2016-02-12 / Front Page

Flood zone amendment would assist residents

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

For years, the town planning staff has been helping residents plan for the future by reviewing flood maps and ordinance to encourage homeowners to elevate their properties in the event of sea level rise.

Those who live in nonconforming structures – homes that are allowed even though they don’t meet current space and bulk requirements – have had a difficult time to do just that due to two conflicting town ordinances. An ordinance amendment presented to the town council last week by Town Planner Dan Bacon attempts to “clean up the matter.”

Councilors supported the change at first reading Wednesday, Feb. 3. Councilor Chris Caiazzo said he didn’t “see any reason to not move this forward” to a second reading, which could take place as early as next month. Before that happens, however, the amendment will be reviewed by the planning board members at their Feb. 22 meeting.

“I support this. It makes all the sense in the world,” said Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina.

According to Scarborough’s zoning ordinance, nonconforming structures cannot be “expanded, enlarged or raised in height” without a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA). The floodplain management ordinance and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s coastal sand dune rules, however, require elevating the first floors of homes within the flood plain. Elevating homes, he said, not only helps to protect the structure from floods, it could also result in lower property insurance costs.

“This puts property owners in a Catch-22 and sends them to the ZBA to do something they have to do in another part of the ordinance,” Bacon said. The change has been needed for some time, but became even more evident this summer and fall when the planning department was working on a set of building and design codes for Higgins Beach.

The amendment would relieve owners of non-conforming homes of having to go to the ZBA to elevate their properties, although they would still have to go before the board for other expansion or reconstruction projects.

“This is really a matter of fixing an inconsistency,” Council Chairman William Donovan said.

How high residents must elevate their homes, whether they live in conforming or non-conforming structures, depends on the location of the property and is related to the high water mark.

“It’s very dependant on the building site’s relationship to high tide,” Bacon said.

The requirement is the first floor of the home must be 1-foot above the base flood elevation – commonly called the 100- year flood level. Bacon said at Higgins Beach, for example, this means a home near the water may have to be raised upward of 7 feet. The height of the home after the stormwater elevation must still not exceed 35 feet without ZBA approval.

Council Vice Chairman Shawn Babine said with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s new flood maps, homeowners well away from the coast may also have to elevate their home due to flood risk. Although the maps are still being worked on, there is little doubt, Bacon said, that the new maps will add additional homes into the flood plain.

“The devil is in the details in terms of how far and where exactly,” he said.

Updating the maps has been an ongoing process over the last five years or so. The maps had been rolled out several years ago, but FEMA officials pulled the maps back after public outcry and lawsuits.

“They say the maps could come out this spring, which would restart the process that has been started and stopped several times over the last five years,” Bacon said.

If the maps are made publicly available this spring, it would take at least another two years before they are adopted.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at news@scarboroughleader.com.

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