Councilman proposes banning all new development in floodplains

Thursday, May 27, 2010 at 11:45pm

A bill ready to go before the Metro Council on first reading next week would prohibit future residential development inside Nashville’s entire floodplain, a policy that would significantly alter the way the city builds.

Already, a handful of council members have rallied around the ordinance, but the proposal is bound to face fierce opposition from the development community. Meanwhile, Mayor Karl Dean has suggested more consideration is needed before adopting a new policy for floodplain development.

The bill’s sponsor, Old Hickory Councilman Darren Jernigan, said he decided to file the ordinance after looking into the eyes of hundreds of his constituents whose Waterford subdivision homes were ruined by Nashville’s flood. He said floodwater affected 85 percent of the neighborhood.

The goal, he said, is to make sure that “it doesn’t ever happen again to other people.” If approved, his bill would effectively outlaw future neighborhoods like Waterford from being built, prohibiting the construction of all homes inside Nashville’s 100-year floodplain.

Currently, according to Jernigan, Metro limits residential development on 50 percent of the city’s floodplain, a law spearheaded by Councilman Bruce Stanley several years ago. “My bill would be 100 percent of all floodplains,” Jernigan said.

The bill is likely to be amended at some point, however. Jernigan said he plans to add a clause for development-property transfer rights that would apply to people who already own land in floodplains. With the clause, they could sell their land to other developers, who would receive vouchers from the government. Metro would assume control of the flood-prone property.

As of last week, Metro officials had identified more than 530 damaged structures within Nashville’s floodway, and another 2,500 damaged structures outside the floodway, but within the city’s 100-year floodplain.

Co-sponsoring the bill is Councilman Mike Jameson. Jernigan said other council supporters include Duane Dominy, Emily Evans and Jason Holleman, among others.

The mayor’s office — along with federal and state officials — is currently overseeing an aggressive home buyout plan, a program targeting, above all, severely damaged houses inside the city’s floodway, a designated area where homes are most susceptible to future flooding.

Asked for his thoughts on Jernigan’s bill, Dean said he would like to take sufficient time to consider ways to protect homes against flooding, but indicated Metro will likely alter its policy in some way.

“I have a ton of respect for Darren. He’s a good friend of mine,” Dean said. “But in terms of saying this is how development should go forth in Nashville in the future, this is what we need to build in terms of other flood protection, I’m going to want to take my time and think about that and make sure we come up with the right decision.”

Dean added that there will definitely “be a reaction” to the flood in regards to future development. “We’re not going to continue doing everything the same way after this flood is over,” he said.

Holleman said Jernigan’s bill requires some work, but called it a “good starting point” for discussion. He said the current policy, which prohibits residential development on 50 percent of the floodplain, was a compromise, adding now is the time to see if it needs to be changed.

“Floodwaters went beyond the floodplain,” Holleman said of Nashville’s flood. “Is that just because of the enormity and the unusualness of the event? It could be. But I think there’s also a case to be made that because so much construction was in the floodplain that it pushed water to places that are outside the floodplain. That’s not very fair to those homeowners.”

But many developers are likely to oppose the bill. Attorney James Weaver, who often represents developers, cautioned against acting to fast.

“While our clients understand the desire to act fast, normally with complicated issues like this acting too fast has a high potential to produce as many unintended and negative consequences as appropriate and desirable and intended consequences,” Weaver said in an email. “This is without question potentially one of those times.

“In the end, the root cause of these floods, beyond the obvious once-in-a-lifetime rain event and the releases at Old Hickory Dam, are likely very complicated and the solutions are also likely broader than just changes in the flood maps and strict, one-size-fits-all limitations on uses,” Weaver added.

24 Comments on this post:

By: idgaf on 5/28/10 at 1:11

While their hearts may be in the right place I have 2 instant problems with the plan.

#1 it involves taxpayer money and secondly they feel like they have to "protect" people.

If the people want to spend their own money or the mortage company want to invest in the property that is their business and right to live where they want to.

Perhaps what may accomplish what they want to without taxpayer money is an ordanince where sellers must disclose that the property is in whatever flood plane it is in costing the taxpayers NOTHING.

By: Blip on 5/28/10 at 5:52

The developers are in for the money only. Nashville growth has been on steroids for 20 years.

