It's a good idea for city-county planning officials to have all the data available before making a decision on new floodplain regulations.
Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission members have made a prudent decision by deferring action on new floodplain regulations until they can examine more accurate maps.
Expanding on federal floodplain designations could have a significant effect on some local property owners and the decision shouldn't be taken lightly. It's best to understand the full impact of the regulations before putting them into effect. Planning commissioners were right to put the decision off until maps that will clarify the issue can be produced. Staff members believe the maps can be done in two months. Planners decided to take the issue up three months from now to allow the public time to view the maps.
The floodplain issue is a complicated one that's difficult for average residents to sort out. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) starting floodplain mapping about six years ago, but didn't deliver local maps to Lawrence officials until last October, just two weeks before the city was required to adopt them to comply with FEMA regulations.
The floodplain maps received in Lawrence were rough, paper documents that made them difficult to reconcile with the city's maps. To comply with FEMA regulations, the city basically had to accept a pig in a poke and approve incomplete floodplain data. Planning staff members now are working with earlier digital maps and reconciling them with the paper maps to produce an accurate picture of FEMA's floodplain lines.
Once that's done the city will tackle the job of seeing how expanding on the FEMA maps would affect Lawrence. The proposal before the planning commission would create a floodplain "overlay district" that would include the FEMA floodplain and all property that lies 2 feet or less above the FEMA floodplain elevation. There are reports that this could include a significant additional acreage which has made a lot of homeowners and property owners nervous.
Homes within the FEMA floodplain are required to be covered by federal flood insurance. Those in the city's "overlay district" reportedly would not, but being located in that district might have an impact on property values or plans to build additions on a property. Developers who wanted to build any structures in that overlay district would have to show that the new construction wouldn't increase base flood elevations or flood velocities in order to obtain a plat.
Planners should consider whether any new floodplain regulations should be applied equally to residential, commercial and industrial construction projects. Some restrictions that are desirable for a residential home might not be practical or necessary for an industrial site.
Maps of one of the most-affected areas, North Lawrence, already are available, but to assess the full impact of the additional regulations, the planning commission should have all of the maps available. The immediate task of approving a map to meet FEMA requirements has been completed. Now the city can take the time for a more considered approach to any additional floodplain regulations.