Property owners will face tougher restrictions if they want to build or substantially remodel structures in high-risk flood zones, officials say.
Luzerne County Council is set to adopt a zoning ordinance amendment requiring utility and property elevation for new construction and banning mobile homes and certain chemicals in areas identified as the most flood-prone on federal flood insurance maps.
‚??It‚??s becoming more restrictive. The move is for safety and protection to make it harder for people to build in a flood plain,‚?Ě said county Planning/Zoning Director Adrian Merolli.
The ordinance applies to 23 municipalities that rely on the county for zoning, including Duryea and Conyngham Township, which both experienced severe flooding last September.
Municipalities that handle their own zoning must adopt similar zoning amendments to comply with state and federal requirements, Merolli said.
Ignoring the mandate could make municipalities ineligible for future federal and state disaster aid and participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, he said.
An estimated 10,400 structures countywide are in high-risk zones on flood insurance maps. The total is expected to increase to nearly 12,000 when new maps take effect Nov. 2, changing the boundary lines.
The county‚??s zoning amendment says no new construction is allowed 50 feet from the top of a creek, stream or river bank.
Structures built or substantially improved after the amendment‚??s passage also must:
‚?Ę Elevate utilities and enclosed living space, including finished usable basements, at least 1.5 feet above the base flood elevation.
The base flood elevation is the computed height floodwater is projected to rise during a ‚??base flood,‚?Ě which is used as the standard for flood insurance maps. A base flood, also known as a ‚??100-year flood,‚?Ě has a 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any given year.
‚?Ę Not produce or store radioactive substances, medical waste or other hazardous materials. The ban includes ammonia, chlorine, pesticides and petroleum products.
‚?Ę Flood-proof or store above the base flood elevation all materials that would be buoyant, flammable, explosive or potentially harmful to people, animals or plants.
New landfills, junk yards, mobile homes and trailers and recreational vehicles (RVs) are prohibited in high-risk zones, including RV campgrounds.
Modular homes may be permitted if they are placed on a permanent foundation and properly elevated with flood-proofed utilities.
New hospitals, nursing homes and correctional facilities would require special exceptions, an additional approval hurdle.
Floodways ‚?? mapped areas where water is likely to be the deepest and fastest ‚?? are completely off-limits to property owners. In addition to a ban on structures, no fill, excavation or grading modifications are permitted in floodways.
Municipalities also are adopting building code requirements to meet the new design standards for elevating and flood-proofing structures, Merolli said.
The owners of existing properties don‚??t have to meet the new standards unless they expand or substantially remodel their structures, which would include extensive post-flood repairs, he said.
Some municipalities not under county zoning control have allowed development in high-risk zones ‚?? a practice that should stop with the new regulations, he said.
Merolli expects property owners will scrap plans to build or expand in impacted areas after they realize the restrictions.
The flood plain requirements in the county‚??s current ordinance were drafted in the late 1970s or early ‚??80s and were too vague and relaxed, he said.
‚??You want to stop new big development in the 100-year flood plain and make sure existing buildings are designed as safe as possible,‚?Ě he said.
Plains Township Fire Capt. Charles Krommes said he supports the new rules, particularly the chemical ban.
‚??When you‚??re down by the Susquehanna River or other areas after a flood, there‚??s a very strong smell of petroleum and other evidence of contaminants,‚?Ě he said.
The owners of heavily damaged properties may complain about the new requirements if they choose to rebuild after future floods, he said.
‚??It will be a hardship at first, but it‚??s only going to help the residents if they want to stay there or build there because there will be a minimal amount of damage next time,‚?Ě Krommes said.
‚?Ę The proposed Luzerne County zoning amendment is posted on the council section of the county website, www.luzernecounty.org, under today‚??s meeting agenda.
‚?Ę Council plans to introduce the amendments at today‚??s 6:30 p.m., on-the-road meeting at Hazleton City Hall, with final adoption slated for the Sept. 25 meeting.
‚?Ę The new flood insurance maps may be viewed at www.rampp-team.com/pa.htm. Properties in blue-shaded zones starting with the letter A are subject to the new zoning flood plain amendments.