When the city passed new regulations last year for building in areas prone to flooding, officials predicted the rules would change development patterns in Lawrence.
What they didn't know was that the floodplain itself would change.
Prompted by the new rules and the discussion that preceded adoption of the regulations, landowners and developers have been applying in record numbers to have the federal government redraw the 100-year floodplain map to exclude their properties.
So far in 2003, 61 properties that were in the floodplain have been removed. In a typical year, officials said, the maximum number would be closer to 15.
"That's been the most immediate and obvious effect of the floodplain regulations," city planner Bryan Dyer said last week.
Mayor David Dunfield, who was the leading proponent of the new rules, said the map changes were to be expected.
"It's not surprising that there are more map amendments being filed or attempted," Dunfield said. "Obviously, if there are stricter regulations concerning development, then the consequences of the map being inaccurate are greater -- an owner would be more motivated to get the map corrected."
The regulations were adopted by the Lawrence City Commission in October 2002 and went into effect in January.
They require builders to do a hydrological study showing their development wouldn't expand the floodplain. The rules apply only to properties already designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of the 100-year floodplain. Those studies, developers say, typically cost between $3,000 and $5,000, depending on the size and location of the lot under development.
To avoid those costs, property owners have used two methods to obtain changes to the floodplain map: letters of map amendment (known as LOMAs) and letters of map revision, known as LOMRs.
Under LOMAs, property owners get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to admit it made a mistake to include their land in the floodplain map. Under LOMRs, owners take steps -- such as elevating buildings and filling in the landscaping -- to physically remove property from the floodplain.
Lance Johnson of the Peridian Group, a Lawrence development firm, obtained LOMRS for 20 homes in southwest Lawrence. He began the process, he said, before the city adopted its floodplain regulations -- when a more restrictive version of the rules appeared likely.
Johnson said the work to obtain a LOMR costs "thousands of dollars."
"It has not helped toward making more affordable housing in Lawrence," Johnson said. "LOMRs are not cheap."
Aside from the map revisions, Dyer said, the effects of the regulations have been subtle. The number of applications to build in the floodplain is similar to pre-regulations levels, though all of this year's permits are for land that was grandfathered in and unaffected by the rules.
Instead, Dyer said, developers in conversations with city planners appear to be taking a more gingerly approach to floodplain development.
"They're putting much more thought into it," Dyer said.
Dunfield said he expected the Lawrence City Commission soon would revisit the floodplain regulations. Though some added restrictions are expected, he said they would look nothing like the much-protested "freeboard" area that would have added thousands of homes to the floodplain -- a provision commissioners initially rejected.
"I don't think we'll be going back to the language that was turned down last time," he said. "I think we need to find a new formula if we're going to modify the regulations again."