Jacksonville Resiliency Committee Considers New Construction Standards

Apr 23, 2019

More than two months after its first meeting, members of Jacksonville’s Storm Resiliency and Infrastructure Development Review Committee are beginning to spend less time learning and listening and more time putting together proposals they think will help prepare the city for sea level rise and flooding.

During the first February 15 meeting, Storm Resiliency and Infrastructure Development Review Committee (SRAIDRC) chair Sam Mousa, asked his staff and representatives from all the regulatory agencies in attendance to put together presentations on rules and regulations surrounding new developments and how the retrofitting of existing infrastructure is handled.

Related: Mousa Retiring as Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer

Much of the four intervening meetings have been devoted to those presentations.

“I wasn't ready to jump in the water yet until I understood how deep the waters were, where the deep waters were, where the shallow waters were,” Mousa told WJCT. “It's just how I tackle anything - understand the issue before you start solving the issue.”

While no recommendations have been made to the City Council, the committee has begun discussing several possible proposals that members believe could help improve resiliency in Jacksonville.

See Also: Development, Retrofitting 1st Targets For New Jacksonville Resiliency Committee

One proposal the committee has discussed is the expansion of pre-development surveys to enhance the accuracy of bypassing off-site stormwater and to better determine the off-site lay of the land. Pre-development surveys, as the name suggests, are surveys of existing properties conducted before actual development begins.

“Prior to development, you need to actually get a survey crew out there and develop the lay of the land,” Mousa said. “You’ve got to determine which way the land slopes, if there are any obstructions to the storm water and how the storm water flows, because once you develop the property, the storm water needs to discharge in the same location as a discharge pre-development.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, stormwater runoff is generated from rain events that flow over land or impervious surfaces (like paved streets, parking lots and building rooftops) and doesn’t soak into the ground. That runoff picks up pollutants like trash, chemicals, oils, dirt and sediment; carrying them into water bodies.

Members have also discussed revising drainage design criteria and the management of drainage systems during construction. Drainage design criteria is a set of rules that a drainage engineer must adhere to when designing drainage systems for a subdivision.

“You design for a particular storm event and that storm event discharges an assumed amount of rainwater,” Mousa explained. “Based on the rainwater that drops on the subdivision, you must design your conveyance systems to handle that rainwater. Design criteria is what's used to determine the size of the pipes that you need, the number of inlets that you need and the size of the outfall.”

Amending the floodplain management ordinance is another option under consideration.

Jacksonville’s floodplain management ordinance, outlined in chapter 652 of the city charter, is a set of rules that apply to developments in any flood hazard area designed to protect people and minimize public and private losses due to flooding.

Committee members are also considering raising the minimum floor height of habitable structures in the floodplain from one to two feet. Historically, Jacksonville dwellings in the floodplain have been required to have the finished floor elevation (the top of the structural slab and its elevation above sea level) set one foot above the one hundred year floodplain.

Mousa said the committee is looking at changes recently made in Palm Coast.

“They have recently adopted an ordinance that requires the finished floor to be two feet above the set floodplain,” he said. “It's a means of staying ahead of the curve. Eventually, the floodplains are going to get higher so the committee decided to implement the two feet above floodplain.”

Members of the committee have also expressed interest in exploring ways to reduce the cost of FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP’s Community Rating System (CRS) credits community efforts beyond minimum standards by reducing flood insurance premiums for the community’s property owners. The discounts range from 5% up to 45%, based on a point system.

Mousa compared the process to lowering the cost of fire insurance.

“If you have sufficient fire station coverage, then your fire insurance is cheaper,” he said. “If you don't have sufficient fire coverage, if your fire station is too far away from your subdivision, or if you don't have enough fire hydrants nearby, then you pay more for fire insurance. One of our jobs in government is to minimize those costs to residents to improve our fire services.”

“The more that you can prevent your dwelling from flooding in a floodplain by setting the floor two foot higher than the floodplain rather than one foot higher than the floodplain, then yeah, you're bound to get a cheaper, more economical flood insurance premium,” he went on to say.

One big concern Mousa and other committee members have as they consider changes to rules and regulations is increasing the cost of building and developing in the city.

“There's got to be a balance between what you adopt, as far as regulations, compared to what the cost of construction is going to be. Because we all know the cost of construction is going to get passed on to the homebuyer,” he said. “We always want to protect the county. We want to protect the people from being flooded out. But we also need to protect them from being able to afford to buy a home. And so we're looking at all that very carefully and balancing out the cost.”

Mousa added there’s no doubt that the future cost of doing nothing now would vastly outweigh the upfront costs of proposals the committee is considering. He said people just need to get past the initial shock of that upfront cost.

The Public Works Department has been tasked with developing a conceptual draft outlining what the city can do to improve or harden existing infrastructure and prevent excessive flooding, but Mousa warned the committee won’t be able to resolve all of the flooding issues in Jacksonville.

“It’s just not going to happen,” he said, bluntly. “You can do a lot to minimize it. You can do a lot to ensure that future developments are free from flooding. But there's just been a lot of area in Jacksonville over the years that was built in the floodplain.”

“Those homes should have never been built in the floodplain, but they're there now,” he went on to say. “So we're doing what we can to minimize the flooding in those areas.”

Mousa said he’s happy with the progress the committee has made thus far and he’s confident their work will be done by the end of June - a deadline he set during the committee’s first meeting in February.

The SRAIDRC meets from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. every other Friday in the Mayor’s large conference room, suite 400, at City Hall, 117 W. Duval Street. Every meeting is open to the public and includes time for public comment. The next meeting is April 26.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.