Lox Council Approves First Reading Of Flood Plain Ordinance

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved the preliminary reading of a flood plain ordinance last week that will allow homeowners to obtain federally backed flood insurance, although several residents had concerns about the cost.

At the council’s Nov. 7 meeting, Town Attorney Michael Cirullo explained that the ordinance will establish flood plain regulations for the town, and that approval was necessary for residents to qualify for federal flood insurance.

Cirullo explained that the ordinance does not exempt agricultural land, but does exempt certain de minimus agricultural uses. He said the ordinance is a standard form that has been vetted by the Florida Division of Emergency Management, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in order for property owners to be able to participate in the federal flood insurance program.

“It only applies in those portions of the town that are designated flood areas, which are provided by the FEMA maps,” Cirullo said. “People have to look at the maps and see whether they need to do these extra works. It is not retroactive. People who have existing structures today do not have to automatically come in now and raise them all up, so to speak, but if they come in to do more work or to amend or revise, as a legal non-conforming use, they would have to at that point.”

The ordinance went to the Loxahatchee Groves Planning & Zoning Committee this week for review and will return to the council in December for final approval.

Councilman Todd McLendon said the ordinance has several provisions that don’t appear to make sense, and added that he was curious how many homes in Loxahatchee Groves will actually be affected, as well as the cost to the town to implement the ordinance.

Town Manager Bill Underwood said he did not have information on how many homes carrying mortgages are in the flood zone, but Cirullo said the updated FEMA maps showing homes in the flood plain are posted on the town’s web site.

Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel said he thought the town should be able to get a list of people who are in the flood zone.

During public comment, Henry Lewis of March Circle said he carries a mortgage and is in a flood zone and was concerned about whether he’ll be able to obtain flood insurance.

Nina Corning said the requirements of the ordinance appear to require a large number of conditions that a resident must fulfill in order to modify their property.

“Please read this top to bottom, side to side; it’s an issue,” she said.

Jo Milano said that half her barn is on the flood plain map and half is not.

“I agree with Nina. I think it really demands a close look,” Milano said. “If you look at things on this map, it’s clear that it’s just an overlay onto the existing map. It’s going to be tricky throughout the town.”

Marge Herzog said she has an equity line of credit, and her bank told her that with the equity line, she had to have flood insurance.

“They said that if I didn’t get a policy, they would institute one for me with a price,” Herzog said. “I called my homeowners’ insurance… and they said I would have to hire a private elevation specialist, and I’d have to go to the town or the county in order to get a certificate of elevation. There are so many things that would have to be done in order to hope for a lower insurance rate that it was prohibitive. You might as well roll over and take the punishment with the policy that they’re offering you.”

Herzog said that from looking at the flood plain map, her house is not in the flood plain area.

“Because any part of my property has floodability, they said you have to have flood insurance, according to the rules,” she said. “We’re kind of at their mercy.”

Mayor Dave Browning said the town spent money getting the flood plain map revised.

“We eliminated a tremendous number of homes that were in the original flood plain that were taken out,” Browning said. “What bothers me is that big chunks of Palm Beach County are 10 or 11 feet above sea level and they’re not in flood zones. Our canals are kept at 16.5 [feet], which means most of us in Loxahatchee Groves are anywhere from 19 to 22 [feet], and the federal government, in its wisdom, says we’re in a flood zone.”

Cirullo said the ordinance is essentially a template supplied by FEMA.

“If you have additional comments or questions tonight, we can try to contact them until they cut us off,” Cirullo said, adding that the council is not required to approve the ordinance, but if it is not in place, federal flood insurance will not be available to residents.

“When someone comes in for new construction, needs a permit, this will be an additional layer of review, but passing this is not going to require the town to go out there and do a survey of the existing conditions of all the properties,” he said.

Councilman Ryan Liang made a motion to approve the preliminary reading of the ordinance, but specified that it must be reviewed by the Planning & Zoning Committee and the Unified Land Development Committee, which carried 5-0.