Charlottesville City Council has taken action on a rezoning on the eastern edge of Belmont, six weeks after asking for more information. The previous Council had held a public hearing for a request to increase the zoning from R2 to R3 on property that some claimed was unsafe for development. They wanted more information about the property’s relationship with the floodplain.
On February 7, City Engineer Jack Dawson prepared a briefing for the five elected officials, including two members who just joined.
“There was a fair bit of community members who expressed concern over the flood risk associated with the rezoning including some varying information about floodplain mapping and some other resources about water surface elevation for the one percent annual exceedance event,” Dawson said.
One percent annual exceedance is another way of saying 100-year flood, a term that can be somewhat misleading because such heavy volumes do in fact happen more frequently. Properties that are prone to flooding can still receive insurance through a program monitored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA]
“The city agreed to partner with FEMA as floodplain managers when we signed on to the National Flood Insurance Program,” Dawson said. “City property owners get access to insurance through the NFIP exchange and in return we agreed to create a floodplain development ordinance with a series of minimum standards.”
The property on Nassau Street is within the one percent exceedance zone, colored light blue on the city’s GIS viewer. That’s different from the floodway which is marked with red and blue stripes.
FEMA officials determine where those boundaries lie and make periodic reviews, but property owners can appeal based on evidence. This is a process known as the Letter of Map Revision, or LOMR.
“The city is the gatekeeper for determining LOMR validity,” Dawson said. “A LOMR should improve or correct the existing model or improved methods. It’s our job in engineering as the floodplain administrators to make sure it is technically sound.”
An application for this property was made to FEMA in October 2014 and sent it on for the city for their comments. However, Dawson said in this case, the technical comments from engineering were not captured in the revision.
“The 2017 LOMR. whether or not engineering agreed with it at the time, is the model that informs the flood plain,” Dawson said.
He also said that engineering doesn’t usually get involved during a rezoning.
“But when a site plan is submitted, we look to make sure it meets all codes and they can be in the flood plain as long as they’re built one foot above the flood elevation,” Dawson said.
Dawson said there is a risk in building in the floodplain, and many have done so. There are 266 lots that have structures are in the floodplain.
“It’s a high risk area,” Dawson said. “Living there, there’s some implicit risk with that and more people living in the flood plain means there’s more risk taken on as a city.”
Charlottesville Mayor Lloyd Snook said he had had concerns about the process after they were brought up. But, he said he arrived at a conclusion after many conversations.
“The decision that we are being asked by some folks to make here is not a proper decision for us to make at the rezoning phase,” Snook said. “That does not mean that that if we grant the rezoning that it’s necessarily going to pass the site plan review.”
Developer Nicole Scro said that by-right, they would build three duplexes on the property. The rezoning would allow more units to be built, which would bring down the cost of each to the people who will live there.
“The composition of the units is smaller units and we’re doing that to save on construction costs so we can hit lower rents,” Scro said. “That’s the purpose of this rezoning.”
Scro said she understood the concerns, but said she felt confident about the flood risk. The structures will be built at 327 feet above sea level.
“And then we’re going to have three feet of crawl-space and another foot of subflooring so the finished floor elevation will be at 331 approximately,” Scro said.
Council voted 5-0 to agree to the rezoning.
This isn’t the end of the story with flood modeling.
Charlottesville is beginning to develop a new flood model for the Moores Creek watershed to better understand hydrological processes. This is being paid for by the state government with proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
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