Now the developers still want to build in flood plains. Got to have that money.

Leave the barn door open, the developers says - Who cares? The horse is out and drowned. Caveat emptor. Let's keep getting that money.

By: PromosFriend on 5/28/10 at 6:09

I am retired from a profession that has extensive knowledge of floodplain issues. If it is true that Nashville allows residential and commercial building inside the 100 year floodplain then Nashville has created the very disaster that ocurred. The most egregious mistake is refusing to understand the effect that all building upstream (both in and out of the floodplain) has on the carrying capacity of the water channel downstream. The increased runoff loads the water course with more than it can handle and now, instead of a 100 year floodplain, you are dealing with a 75 year floodplain, or a 50 year, and so on. Coupling the upstream building with allowing building inside the established but out of date official 100 year floodplain is just begging for the disaster that happened. Developers and land speculators that cajole, bully or buy the elected officials that allow such building to go on are at least partially culpable, but those that passed the laws that allowed such stupidity are the most to blame.


By: govskeptic on 5/28/10 at 6:25

We know how this will end. The developers with the influence will buy the property cheap and build on it-selling to the unsuspecting. Those without or individuals (without connections) will be shut out. You can't replace Atlanta by doing the right thing!

By: on 5/28/10 at 6:55

Common sense would suggest that all the additional construction made the flood worse.

Many acres of Nashville are covered by buildings, sidewalks, parking lots, etc. As we continue to prevent water from soaking in the ground, where do we think it will go???

Only poor judgement would allow development in areas that are expected to flood. It is very likey that the people whose homes and businesses were destroyed would agree. For those whose property was not destroyed, empathy for the victims would cause many others to want better measures in place to prevent loss of property and life.

It is great if that is protecting people because that is what the government is supposed to do (whether it is personal safety, health, building safety, or preventing structures from being built in areas likely to flood). Greed is NOT good.

By: BigPapa on 5/28/10 at 8:11

It makes so much sense that it will never happen. Too much money going from developers to councilmembers and mayors to ever see this bill through. The builder doesnt give a rat's bee-hind about the buyer once he's outta there. This would keep us from having to bail out anyone else in this situation.

By: AmyLiorate on 5/28/10 at 8:17

He must be a genius to tell us that building in a flood plain is a bad idea.

Darren Jernigan for president 2012

I wonder if he can be hurried down to Louisiana to help stop the oil leak.

By: budlight on 5/28/10 at 8:37

By: on 5/28/10 at 7:55
Common sense would suggest that all the additional construction made the flood worse.

Hi taxpayer; you are correct however remember that greed and common sense sometimes take on the properties of oil and water.

Amy, hi, I really do enjoy reading your discussions. Here's what I think about the oil leak situation:

If the government is the self-appointed steward of the oceans and the coast line, then my question would be: Why didn't the government foresee these "accidents" and have proper guidelines in place for quick response? The agency over seeing the granting of drilling rights has been remiss in their "forward thinking" and having rules and regs in place, signed and agreed to by the oil companies.

If I own a rental property and I don't have a vicious dog clause in my lease, then my tenant rolls in with a biter, then when the neighbor's kid get bit, to me, the fault would like partially with me, if not all with me, for not thinking and caring about the greater good of the neighborhood.

I'm thinking "accidents" do happen. But the response to the accident can truly dictate the tole it pays on all involved. The BP response was as adequate as any major company could do. The gov-ment, not so good!!!

By: idgaf on 5/28/10 at 9:07

I am disappointed that no one else addressed the use of taxpayer money to transfer wealth. (loot the treasury)

Now that they are flooded out we shouldn't be buying the pre flood prices.

Let mortage companys take the hit. It was their decision to invest in the property.

By: breathofdeath on 5/28/10 at 9:30

Developers aren't the only ones that are after money. Isn't Metro the entity that has encouraged rampant construction in the name of "growing the tax base" , regardless of the consequences? People complain when Metro allows smaller, older homes to be replaced by gargantuan McMansions but all Metro cares about is the increased property tax revenue they can collect. People point out the increased stress that nonstop development places on infrastructure and schools, but look at all the extra money Metro gets from fees and taxes! Under the circumstances, why should anybody be surprised that Metro turned a blind eye to development in flood-prone areas?

