Houston City Council approved stricter development regulations within the city’s 100- and 500-year floodplains at its meeting on Wednesday, about seven months after Hurricane Harvey devastated Southeast Texas.
The new regulations—which take effect Sept. 1—require structures built within the 100- and 500-year floodplains to be built 2 feet above the 500-year floodplain. Under previous regulations, there were no specific requirements within the 500-year floodplain, and structures built within the 100-year floodplain had to be built 1 foot above the 100-year floodplain.
The motion passed 9-7 after about three hours of debate. Council Member Jack Christie—who voted against the measure—said the new regulations are unfair to people whose homes have not previously flooded.
"We're overcompensating for the people who don't need to comply in these areas that have never flooded," Christie said.
Council Member Greg Travis—who also voted against the item—said he was concerned that not enough research had been done prior to the new regulations' development and inclusion as an agenda item.
"When we look at what’s been studied in the 500-year floodplain, we’ve only looked at 5,000 houses—not enough data, not enough information," Travis said. "Nobody here is saying 'Don’t do anything;' what we’re saying is 'Do the right thing.'"
Before council voted on the item, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner tried to encourage council members that immediate action had to be taken.
"To do nothing is not an answer," he said. "To wait is not an answer ... it's not perfect ... but you don't sacrifice the good seeking perfect and end up with nothing."
Prior to discussing the item and the subsequent vote, Turner said additional changes to development regulations could be needed in the future.
"What's in front of you today is only step one because we also have to deal with the fact that there are many structures that flooded that are not within the floodplain, and that needs to be addressed as well," Turner said.
According to city documents, 31 percent of homes built to the 100-year floodplain standards—a total of 4,788 homes—flooded during Hurricane Harvey. Of those homes, 3,094 are located outside of the areas affected by the Addicks and Barker reservoir releases. One-third of homes in the 500-year floodplain were also affected by Harvey, according to city statistics.
A recent study by the city found that 84 percent of the structures in the 100- and 500-year floodplains might not have flooded if the proposed regulations were in place prior to Harvey.
Federal rainfall and flooding studies currently underway could increase the city’s 100-year floodplain elevation and expand the area it covers, according to city documents.