As large numbers of homes are being raised, how should municipalities regulate the development and character of their communities?
The City of Slidell, on the northeastern shore of Lake Ponchartrain, is vulnerable to the impacts of tropical storms from multiple directions. With Lake Borgne and the Gulf of Mexico directly southeast of the city, the Pearl River, which is prone to flooding nearby, local coastal wetlands being degraded, and sea levels rising, the immediate risks to Slidell are clear. Hurricane Katrina hit Slidell on August 29, 2005, damaging or completely destroying nearly 70% of properties in the city. The need to better prepare the city, the residents, and the businesses of Slidell was clear.
In the winter of 2008 the City adopted the Slidell Tomorrow Master Plan, a set of policies regarding future land uses and roadways, annexation, and strategies for unique areas of the City, such as Olde Towne and the Fremaux corridor. The Plan identified the following priorities: sidewalk connectivity, property maintenance, traffic, flooding, land use conflicts, stronger development regulations, and commercial building aesthetics. To ensure that the goals of the Slidell Tomorrow Master Plan are enacted, the City of Slidell considered appropriate policies, ordinances, and codes for accomplishing those goals within the local context. In 2011 the city developed a Strategic Assessment and Annotated Outline to achieve that goal. One set of needs specifically identified in that assessment was the lack of direction, regulation, or compliance with local codes facing homeowners planning to raise homes in the floodplain with the assistance of FEMA Hazard Mitigation funds. By late 2011, much of the post-Katrina repair work and many of the FEMA funded development projects, such as a new municipal auditorium, were being completed. Yet many homeowners eligible to receive funding to raise their homes out of the floodplain, had not applied or started their projects. The city was concerned about regulating these new and raised homes – in terms of both structure and character – as well as dealing with anticipated widespread variance requests. In response, Slidell applied for and received funding through the Community Resiliency Pilot Program to amend sections of their Code of Ordinances to address these specific issues.
RESILIENCE PLANNING IN ACTION
The environmental risks to residents and property owners in Slidell, particularly from flooding, are clear. This amendment to the code of ordinances addresses these risks as homeowners look to raise their new or existing homes, at multiple scales and levels of detail.
- Regulations and requirements are provided for how homes should be raised and/or floodproofed.
- Specific requirements for enclosing raised foundations are presented, explained, and diagramed.
- Break-away walls, enclosing raised foundations, must either be attached to the residence or heavy enough to ensure they will sink, to limit water-borne debris.
Given the fundamental change to development of homes and properties and Slidell, there was considerable concern over changes to the character of the community. This amendment to the Code of Ordinances addresses a number of specific technical concerns as well as ensuring continued development in a consistent architectural and stylistic character. In addition, the benefits to resilience from this ordinance amendment relate to the clarity, transparency of this document and how it will facilitate the permitting process for city administrators, residents, and developers alike.
- Use of materials, siting of entrances, height lines, etc. are all detailed to ensure a very cohesive character
- The clarity of explanations and wide-spread use of images and diagrams throughout this Amendments to the Ordinance provide clarity for specific regulations and requirements.
- Common requests for variance due to noncompliance of newly raised structures with local building codes are addressed in the amendment. One typical issue is stairs to raised entrances encroaching on required setbacks. A set of guidelines are provided, that, if adhered to and approved by the planning staff, do not require the homeowner to apply for a variance.
Implementation of the March 2013 Amendment to the Code of Ordinances will help the city address its concerns over regulation and character of raised homes throughout the community. Additional next steps will include other actions to ensure the realization of the goals of the 2008 Slidell Tomorrow Master Plan and in response to the 2011 Strategic Assessment and Annotated Outline.