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Floodplain Building Regulations Adopted At Contentious City Council Meeting

City Council members passed the new building rules after hours of debate

The Houston City Council debated for hours on new building regulations for homes in Houston’s floodplains on April 4, 2018.

Houston City Council members voted Wednesday to adopt new building regulations for homes in floodplains.

The regulations, a modification to Chapter 19 of city ordinances, require homes within regulated areas to build at least two feet above the estimated water level of a flood in the 500-year floodplain. Regulated areas will be determined by a recommendation from the city’s Public Works director to the mayor and city council based off of FEMA floodplain maps as they are released. 

The council voted on the regulations after a lengthy debate and several amendments, substitutions, and amendments to amendments.

Council members Mike Laster, Greg Travis, Brenda Stardig, Mike Knox, spoke out against the rules, calling the regulation of homes in the 500 year floodplain an overreach and urging city administrators to take more time in finding a solution. 

Council member Brenda Stardig tweeted as the council debated the ordinance:

The ordinance changes require all new or redeveloped homes in the regulated areas to adhere to new elevation standards. An amendment to the measure introduced by council member Jack Christie established a “Level of Risk” scale to determine which homes will have to build to those standards. According to the Houston Chronicle, the amendment was initially drafted by the Houston Association of Realtors.

Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock spoke on the proposed amendment to the council, saying it disqualify Houston residents from participating in FEMA’s flood insurance program. Mayor Turner read a letter from FEMA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Insurance and Mitigation Roy Wright, stating the agency supports the original regulations. The letter as distributed to the council was dated March 21, 2018, though Mayor Turner said he had not received the letter until Wednesday morning. Wright did not mention Christie’s amendment in his letter.

“If you choose to vote for this amendment, you are jeopardizing the National Flood Insurance Program for the city of Houston,” Mayor Turner told the council in response to Council member Knox’s questions to the Mayor over the letter’s date. Knox called the delivery of the letter Wednesday morning “sandbagging.” Council member Travis then moved to amend Christie’s amendment to apply the “Level or Risk” only to the 500-year floodplain, a change which Public Works Director Haddock claimed would keep Houston in compliance to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program. 

The council voted no on both Christie’s amendment and the amendment to it.

The council then took up an amendment from member Greg Travis limiting the new regulations to the 100-year floodplain and delaying its effect until September after new FEMA floodplain maps are released. Council member David Robinson offered a substitution to the amendment, changing the regulated area to a recommendation made by the Public Works director within 60 days of new FEMA maps being issued. Council members voted to pass the substituted amendment.

After passing several small amendments, Council member Kubosh moved to send the entire regulation plan back to administration. The move failed in a vote 9-7. 

After further debate, the council passed the new regulations with 9 members in support and 7 opposed. 

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Davis Land

Davis Land

General Assignments Reporter

Davis Land is a general assignment reporter for Houston Public Media. He cut his teeth at Atlantic Public Media/Transom.org in Woods Hole, MA and at WBUR in Boston. His work has appeared on various public radio programs and podcasts including Texas Standard, Here and Now, and Marketplace. Davis is a...

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