Last week the Houston City Council voted to dramatically increase regulations on building within the 100 and 500 year floodplains. The proposal to amend Chapter 19, the City’s Floodplain Regulation Ordinance, was first introduced in late January and was uncharacteristically fast-tracked through the ordinance revision process. Mayor Sylvester Turner’s initial rollout called for this to be voted on by February 28, but after feedback from Council Members, stakeholder groups and the public, the timeline was extended slightly with it ultimately passing on April 4.
The GHBA was engaged on this issue from before it was rolled out through its passage. We met with Mayor Turner, all 15 council members (and some many times), and Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock, Chief Resiliency Officer Steve Costello, Chief Recovery Officer Marvin Odum and Floodplain Manager Jamila Johnson multiple times to voice our concerns about the unintended consequences of a major, but lightly vetted policy change and work with them to make adjustments.
Numerous GHBA members spoke during committee hearings and Public Council Session. Ultimately, we worked with our development stakeholder partners in drafting amendments for this ordinance to address the no net fill prohibition and height requirements in both the 100 and 500 year floodplains. Those amendments were dutifully carried by CM Greg Travis and CM Jack Christie.
Despite the GHBA’s efforts, the Mayor’s ordinance revisions passed with a vote of 9 to 7 and the amendments were defeated. We were one vote shy of this not passing as an 8-8 vote would have defeated the measure.
The GHBA is proud of council members Brenda Stardig, Steve Le, Greg Travis, Mike Laster, Mike Knox, Michael Kubosh and Jack Christie who supported our concerns and voted pragmatically against such a sweeping, unnecessary change. We hope to continue to work with Mayor Turner and council members Jerry Davis, Dwight Boykins, Ellen Cohen, Dave Martin, David Robinson, Carla Cisneros, Amanda Edwards and Robert Gallegos to educate them on how their support of these changes will have a negative effect on housing affordability and inventory in the City of Houston.
In summary, the new floodplain development regulation changes will be effective September 1 and will require that:
- The 100 year floodplain will be regulated at the 500 year BFE, plus two feet;
- The 500 year floodplain will be regulated at the 500 year BFE, plus two feet;
- Net fill will not be allowed in the 500 year floodplain (it is already prohibited in the 100 year), unless a property owner can demonstrate no impact to existing sheetflow; and
- Additions larger than 1/3 of an existing property in the 500 year floodplain must be raised to the 500 BFE, plus two feet.
The GHBA will continue to be active in working with the Administration and Public Works as they work to develop implementation strategies. There are already a number of questions on how this will be applied that the City does not have answers to and it will take time for those to be resolved. We will keep members updated as we move forward and can expect to invite Public Works and Floodplain Administration staff to attend GHBA meetings to help further educate our members as we get closer to September 1.