More than 100 homes could be moved out of Mill Valley’s flood zone as the Federal Emergency Management Agency uses updated information from the Stetson Engineering study to create the city’s first official regulatory floodway.
“We really haven’t had any new data since our original map in 1979,” Mill Valley Associate Planner Amber El-Hajj told the City Council Monday night.
The revision also means potential changes to homeowner’s flood insurance, and the public will get a look at the plan during FEMA’s first community meeting on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. in the Mill Valley Community Center.
A FEMA flood insurance agent will be on hand to answer questions, followed by a general question and answer period and break-out sessions where people can talk about their specific properties. You can also visit the FEMA website.
The city sent notices about the meeting to approximately 1,500 people who are currently in the floodplain, or who will go into the floodplain with the revised maps. The draft maps are scheduled to be finalized in the summer of 2013, and will go into effect in the spring of 2014. The appeal period for public comment will be between January and May 2013.
With a history of overflows at Arroyo Corte Madera del Presidio, Warner Canyon Creed and Old Mill Creek, flooding has occurred along Miller Ave, the downtown area, and the Sycamore Triangle area, according to El-Hajj’s presentation. In December 2005 and April 2006, Miller Ave. near the Montford and La Goma area, and Sycamore Triangle saw a significant amount of water.
With more precise data, FEMA has a better understanding of flooding in Mill Valley, and are able to determine which areas will be impacted in the regulatory floodway, El-Hajj said.
“From what I’ve seen, there will be a lot more people coming out of the floodplain than the ones that are going into it,” El-Hajj said. “It’s kind of a positive for a lot of people.”
She estimates about 100 will come out.
But for property owners with homes that are located in the floodplain, any changes – from growing a garden to building an addition – will become more regimented. Essentially, it will be much easier to build up rather than out, because any new construction on the ground level will affect the water flow.
“It does make it more restrictive,” El-Hajj said. “We’ve accepted that. When it first came to use we were a little shocked we were going to have to deliver this message.”
As it stands, it looks like it would require an engineering report to do anything, Mayor Garry Lion said. But the city plans to create development standards that will include permanent structures like fences, walls, and landscaping along with larger construction projects.
“It’s not that you can’t build anything,” El-Hajj said. “It’s just that you have to build it the correct way.”
In anticipation of FEMA’s map revision, the city also approved an ordinance to delete a redundant creek setback requirement from its Chapter 18 Flood Plain Management code.
“There’s no change to the development standards,” El-Hajj said. “We haven’t changed the way we do anything, we just clarified it more. “
Barbara Ford and Betsy Bikle, two members of the Mill Valley StreamKeepers but not speaking on behalf of the organization, urged the City Council to keep the 30-foot setback and to think about how flood control also impacts wildlife, such as fish habitats. Updates to the Mill Valley General Plan will hopefully address those issues, councilmembers said.
In terms of the exact areas that will be affected by FEMA’s revised map, the current version on file is difficult to read, inciting questions like, "What’s that little square with the four circles on it? Do we have a building that looks like that?" from the City Council.
Detailed maps will be available at the Oct. 11 meeting, and people will be able to identify property lines, streets and landmarks.
“I just think the 11th is really important for anyone who lives in this area,” Councilor Shawn Marshall said.
IF YOU GO:
- What: Community meeting with FEMA about updated flood maps that will contain a new regulatory floodway and potentially impact homeowners' development restrictions and flood insurance.
- When: Thursday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.
- Where: Mill Valley Community Center, Cascade Room
- More info: View the FEMA study
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