Loxahatchee Groves Council Approves Flood Plain Ordinance

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved the final reading Tuesday, Dec. 5 of a flood plain ordinance that will enable the town and residents to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.

The goal was to give residents with property designated by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maps as in the flood plain the opportunity to obtain lower-cost flood insurance.

The ordinance changed the Unified Land Development Code and required four votes to approve. Councilman Dave DeMarois was absent.

The ordinance was reviewed by the Planning & Zoning Committee and ULDC Committee, which both recommended approval.

Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said the Planning & Zoning Committee had asked if there could be a cumulative provision that any damages to property incurred over several years could be included as one sum, although they did not recommend it as a condition of approval, and warned that there is a cutoff date of Oct. 5, 2018, if the council fails to approve the ordinance.

“After that date and at any time after that if the town enacts this ordinance, it will have to go back through all approvals,” he said, adding that it is a complicated ordinance that required several years to develop.

He said that all 410 municipalities in Florida except 10, including Loxahatchee Groves, have approved a flood plain ordinance.

“The people in Washington and Tallahassee have been monitoring this, and we’re the only municipality in Palm Beach County that doesn’t have it,” Cirullo said. “Without this policy, no residents in this town can participate in the federal flood insurance program.”

Town Manager Bill Underwood said that without the ordinance, the town would not be eligible for water mitigation grants to handle canal and drainage issues. Underwood added that Dec. 15 is the “drop dead date” for people who have mortgages.

Mayor Dave Browning stressed that the ordinance will benefit the residents, explaining that one resident had told him that without the town joining the program, his flood insurance would be unaffordable.

During public comment, Dennis Lipp, who chairs the Planning & Zoning Committee, said that committee members were concerned that residents were covered for one occurrence only, and if it were cumulative over a period of time, it would be less of a burden.

“If you get $100,000 worth of damage and your insurance doesn’t kick in until $200,000, you don’t get any money, and next year there’s another flood event you have another $100,000, then you don’t get any money,” Lipp said. “If it’s cumulative, which is allowable, then it kicks in for you.”

Joyce Batcheler said that as a member of the ULDC Committee, she thought it is important for the town to be covered.

“I am in a good situation that I don’t happen to be in a house that is in a flood zone, and I am also mortgage-free, but I still have flood insurance because I have to trust that if any storm came through, Lake Okeechobee doesn’t bust and everybody along the whole canal system drains quickly, so it’s my choice to have the coverage,” she said.

Batcheler said that some residents are considered in the flood zone if any part of their property is within the flood plain map.

“Now they’re requiring you to have the flood insurance,” she said. “If you’re not covered and subsidized by FEMA, you are covered by private insurance then, and they will mandate that you get flood insurance in order to have a mortgage or even an equity loan, and it can be high.”

Mary McNicholas, who chairs the ULDC Committee, said she lives in a new home that is built at 22.5 feet above sea level, but part of her property is low-lying and in the flood plain, so all of her property requires flood insurance. “I’m in the process of protesting that,” she said.

McNicholas added that she thought the town should work with the county to be the flood plain manager and avoid the town’s cost of having a flood plain manager, which is required by the ordinance.

“This needs to be passed now, because there are a lot of people who do not have the wherewithal to do this, and also, you can right now get private flood insurance, but clearly they’re going to be in a better position if they’re in this program.”

Bruce Baltz said he had called his insurer because he had been notified that he had to get flood insurance. “They said we would be grandfathered in if we were part of [FEMA] and my flood insurance would cost me about $400 or $450 a year,” Baltz said. “Independent insurance, which I would have to go for now, is $2,400.”

Councilman Todd McLendon was concerned about the cost of a flood plain manager and urged the town manager to work with the county to provide that service.

Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel made a motion to approve the ordinance, which carried 4-0.