said he would prefer no new construction in the FEMA floodplain, but admitted each property needed to be addressed individually based on how much of it was in the floodplain.

Bunger said the city attorney suggested against banning all construction in the floodplain because that could force the city to buy back the property in the floodplain, similar to the use of eminent domain. According to the agenda, 1,015 acres of land are in the floodplain and about 477 structures are inside it. Bunger said that a small portion of the floodplain has not already been built upon, but did not have an exact figure.

Butler said he didn’t like the idea of eminent domain, but developers and builders needed to look at the big picture, and divide the land partially in the floodplain in such a way that would allow building while decreasing the need to fill. In addition, he thought that property owners should be allowed to build small buildings, sheds or dog houses, in the floodplain areas on their property as long as they understood that the structure would not be covered without flood insurance and the possibility of the structure being swept away during a flood was highly probable.

“We don’t need to go full nanny state and say they can’t,” Butler said. “If nothing, why not? As long as they understand the consequences.”

After the meeting, Jankovich said the proposed regulations are an effort to codify what the city commission has been doing since the floods of 2010 and 2011.

Jankovich said the commission has been directing city officials, developers, and builders to make changes to their plans in an effort to mitigate any further negative impact to existing structures by asking them to create detention basins, use fill dirt from within the watershed, and other minor alterations to construction and lot design to create a near zero impact to storm-water runoff as possible compared to the runoff on the undeveloped property.

In addition, the city has been moving forward with projects that would help reduce the FEMA floodplain as well. He said the detention basin in CiCo Park, the bridge project on Casement Road over the Marlatt ditch and Kansas Department of Transportation’s project to widen and raise the bridges on Fort Riley Boulevard over Wildcat Creek will all significantly reduce the FEMA floodplain. The CiCo Park and Casement Bridge projects have already been incorporated into the new FEMA floodplain maps that will go into effect next fall.

The commission did not take any formal action or approval because the meeting was a work session to educate the commission and public on what the proposed regulations would be on building new structures in the FEMA and Community floodplains as well as receive feedback on how the city should move forward with this portion.

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