Author Topic: After supporting flood bond, Houston-area developers want to delay new building rules  (Read 153 times)

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Offline Elderberry

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Houston Chronicle by Zach Despart and Mike Morris July 8, 2019

Houston-area developers, engineers and real estate professionals were among the most vocal supporters of last summer’s $2.5 billion Harris County flood bond, the largest storm infrastructure investment in county history.

They contributed to a political action committee established by bond backers and helped shepherd the initiative to passage on the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, the devastating 2017 storm that flooded more than 204,000 homes and apartments in Harris County.

For the past several months, however, many of those players quietly have lobbied Houston and Harris County officials to delay implementation of new building rules developers say will increase housing costs but county engineers insist are needed to protect neighborhoods from future storms.

The changes under consideration would expand the area subject to flood-related building restrictions by roughly 65 percent in areas of the county outside the city of Houston, and would require developers to devote a larger share of their properties to holding back stormwater, among other changes.

Pressure from the development community already has delayed a Commissioners Court vote on the regulations by five weeks, though builders’ pleas for even more time have not prevented the Harris County Flood Control District from asking the court to approve the new rules on Tuesday.

The city of Houston — despite an initial plan to have the city and county jointly adopt the rules in early June — has no set date on which it will adopt similar changes, said Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock, though she hopes city council will vote before Harvey’s second anniversary in late August. The changes would take effect sometime in 2020, she said, to give builders time to submit plans already in progress.

Nonetheless, the resistance by county leaders to further delay or change the proposed rules illustrates how the influence of developers long accustomed to getting their way may be waning as the city and county grapple with a post-Harvey reality in which residents clamor for better protection.

“We’ve never had this moment, where you have a disaster that could be laid back to decisions that were made in the past that had to do with development,” said Jerry Wood, a former city planner under three Houston mayors. “You’ve got people energized about this subject in a way they never have before.”

Flood maps outdated

The new rules would incorporate the most recent rainfall data compiled by the federal government, called Atlas 14, into city and county policies. Higher rainfall totals from more frequent and intense storms in recent years suggest the so-called “100-year” storm — the weather event on which most drainage rules are based — has been understated by 30 percent.

The new numbers mean a larger area is at risk of flooding than previously thought, and that more water must be detained each time builders replace grass with pavement to prevent stormwater runoff from overwhelming drains and bayous.

For many county projects, the minimum detention rate will increase 18 percent. If the city follows suit, its minimum detention rate on sites of more than an acre would increase by 30 percent.

More: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/After-supporting-flood-bond-Houston-area-14074362.php
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