Planners to consider historic, flood changes

Published 10:10 pm Monday, August 15, 2011

Two issues that affect hundreds of property owners are set for consideration at the Planning Commission meeting today.

The meeting is set for 2 p.m. at City Council chambers, 441 Market St.

Planners will discuss proposed changes to the floodplain ordinance, which likely will change the requirements for flood insurance for hundreds of property owners. They also will talk about proposed changes to the city’s historic overlay district, which proposes to remove six sections of the greater downtown area from the district.

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The proposed changes to the floodplain ordinance are based on new maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. About 554 property owners are now considered in a flood zone. Conversely, more than 700 parcels moved out of the flood zone.

The designation often affects whether or not a homeowner is required to purchase flood insurance, which is not covered by regular homeowners’ policies. It can be expensive — some premiums in Suffolk run as high as $1,600 a year.

At an informational meeting last month, dozens of homeowners arrived to ask questions and protest. Many have been living on their properties for decades and have never had flooding issues. Others live on property that has a home on a hill that drops down to the water, making it unlikely their home would flood but still putting a portion of their property in the flood zone.

Insurance agents and mortgage lenders make the ultimate decisions on flood insurance requirements, the homeowners learned at last month’s meeting.

Also up for discussion are the proposed changes to the historic district. City staff have recommended trimming the district because some areas, they say, are not that historical and have had property maintenance issues.

Being in the historic district imposes regulations on significant changes to the outside of a home.

The issue was brought up when a homeowner fought the Historic Landmarks Commission’s denial of his after-the-fact request to put vinyl siding on his Pinner Street home. City Council bucked the commission and allowed the siding to stay.

At a meeting last month, many property owners, historic advocates and pastors of affected churches protested the changes, saying that their homes are indeed historical and that being in a historic district adds value. Some also were concerned that the removal of the designation would allow the city more leeway to take their homes for road improvement projects.
The six general areas proposed for deletion from the historic district are:

  • The Katherine Street area
  • The Mahan and Church streets area
  • The Central, Hill, Grayson and Pinner streets area
  • The Jackson Street area
  • The North, Chestnut and Pine streets area
  • The South Broad and Gittings streets area

Anything that fronts on Broad Street is not included in the proposal for deletion.