FEMA flood plain maps not approved by city plan commission
At this afternoon’s City Plan Commission meeting, one of the major discussion items were the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood insurance rate maps. The homes that are affected are located in the Strawberry Creek and Leona’s Rolling Meadows subdivisions, on the western end of the city of Kenosha. Mayor Keith Bosman opened the meeting saying that they are trying to get FEMA to understand that the maps are incorrect, and that they wanted to defer the four related items for two weeks while they continued to work with FEMA. Bosman said that a presentation would be made tonight summarizing the key issues, followed by a public hearing. Another public hearing would then be held in two weeks, on May 24th.
Rich Schroeder, from the department of community development and inspections, gave the presentation. The current FEMA maps are dated 1996. Nationwide, on a rotating basis, all maps are being updated, including those for Kenosha County. This has been in the works since 2004. From the Flood Insurance Agency’s website, “When FEMA revises and changes a flood map, lenders are federally mandated to require their borrowers whose property is located in the newly defined special flood hazard area to purchase insurance, or the lender must purchase insurance and charge the borrower for the premium.” The city’s concerns are that FEMA is using pre-development data for the two subdivisions. They believe that they are not in the flood plain, and that the maps should be depicting where the actual flood areas are.
Schroeder stated that they were hoping to resolve the issue with FEMA this week. The city found out on December 19, 2011, that the final maps were finished, and that they would be adopted six months later (on June 19, 2012). If the city does not adopt the maps, they will be suspended from the flood insurance program. They will not be able to get insurance or funding. Other potential impacts are emergency disaster funding, storm water utility improvements, flood improvements, and future grants.
“Over the next two weeks,” Schroeder said, “the city hopes to meet with FEMA and secure an extension, and amend the maps to accurately reflect the areas involved. If we are unable to do this, then we would come back to the City Plan Commission for further direction.”
FEMA provided informational handouts on the cost of the flood insurance which anyone can purchase. (A homeowner does not have to be in the flood plain to purchase this insurance.) The preferred risk policy handout showed that, for a home with a basement valued at $250,000, with $100,000 worth of contents, the annual premium for the first two years would be $405. Residents wanted to know what the cost would be after the first two years at the discounted rate.
Several people spoke during the public hearing. Alderperson David Bogdala urged the commission not to defer the issue, not to “string these people out for two more weeks, to worry about this issue.” He instead urged the commission to not approve the maps as they are. “We knew back in 2007 that these changes were coming. Staff attended a public hearing that FEMA held. They protested, which was the right thing to do. Then, it fell into an abyss until December 19th. The Common Council didn’t hear about it until April 8th. Five months later, letters went out to the impacted homeowners. I contacted city staff. Congressman Ryan was here for a listening session last Thursday. I talked to him before he left. Thanks to Attorney Michael McTiernan, for his help. We met this past Tuesday to try to extend the June 19th date. An e-mail I saw today from the city attorney’s office concerned me because it gave me a flavor for where it may end up. The e-mail said that only an additional 55 properties are affected, that only 36 properties have homeowners. I’m skeptical reading that. If it’s not fixed, they will approve the maps, which will force these people to buy flood insurance. These properties will then have a ‘stigma’ that they are in the flood plain, when actually they are not. I believe the better part of valor would be not to approve the maps, and to try to get the extension approved. Ryan, the DNR, and Sewer Pack are on our side. We just can’t allow this to take place. It’s an absolute travesty if we allow it to happen. I’m not 100% confident that the deadline can be met. I urge the commission to reject the maps presented, have staff submit maps, and work with Ryan’s office. If your house was one that was affected, and you knew that you would be approving maps that are wrong, would you still approve it? I believe the answer would be no.”
Each of the property owners affected received a letter from the city’s department of community development and inspections dated April 4, 2012. Schroeder said that final Kenosha County hard copy maps were not available until February.
McTiernan then spoke on behalf of his client, the developer. He stated that he’s been representing Strawberry Creek since 1997, the inception of the development. He’s been working with the client’s engineers on this issue. “We’ve been working with Bristol, Kenosha County, the Department of Planning, George Melcher’s office, the DNR, Sewer Pack. The county has restricted our property. Strawberry Creek has a restricted covenant. From the start, we’ve worked to eliminate the flood plain in these areas so as not to have a problem. The letter from the staff went to 39 properties, 17 of which are vacant lots. The rest are family-occupied. We’re hopeful that Ryan’s office can influence FEMA. A class 2 notice had been published in the Kenosha News back in 2007. But, Strawberry Creek didn’t know that the maps had changed. They had 90 days to object back then, and they did not object. I hope that the city can convince FEMA to adopt maps that are correct.”
About 35 people were in the audience. Residents who spoke included Stephen Rutherford, Gail Greyhuff, Kyle DeWitt, Mario del Rio, Randy Ehlert, and Gary Justin. These people’s homes are impacted by this decision. “With our homes being devalued 40%, it’s unrealistic to think that we can afford to pay $3,000 a year after the first two years for flood insurance. I’m frustrated and infuriated that it has taken eight months to get to this meeting,” said Rutherford. Greyhuff said that she thought “there were a lot of drops here.” DeWitt said, “You, as my reps, need to remedy this situation. The maps need correction. We don’t deserve to have to deal with this. You need to protect us in this matter.” Ehlert said that he and his wife moved here from Milwaukee back in 2005. “We were able to put enough of a down payment that we didn’t require private mortgage insurance (PMI). This will put us backwards. Incorrect maps are not fair. Do the right thing. This will put all of Leona Rolling Meadows backwards where we don’t belong.”
The commission then debated the ramifications of denying (not approving) the maps vs. deferring the issue for two weeks. It was felt that a denial would give further weight to the city’s case that they believe the maps are wrong. The roll call vote was 6 to 2 to deny the four related agenda items. Alderperson Anthony Kennedy and Jessica Olson were the two voting against the denial.
Kennedy wanted the staff to know that his vote against the denial did in no way show that he supported FEMA’s maps. The denial will give the city more time to work with FEMA and Ryan’s office. Bogdala stated that the letter that staff sent just got to Ryan’s office at noon today. LaBahn said that, if any headway can be made, a special meeting of this commission could be called before the next Common Council meeting on May 21st, since this commission doesn’t meet again until May 24th.