Economy & Economic Development  February 11, 2011

Floodplain may rest on ‘no adverse impact’

FORT COLLINS – “No adverse impact” may be the answer.

But what does it really mean?

Fort Collins storm water management planners and city council members may be coming to a meeting of the minds on a new policy for guiding development in the Poudre River floodplain.

But landowners in the affected area remain concerned that a policy mandating no adverse impact on surrounding parcels could still prevent them from developing their property.

After spending months looking at three possible 100-year-flood floodplain development options – no change in current policy, no new development allowed at all or decreasing the allowed level of rise for floodwaters from 0.5 foot to 0.1 foot – a fourth option was added recently: No Adverse Impact.

But the concept is relatively new – first advocated around 2000 – and with a sketchy track record that’s unique to every community that’s used it.

Last summer, Fort Collins floodplain managers and the city’s water board recommended the city adopt a policy that would not allow new development in the 100-year floodway. The rationale was to prohibit development that could result in property destroyed and lives endangered in the event of a large flood event.

But landowners in the 100-year floodway protested a blanket policy of no development, citing lost value on property they want to develop in the future.

The new policy would affect an estimated 50 to 70 properties along the Poudre River, according to the city. A study released by Economic and Planning Systems in January showed that a policy of no new floodplain development would reduce the maximum development potential for affected parcels by about 50 percent, resulting in a total economic impact of about $645 million annually, with up to 3,760 potential jobs and $2.5 million in tax revenue lost.

A huge concern

Greg Woods, a spokesman for the North Fort Collins Business Association, said the association of businesses along North College Avenue is worried that the proposed NAI policy now embraced by city staff will impede development along much of the area north of the Poudre River.

“There will always be an adverse impact no matter what you do,” Woods said. “This is a huge, huge concern for us.”

Woods noted that the city has spent millions to prepare the area for redevelopment and created the North College Urban Renewal Area to assist projects, such as the North College Marketplace now under construction at College Avenue and Willox Lane.

“It could result in millions and millions of dollars in lost opportunity for the URA,” he said. “The bottom line is it’s not the city’s money, and that is just a waste.”

Rich Shannon, a real estate consultant who’s been representing landowners who own Link ‘N Greens golf course along the Poudre, said not enough is understood about No Adverse Impact to make it a better solution than simply banning development.

“Right now the perception is No Adverse Impact could be just as restrictive or more so than no development,” he said. “It sounds nice, but we don’t know what it means.”

Shannon and Woods are both on a “working team” of interested parties helping to advise the city on the possible adoption of a new floodplain management policy. Jon Haukass, city water utilities engineer, said the working team has been providing “some really good feedback” on a mutually agreeable solution.

“The input we’re getting from the working group is really making it better and helping us to get to a workable solution,” he said.

Haukass said one criticism of the new proposed option – that it appeared only in the last several weeks and not enough is known about it to get community support – has been heeded. A first city council vote on the floodplain policy planned for Feb. 14 has been moved to March 1, and a Feb. 22 work session has been scheduled for staff to give the council a full background presentation on NAI.

Property rights principle

No Adverse Impact is a floodplain development principle that’s been adopted by the national Association of State Floodplain Managers. Larry Larson, ASFPM executive director, said AFI is designed to allow development but only if it can be shown that a development proposal won’t negatively harm others in the floodplain.

“It’s an effort to let communities understand that you can look at one development at a time but what is the impact on the whole floodway,” he said.

Larson said the NAI principle is about protecting communities and the property rights of landowners. “It’s a property rights question, and we strongly support property rights – especially those in the floodway downstream,” he said.

Larson said with proper mitigation, development can still move forward under NAI. “Development can be done in a manner that everybody wins, and this is what this is all about.”

ASFPM’s website, www.floods.org, lists several cities and counties across the nation that have adopted NAI-style development regulations, including Tulsa, Milwaukee, Austin, Portland, Ore., and Maricopa County, Ariz. Fort Collins is listed in a 2004 “case studies” report that praises the city’s fairly rigid floodplain regulations.

City Councilman Ben Manvel said the council needs more information on NAI to get behind it. “It’s more mysterious than some things we’ve looked at and new to most people,” he said.

And Manvel noted that the concept – requiring property owners to do hydraulic modeling to demonstrate their proposed project’s possible impacts – could be too expensive for some small property owners.

“It sounds great, that you aren’t allowed to hurt your neighbor,” he said. “But exactly whether that’s feasible for small properties – raising their engineering costs on projects that probably have very little impact anyway – I don’t know.”

Manvel said the council has backed off a fast-track schedule to get the city’s new floodplain management policy adopted before the next city election in April. But that’s still the goal, he said, and could likely mean some kind of NAI policy being passed.

“I think given what’s been happening, we’ll probably do some version of no adverse impact,” he said.

However, a working group of engineers, property owners, developers and water experts tasked with finding ways to implement NAI completed a series of three meetings on Feb. 7 without reaching a consensus.

According to Shannon, a member of the group, the general feeling was that the proprosed criteria and process are confusing, inflexible and need more work before going to city council for approval. Committee members had serious concerns about a number of issues, he said, especially about unintended consequences of rushing the proposal through without further analysis of the need for changes to the current regulation.

FORT COLLINS – “No adverse impact” may be the answer.

But what does it really mean?

Fort Collins storm water management planners and city council members may be coming to a meeting of the minds on a new policy for guiding development in the Poudre River floodplain.

But landowners in the affected area remain concerned that a policy mandating no adverse impact on surrounding parcels could still prevent them from developing their property.

After spending months looking at three possible 100-year-flood floodplain development options – no change in current policy, no new development allowed at all or decreasing the allowed level of rise…

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