Coastal protections or high-density growth? Bradenton plans for a balance
As Hurricane Florence ravages the Carolinas, Bradenton officials appear more worried about a relatively new law they say could limit future development along the Manatee River and other waterways.
Bradenton officials have made no secret about their long-term development goals along the Manatee River. The hope is to one day change the skyline with high-density development.
The city wants more residents in downtown and along the riverfront to attract more businesses., whether they in live high rises along the water or in apartment/townhouse complexes.
However, the Flood Peril Act adopted by state lawmakers in 2015 could make that more difficult.
Every seven years cities must review and amend comprehensive plans to fall in line with new state statutes. It’s Bradenton’s turn and they must address the 2015 law by updating its high coastal hazard map, which identifies properties that are prone to significant flooding during storms. The new law now takes into account sea level rise predictions.
The review could lead to new development and redevelopment policies that reduce the risk of flood losses. That could include revising building codes to take into account street elevations, the height of seawalls and how to keep rising tides out of the stormwater system.
The Flood Peril Act stemmed from predicted rises in sea levels that some attribute to climate change. With sea levels rising, the potential for future storm damage can grow in severity.
Florida wants development on coastal properties done right, but Glenn Compton, chairman of the environmental group Manasota-88, says the city has already gone too far.
“The importance of this is such that the city of Bradenton does not meet the requirements that everybody faces in increased insurance rates,” Compton said. “Apparently they haven’t followed much of the recommendations from the state of Florida in the past and all you have to do is look at the development allowed in the existing high coastal hazard area to see that.”
The Sea, Lake, Overland Surges from Hurricanes, or SLOSH map, the city voted to transmit to the state on Wednesday covers about 6,000 parcels along the Manatee River and virtually all of Perico Island. The number of parcels in the high coastal hazard zone didn’t increase by much, but the rules are changing to ensure flood risks are reduced and enhance property owners’ ability to acquire flood insurance.
“It takes the properties out of the area that we want to see more density, which is one of our goals in creating high density in a walkable environment,” said Councilman Bemis Smith.
Catherine Hartley, director of planning and community development agreed, noting, “From a policy perspective, we are prohibiting an increase in density to the area.”
The law doesn’t necessarily address density, Compton said, noting that each community will amend their comprehensive plans differently. What will change is the expense of developing in a high coastal hazard area to ensure flood-resistant developments are insurable.
What the law requires is for cities to develop a coastal management plan, “to eliminate inappropriate and unsafe development in the coastal areas when opportunities arise.”
That includes encouraging the use of best practices, strategies and engineering solutions to reduce losses due to flooding and, at a very minimum, be consistent with flood-resistant construction requirements.
The city wants more time to delve into what changes may need to take place while striking a balance between new requirements and development goals in the area before adopting the updated map.
Hartley has said previously that one requirement for new development will be increasing the elevation of foundations by one foot. As of now, Smith said just building a project well above the required flood zone won’t be enough.
“So what they are saying is this will always be single-family homes,” Smith said. “This takes out a big chunk of riverfront property and these properties haven’t flooded since the storm in the 1920s.”
Smith said if the state is going to enact new requirements, it should take some time to address existing issues.
“All this does is put more restrictions on and doesn’t do anything else to address our current problems,” he said.
Hartley said most of the city would feel no impact of the new requirements since only a small portion is in the high coastal hazard zone.
“To the general public, there are no new changes,” Hartley said.
The city has 180 days from the transmittal of the updated map to approve a required ordinance adopting the map with a coastal management plan. Officials indicated they would use that time to work on what that plan may look like while maintaining their riverfront development goals.