New Harris County floodplain rules draw concern over development costs

Harris County Commissioners Court adopted new floodplain development rules July 9.

Harris County Commissioners Court adopted new floodplain development rules July 9.

Updated 12:05 p.m. July 19: The story has been updated from its original version to say the new standards require developers to build enough detention to offset flooding in the 500-year floodplain. The story previously said this would require developers to build a minimum of five times as much detention.

Updated 8:30 a.m. July 22: Jim Robertson is on the Cypress Creek Flood Control Coalition's board of directors. The story previously said he was chairman.

Following approval of Harris County’s new floodplain development regulations July 9, public response has been mixed, with some supportive of increased flood mitigation and others—namely developers—concerned over increased building costs.

Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved tougher rules for building in floodplains in unincorporated Harris County, based on Atlas-14 rainfall data released last September. The study, conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, updated Texas’ precipitation frequency estimates.

“The idea is to make sure the new development takes into account the latest rainfall projections, and the new development is required to detain as much water as possible so as to offset any impact they would have on the folks downstream,” County Judge Lina Hidalgo said during the July 9 meeting.

The new standards require developers to build enough detention to offset flooding in the 500-year floodplain, or areas that have a 0.2% chance of flooding in a given year. Previously, county requirements only covered the 100-year floodplain, or areas with a 1% chance of flooding in a given year.

The mitigation is in addition to any other requirements that may be enforced by local floodplain administrators, according to the Harris County Flood Control District.

The new rules will be effective until the Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps are updated, which mostly likely will not happen until 2021.

Some local entities have been pressuring the county to enact more stringent regulations in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated the Texas coast in August 2017. Officials with the Cypress Creek Cultural District, which runs along Cypresswood Drive in Spring, advocated for new development guidelines after Hurricane Harvey flooded several of its buildings, including the Barbara Bush Branch Library and The Centrum. HCFCD estimates that about 154,170 structures and 600,000 vehicles flooded during Harvey in Harris County alone.

“I’m very pleased that the county and flood control [district] are moving in the direction that they are,” said Jim Robertson, a board director on the Cypress Creek Flood Control Coalition, adding that the coalition has yet to take an official stance. “We know that the rainfall detail that we [were] using [was not] reflective of the current conditions, so including the Atlas-14 information and putting some interim regulations is certainly a move in the right direction.”

Cost concerns

In May, several Houston-area organizations penned a letter to Hidalgo urging commissioners court to delay adopting the new development regulations, requesting more time to review the rules as well as to consider development costs. Nine organizations signed in support, including the West Houston Association, American Council of Engineering Companies, the Greater Houston Builders Association, the Greater Houston Partnership and the Houston Association of Realtors, or HAR.

Following court approval, HAR board member Bill Baldwin said although there are increased costs associated with the new standards, HAR is supportive of having more flood-resilient housing in unincorporated Harris County.

“We at HAR are always concerned about affordability, and any change to building or development standards does have some bearing on the cost of building, which affects the price of homes,” Baldwin said in an email. “I think any new regulatory standard does inherently affect development costs, even in the short-term as development plans and models need revision. Of course, the requirement for increased detention has some hard costs associated with it tied to construction and land, and I think we will adjust to those.”

Houston Northwest Chamber of Commerce President Bobby Lieb said cost concerns were at the forefront in his discussions with local developers and realtors over the new regulations.

“We understand the need to further mitigate future flooding concerns … [but] the costs that will be incurred by development will outweigh the benefits,” Lieb said, adding these opinions were those of other stakeholders and are not necessarily reflective of his or the chamber’s. “It’s going to increase the cost of development.”

In September, the City of Houston rolled out similar rules for building in the 500-year floodplain, and costs have hit landowners and developers hard, said Tom Dosch, the principal and co-founder at Dosch Marshall Real Estate, a commercial real estate agency in Houston.

“With the new floodplain ordinance, it’s made it really difficult for developers … to build out of the floodplain,” he said.

Dosch said he has worked with properties that did not flood during Harvey, but because they were located in the 500-year floodplain, new standards required them to raise the development elevation anyway.

“Their site is devalued significantly, because if anyone wants to buy it for development, they have to raise it out of the 500-year floodplain,” he said.

The increased costs will affect housing in Harris County, which is already suffering an “affordable housing crisis,” said Soleil Watt, executive director for Habitat for Humanity Northwest Harris County, which builds affordable housing units.

