Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is proposing changes to the city’s construction requirements that may reduce or prevent damage from future floods. These changes need to be approved by City Council, and would require developers to put flood mitigation measures in place for future construction projects.
A major component of the proposals is the building of detention ponds. It requires developers who build on large land parcels to increase the amount of water held in their detention ponds.
Since Houston’s clay-like soil does not absorb water well, the use of detention ponds creates a way to hold excess water. However, builders may balk at the requirements, as the space needed for adequate detention ponds takes away space they could use to build another unit.
The proposals also call for builders to lift homes two feet off the ground, or two feet above the 500-year flood plain level, if the home lies in the flood plain. Under the changes, builders are required to lift the structures to the required height, but dirt is prohibited from being used for lifting.
The new rules supersede the rule requiring that homes be lifted one foot above the 100-year flood plain level.
Another facet of the proposals is penalizing homeowners who fill in their drainage ditches with dirt or gravel. If the city calls on the homeowners to remove any obstructions to their drainage ditches, and the homeowner don’t, the city can carry out the work and bill the homeowner.
Many of the proposed changes were developed by a task force led by the city’s “flood czar,” Steve Costello. Costello and his task force examined the results of Hurricane Harvey, looked at the city’s 370-page Infrastructure Design Manual and made their recommendations to Turner and other city officials.
The proposals are expected to be ready for a City Council vote by mid-February. If the proposals pass, the city will reportedly give homeowners several months to get their properties into compliance.
Last month, RARE reported on Turner’s and the council’s shared dismay when the Federal Emergency Management Agency put forward a $1.6 million plan to elevate five homes in one of Houston’s most flood prone areas because the cost to lift the homes exceeded the properties’ value.
While city manages funds from FEMA, the federal agency decides the costs for the elevation projects and which houses are eligible for elevation. Unsurprisingly, Turner advocated further for the funds to be spent on preventative measures.