City of Houston Adopts New Floodplain Ordinance (Chapter 19)

In response to the devastating flooding experienced during Hurricane Harvey, the City of Houston and Harris County began the process of drafting revisions to the floodplain development regulations with the main objective of reducing the risk of flood losses for future development projects. The new regulations require new structures (and/or significant improvements to structures) located in the special flood hazard area to be elevated above the 500-year flood level instead of the 100-year flood level as required under the previous regulations. In addition, foundation type requirements have been imposed for buildings proposed in the 100-year floodplain.

The new Harris County regulations were unanimously approved on December 5, 2017 and became effective January 1, 2018. For new development in the 100-year floodplain the new regulations require the lowest habitable floor to be elevated 24 inches above the 500-year flood elevation. Under the old county regulations buildings had to be 18 inches above the 100-year flood elevation.

Slab on grade construction is no longer allowed under the new Harris County regulations. Pier and beam foundation is required for all buildings located in the 100-year floodplain. This will maintain an open area below the lowest floor, allowing for the flow of floodwater beneath the building. Construction projects within the 100-year floodplain requiring slab on grade must obtain a FEMA Letter of Map Revision prior to submitting for permit.

The City of Houston began the process of drafting revisions to the floodplain ordinance otherwise known as Chapter 19 Code of Ordinance. On April 4, 2018 the City Council voted to adopt amendments to the ordinance which will impose more stringent criteria on development in the floodplain. The new Chapter 19 will become effective September 1, 2018. A final draft of the new ordinance has not yet been published.

The most significant changes proposed to Chapter 19 include, increasing the flood-protection elevation requirement for new structures (and/or significant improvement to structures) located in the special flood hazard area from 12 inches above the 100-year flood elevation to 24 inches above the 500-year flood elevation. The new regulations will also require the mitigation of fill placed in the 500-year floodplain which was previously only required for the 100-year floodplain..

The new regulations pose unique challenges for floodplain development which will impact site design and permitting timelines. WGA is dedicated to informing our clients of the new regulations for floodplain development in the post-Harvey era.

The new Chapter 19 will become effective September 1, 2018. A final draft of the new ordinance has not yet been published. However, based on our understanding of the proposed draft which was submitted to the City Council, we understand some of the major changes to include the following:

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