By: budlight on 5/28/10 at 9:40

Breathofdeath, you are correct. I remember 5 years ago protesting so much new development.

One question we kept asking in our neighborhood: Do we have enough water treatment plants? OH YEAH, said Metro.

Duh! We need 3, not two.

By: idgaf on 5/28/10 at 10:26

Yes we need another water treatment plant on high ground.

Seems like they didn't follow their own advice.

By: CP102 on 5/28/10 at 10:50

in the meantime Metro proceeds with building the West Police Precinct on Charlotte Pike - in the Floodplain

By: shinestx on 5/28/10 at 11:23

Idgaf, you're actually beginning to make sense in your old age. I'd add one more reason to yours... it's not insignificant that this councilman is a disgusting political opportunist, whoring himself like this to get a mention in the NCP.

By: shinestx on 5/28/10 at 11:29

Oops, forgot to mention my main point (guess I was surprised to agree with Idgaf so much)... anyway will this councilman's brilliant plan prevent these particular homeowners from rebuilding on their property? I'd expect that many of these homeowner will have valid grounds to sue for being sold property that was not disclosed as being in a floodplane. By the time they're all settled, these people will still be without rebuilt homes, and only the lawyers will have profited from this disaster. Oh, btw...aren't you all so glad that our floppy-eared, Dem-witted president has focused so much on this disaster and the gulf oil gusher? But then, why should he care? As he and the media have told us, it's all George Bush's fault.

So the net-net of our floods and the gulf show us... you cannot count on the feds to do even what it's supposed to do. Is this the hope and change you guys wanted?

By: JohnGalt on 5/28/10 at 11:35

When the development in Bellevue on Beech Bend and Harpeth Bend Drives was proposed the Planning Commission and Appeals Board were both shown Corps of Engineers studies and anecdotal evidence that the site of the proposed development had and would again flood to over eight feet of water. Nevertheless, the development was approved and built.

Today over half the homes have been completely or substantially destroyed.

Developers one...homeowners zero.

By: idgaf on 5/29/10 at 3:37

Ya know there is a big differance between banning future development and even rebuilding if there is a certain amount of damage and using taxpayer money to pay for the sins of our fathers so to speak.

How do/can you justify that using logic and reason? The government is not the parent and people who had damage and didn't have flood insurance are not our brothers and sisters that the parents makes you (the taxpayer) share with them, when some (taxpayers) don't own a home and never will be able to afford one.

Dosn't seem very "fair" to me and as barry once said it is above the governments job title. Ban development if you want but don't in essance steal from taxpayers to give to someone else.

By: Blip on 5/30/10 at 5:43

"When the development in Bellevue on Beech Bend and Harpeth Bend Drives was proposed the Planning Commission and Appeals Board were both shown Corps of Engineers studies and anecdotal evidence that the site of the proposed development had and would again flood to over eight feet of water. Nevertheless, the development was approved and built."

I'd like to see an investigative Tennessean piece about the above.

I would like to know the names of everyone on the planning commission and appeals board who approved it.

I've heard real estate developers have a lot of influence on what the Tennessean writes about. Those real estate ads represent major income for the paper.

This is a moment in time that ought to have a very bright light shining on it, because it will reveal the truth that we need to see.

By: Blip on 5/30/10 at 5:47

The City Paper could shine that light.

By: C3bdj1 on 6/5/10 at 3:50

idgaf: You stated...
"Now that they are flooded out we shouldn't be buying the pre flood prices.

Let mortage companys take the hit. It was their decision to invest in the property."

Really? That is your opinion, and you are entitled to it, however...

The Waterford Subdivision, in which I am a homowner, was not in the "100yr flood plain" when I chose to "invest" in this property. It was brought into the flood plain in 2001 when FEMA revised the FIRM (flood insurance rating map).

I have carried flood insurance on this property voluntarily since my home was built in 1993. Now my property value has decreased tremendously, and my home and land are in danger of being washed away should another, (even minor) event happen.
I worked very hard, and paid my mortage off early. So, "I" will be the one "taking the hit". Not a Mortage Company.

Before you spit out an asinine statement like that, you should consider there are regular, hardworking people, who have done all the right things, adversely affected by what has happened.

And I would bet, if it were Your home...Your land...and Your life affected, your opinion would be much different.

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