“Whether you are trying to be an affordable housing developer or not, [the new regulations] are forcing your hand to spend more money in providing strategies to have flood mitigation, which really will drive up the costs, which in turn, is handed down to the consumer.”

Watt said she understands the need for flood mitigation but wishes there had been more time to discuss the regulations before they were adopted.

“It’s a fine line between finding a solution that will protect people in the event of another storm like Harvey, but also doing so where it does not have the domino effect that will impact our community and push it in the wrong direction,” she said.
By Eva Vigh
Eva Vigh joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2018 as a reporter for Spring and Klein. Prior to this position, she covered upstream oil and gas news for a drilling contractors' association.


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced in a June 30 State Board of Education meeting that students will be taking the STAAR in the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Pixabay)
Education organizations call for STAAR requirements to be waived another year

Gov. Greg Abbott waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, testing requirements in March of earlier this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With a clinical background in internal, pulmonary and critical care medicine, Corry has been with BCM for 20 years. He now focuses primarily on inflammatory lung diseases, such as asthma and smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. (Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. David Corry discusses immunity, vaccine production amid COVID-19 pandemic

Rapid development and distribution of a vaccine worldwide and successful achievement of herd immunity will be key players in determining the lifespan of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. David Corry, a professor of Medicine in the Immunology, Allergy and Rheumatology Section at Baylor College of Medicine.

The new partnership will provide on-site, same-day testing and results for assisted-living facility staff and their residents. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
State announces partnership for increased COVID-19 testing for patients, staff at assisted-living facilities, nursing homes

These test sites will help the state work toward the goal of processing up to 100,000 tests in the first month.

Texas Medical Center reports only 4% uptick in ICU bed use despite continued COVID-19 case increases

Compared to 1,350 total intensive care units in use June 30, Texas Medical Center has seen only a slight uptick in occupancies since then, with 1,394 reported July 9.

Coronavirus cases continue to rise in Harris County. (Community Impact Staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: 907 cases, 12 deaths confirmed July 9

The 12 deaths—the largest single day total in Harris County since the pandemic began—brings the total COVID-19 death count in the county to 423.

Firefighters, police officers, solid waste collectors and bus drivers in Houston have all been affected by coronavirus exposure. (Courtesy Pexel)
From solid waste collectors to firefighters, Houston’s public workers facing strain from coronavirus exposures

Houston’s core city services are being strained by coronavirus exposures, city leaders report.

The Texas Republican State Convention was set to be held July 16-18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. (Courtesy Visit Houston)
Two new lawsuits aim to reverse GOP convention cancellation

The lawsuits come the day after the contract for hosting the event was terminated.

Effective July 9, hospitals in more than 100 counties across the state must now postpone elective surgeries unrelated to COVID-19. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
MAP: Governor expands restrictions on elective surgeries to more than 100 Texas counties

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the restrictions that initially required only hospitals in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties to postpone all non-medically necessary surgeries and procedures that are unrelated to COVID-19.

July sales tax revenue in Bellaire is down during COVID-19, while West University Place sales tax figures remain strong. (Courtesy Pexels)
Comptroller’s office: July sales tax revenue up in West University Place, down in Bellaire

July sales tax revenue figures released July 8 by the Office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts shows that Bellaire’s sales tax revenue has slipped year over year, while West University Place's has seen an uptick.

All main lanes, both north and southbound, on I-610 West Loop at I-69 will be closed from 9 p.m. July 10 through 5 a.m. July 13. (Community Impact staff)
I-610 West Loop main lanes closed through weekend

All main lanes, both north and southbound, of the I-610 West Loop at the I-69 Southwest Freeway will be closed from 9 p.m. July 10 through 5 a.m. July 13.

In compliance with Gov. Greg Abbott's July 2 executive order, the University Interscholastic League is requiring the use of facial coverings when practical to do so for all summer activity participants, among other guidelines. (Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
UIL releases guidelines for conducting summer activities during COVID-19 pandemic

The University Interscholastic League released udpated guidelines for schools conducting summer activities such as sports training and marching band practices on July 8.

Craft Burger is one of 15 restaurants, catering companies and food trucks participating in this year's Black Restaurant Week. (Courtesy Craft Burger)
Houston's fifth annual Black Restaurant Week returns July 10-19

Participating patrons can play Black Restaurant Week Bingo and vote for their favorite participating eateries for a chance to win prizes such as restaurant gift cards, culinary treats and cash prizes.