Real Estate & Construction  September 10, 2010

Floodplain change concerns property owners

FORT COLLINS – A recommendation by city staff and the city’s water board to prohibit new development in the Poudre River 100-year floodplain has property owners worried that such a policy would devalue their land without compensation.

That’s especially true in the North College Urban Renewal Area, where the city has invested millions to help landowners develop a long-neglected area that’s just starting to make some headway.

Greg Woods, a spokesman for the North Fort Collins Business Association, said the potential change in floodplain policy is causing a high level of concern among members.

“The North Fort Collins Business Association is extremely concerned about the effects this could have,” Woods said. “No. 1, it’s kind of like comparing it to eminent domain but with no payback to property owners. You can’t expand your building at all.

“From the river north (along College Avenue) about one-third mile, you wouldn’t be able to build anything new or expand any of those businesses. We’re finally making some progress and this would be a significant step backward,” he added.

The proposal would affect an estimated 50 to 70 properties along the river, according to the city.

City stormwater staff recommended the change in current policy, which allows some development in the floodplain, to the city’s water board on Aug. 19. The change is aimed at helping to reduce losses to life and property in the event of a 100-year flood.

The water board voted 5-to-2 to accept the staff recommendation and send it to city council. “Our charge as a board is to minimize damage to our community,´ said Gina Janett, water board chairwoman. “For me, this is about the protection of public health, safety and property.”

Janett said she knew the policy change, if adopted, could have negative impacts on property owners in the floodplain.

“It’s a loss to someone who wants to make the highest economic use of that property,” she said. “But if you fill in a floodway it affects someone else’s property and public infrastructure. The cost to the community can be very large, so it’s a balancing act.”

The city already has the strictest floodplain development policy in the state and one of the strictest in the nation. But changes in municipal flood control policy in recent years have tended toward reducing to the maximum extent any potential impact of flooding in developed areas, according to Jon Haukass, city water utilities engineer. That guided city staff’s recommendation, he explained.

“It was based on a review of what are our regulations: Are they right and do they provide enough protection?” he said. “We looked at what is the best way to prevent flooding of people and property along the river.”

Haukass said continuing to allow development in the floodplain creates potential harm. “Any new construction in the floodplain creates an area of blockage that pushes the water up.”

Unreasonable action

Rich Shannon, a consultant representing landowners along the Poudre River who own Link-N-Greens golf course, said the proposed change is unreasonable.

“How much is reasonable regulation when you’re trying to protect against a problem that has less than a 1 percent chance of happening?” Shannon said. “There will be millions of dollars of private property value wiped off, and some will lose all of its value.”

Shannon said the change would amount to a government taking of property without compensation to affected property owners. “It would be the equivalent of a backdoor to eminent domain,” he said.

Shannon said he wondered if there might be another motive for the change, suggesting that it could be influenced by a desire to limit development along the river.

“This could be a legitimate debate about community values,” he said. “But the city has already addressed that with a 200-foot buffer rule. If that’s what this is about, then let’s have that open and honest discussion.”

Shannon said he understands the argument that development in the floodplain causes water to have to go somewhere.

“But our regulations have dealt with that for decades,” he said. “Developers have had to show city engineers where that water is going to go. I don’t think the city has compelling data to show this is a real problem.”

Other damaging effects

In addition to the lost development value the proposed change would likely cause, opponents point out that it could have other damaging effects.

A big portion of the Poudre River floodplain in north Fort Collins is in the Downtown Development Authority boundary from Vine Drive on the north to the Oxbow property on the river at Linden Street east of Riverside Avenue. If those properties lost a portion of their development value, that could affect the ability of the DDA to finance downtown development projects in the future.

“The potential is there,´ said Matt Robenalt, DDA director. “But given what is being presented to us as all of the options, it’s difficult to say how it will affect tax increment financing.”

The city has proposed three possible options: Raising the floodway by 0.1 foot but still permitting development in the flood fringe just outside the floodway; prohibiting all development in the floodplain; and doing nothing to change existing regulations.

Robenalt said the DDA board has taken no formal position on the floodplain recommendation and was waiting to hear a presentation by city staff on Sept. 9, after the Business Report went to press.

Another potential impact of prohibiting development in the floodplain would be seen in the North College URA. Woods said even though only a portion of the properties in the URA would be directly affected, all would be indirectly affected due to reduced overall value of the URA when it comes to leveraging tax-increment financing for new development in the area.

“It affects all of them in the URA,” he said. “All of the TIF increases would be decreased significantly if they pull this land out of the developable land inventory.”

Christina Vincent, city staff planner for the URA, agrees. “It is a possibility,” she said. “If (land) becomes no longer developable, the market value decreases and it wouldn’t allow us to collect as much TIF.”

Haukass said property owners seem to be overreacting to the proposed recommendation. “This just says no new structures can be built,” he said. “It doesn’t say you can’t develop at all. You can still do parking lots, stormwater facilities, trails – just not buildings.

“And it won’t affect existing structures,” he added. “A building that’s there won’t be torn down and it can be renovated as long as it’s in the exact same footprint.”

Haukass said the city council has requested more information and community outreach efforts before it takes a vote on the floodplain recommendation, now set for Dec. 21.

“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the city council to balance all of these interests,” he said.

Shannon said he’s hopeful that council will make the right decision. “I’m optimistic they will reach a solution that is fair to all parties,” he said.

FORT COLLINS – A recommendation by city staff and the city’s water board to prohibit new development in the Poudre River 100-year floodplain has property owners worried that such a policy would devalue their land without compensation.

That’s especially true in the North College Urban Renewal Area, where the city has invested millions to help landowners develop a long-neglected area that’s just starting to make some headway.

Greg Woods, a spokesman for the North Fort Collins Business Association, said the potential change in floodplain policy is causing a high level of concern among members.

“The North Fort Collins Business…

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