City of Brentwood updates home elevation codes

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When Mary Hesselrode and her family moved to Brentwood in 2015, they knew their home had flooded in the 2010 Nashville flood, which brought as much as 13 inches of rain to the Greater Nashville area and flooded thousands of homes and

businesses, according to historical flood data.

However, she said she was not aware that her home had flooded in other years, multiple times.

“At the time we purchased our home, we were told that our home only flooded in 2010, [and] most of Nashville flooded in 2010,” she said. “So, we didn’t think much of it. That was documented. We were like, ‘Okay, we got flood insurance.’ Flood insurance at the time seemed reasonable.”

Six months after they moved into their new home, the Hesselrodes got a letter from the Federal Emergency Management Agency stating their home had flooded on six previous occasions.

“Because of that, we were put into a category of what is called a ‘repetitive loss,’ and so when you’re a repetitive loss, your insurance goes up significantly, and that’s what occurred to us,” Hesselrode said.

Hesselrode said their annual flood insurance increased by about $2,000 and has risen each year since.

“We have been told by FEMA that it will go up 7%-10% every year unless we mitigate, and ‘mitigate,’ just, obviously, is a fancy word for correcting the problem,” she said.

City codes

After looking into buyouts from FEMA with no results, Hesselrode and a handful of other residents went to the Brentwood City Commission this past summer in hopes that the city might be able to help.

To mitigate future flooding, homes in the area would need to be elevated. However, prior to October, the city of Brentwood did not allow residents to raise their homes high enough to lower flood insurance rates. On Oct. 28, the city of Brentwood formally approved an amendment to the city’s building codes, allowing homeowners to raise their homes up to 7.5 feet above the ground, more than two feet higher than the previous maximum of 5 feet, according to the city.

According to background information for the amended code, the previous maximum height of five feet for elevations was established to prevent parts of a home below the flood line from being used for living space.

The city’s code, along with recommendations from FEMA, also requires homes that are elevated to be raised a minimum of two feet above the FEMA-designated flood line, which can vary by home, according to the city. That stipulation was also in the previous version of the city code.

City Manager Kirk Bednar said one of the reasons homeowners are seeing such a sharp increase in their flood insurance premiums is because the federal government is no longer providing funding to help lower insurance costs for homeowners.

“In the last few years ... the federal government has been phasing out whatever subsidies it’s been providing relative to flood insurance,” Bednar said. “So, the flood insurance costs are rising dramatically because of that lack of a subsidy. That’s putting the pressure on some of the homeowners here in town—and really, everywhere that that applies—to look ... at getting out of the floodway and the floodway fringe.”

Brentwood residents are not the only ones in these areas calling for homes to be raised. Earlier this year, 35 homes along the Harpeth River in Franklin qualified to be raised 3 feet above the flood line following a years-long study from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Although the area has not seen flooding events like the one in 2010 in recent years, historic flood data from FEMA shows Williamson County sees—on average—at least one flood event each year.

Floodway options

One significant change to the city of Brentwood’s codes relates to homes located inside the floodway—an area near a body of water—Bednar said. Previously, under the old codes, Brentwood homes located in a floodway could not be raised at all for fear of causing other homes in the area to flood as a result. However, under the new codes, homeowners living in the floodway can raise their homes to the maximum elevation of 7.5 feet, but only if they can have an engineer confirm that it will not negatively affect nearby homeowners.

“The extra condition here for floodways is a standard condition in that they would have to do an engineering study to prove a ‘no-rise’ certificate, meaning that whatever the work is going to do would cause no rise in the overall flood levels throughout the community,” he said. “That’s an extra condition for any work in the floodway.”

Additionally, the city code says homes that need to be raised more than 7.5 feet to be above the flood lines can be raised higher, so long as they are raised on piers on the back and sides of the home, with a solid wall with flood vents on the front facade, according to the city. “That would apply also in the floodway with that same no-rise certificate,” Bednar said. “Essentially, what this does is it provides some extra options for homeowners in the floodway and the floodway fringe on elevating their homes.”

City officials said while the change of the codes took weeks of planning on the city’s part—and getting approval from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency—they were glad to give homeowners another option for mitigation.

“It’s a lot of work—that’s the part of government you don’t see,” Vice Mayor Ken Travis said. “You think, ‘Oh, we’ll just raise it two feet.’ But there’s a whole lot of work that went into that.”

For homeowners like Hesselrode, getting the city codes changed is just one step on the road for residents hoping to mitigate future flooding and get their rates lowered, but she said she is glad to have made some progress. She said while home elevation can be expensive for residents, the savings in flood insurance rates can help to offset costs over time.

“The main point is homeowners now have an option, which, before, they did not,” Hesselrode said. “Obviously, there are risks that go along with elevations, but at least it’s an option. Before we had that as an option, we were just going to continuously increase our flood insurance 7%- 10% every year.”
By Wendy Sturges

A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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