TO: St. Petersburg City Council
COPY: Mayor Kriseman
FROM: Will Michaels
SUBJECT: Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA) Policy
DATE: September 17, 2020
Firstly, l wish to express my appreciation to all council members for giving and continuing to give diligent study of the pending Coastal High Hazard Area (CHHA) proposals. The following comments are based on review of the first public hearing and in anticipation of the second hearing scheduled for October 8th.
The recent significant increase in the area covered by the CHHA presents significant economic and growth management challenges as well as the challenges of stronger storms and sea level rise threatening public safety and property damage. Formulating policies that balance both concerns is no easy matter. It is recognized that everyone is seeking to chart a course of action that is in the best interest of the entire city.
The proposals have two major components. One is the proposal for improving building standards to better address climate change in the CHHA based on the Norfolk, Virginia, model. The other is to allow for increased density in a portion of the CHHA when a development meets certain criteria. The proposal to improve building standards for multi-family and hotel construction, particularly the two additional feet of elevation, is commendable. Hopefully this will be a first step towards improving building standards for all types of construction in the CHHA. Also City efforts to address climate change through the “Integrated Sustainability Action Plan” and related clean energy measures are commendable.
The second proposal allowing for a significant measure of flexibility in permitting increased density in the CHHA remains problematic. It is acknowledged that since this proposal was first brought before the Community Planning and Preservation Commission significant changes have been made to improve the measure, including additional criteria and the designation of certain criteria as mandatory. These changes have helped strengthen the proposal although concerns remain.
Lack of a Vulnerability Assessment & Comprehensive Plan for Infrastructure Investments to Address Stronger Storms & Sea Level Rise
A major concern is that there is no concurrent vulnerability assessment and comprehensive plan for making critical improvements to deal with stronger storms and sea level rise in our infrastructure. Such a plan would address possible need for higher seawalls, raised streets, flood gates, park/green buffers to absorb storm surge and sea level rise, and other related measures.
It would seem logical to have such an assessment and plan in place prior to construction of new residential projects, especially large track projects. Attempting to accomplish such measures on a project by project basis runs the risk of negatively affecting nearby homes and neighborhoods by simply shifting flood waters there rather than protecting the city as a whole. A worst case scenario would be that once a comprehensive infrastructure plan is completed for the city as a whole, the plan may call for a significant infrastructure improvement on the same general site as the development. It is noted that some planning is now underway which will be helpful such as the Integrated Water Resources
Management Plan, but much more needs to be done. There are several models for such a plan to examine such as San Francisco’s Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Consequences Assessment” and “Sea Level Rise Action Plan.”
Also, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Study (2019) of the CHHA contracted by the City included among its recommendations developing a more-fine grain approach to land use in the CHHA by (p. 34): ∙ “Consider limited future density in areas that may be subject to daily tidal flooding due to sea level rise in the next couple of decades. Comprehensive infrastructure improvements should continue to be targeted in areas to prevent sunny day flooding” [emphasis added].
∙ “Target specific areas for buyout, in the event of future disaster within repetitive loss geographies. These areas can serve as coastal defense.”
∙ “In other areas that are only subject to coastal flooding by severe but infrequent storms, create a density boost that could assist in getting better resilient building stock and amenities.”
∙ “Elsewhere, the city should consider tools to help encourage building owners to retrofit the existing building stock, at least by elevating MEP, installing water pumps, or footings for the deployment of flood panels in advance of a storm.”
∙ “Consider a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) / land swap solution from areas in the most vulnerable areas of the original CHHA to less vulnerable areas of the CHHA. This could boost preservation areas and result in a zero net gain of overall entitled density in the CHHA.”
∙ “Clearly connect the zoning code to a comprehensive strategy and goals for city-wide resiliency” [emphasis added].
These recommendations speak to the need for a comprehensive vulnerability assessment and infrastructure improvement plan prior to considering significant new development in the CHHA.
Criterion B in the CHHA proposal states that a new development in the CHHA “will result in the utilization of existing infrastructure, as opposed to requiring the expenditure of public funds for the construction of new, unplanned infrastructure with the potential to be damaged by coastal storms [emphasis added].” Should the policy and criterion be adopted as stated, new developments are likely to be approved prior to the planning of infrastructure improvements which otherwise may have affected a given development, or even caused that development to be disapproved.
Should it be determined after the new development is permitted and constructed that improvements in infrastructure are required in the area of a development, does the new development have any obligation to compensate the City for that?
The pending proposal would be better served were a comprehensive vulnerability assessment and infrastructure improvement plan in place before a development was approved.
Development on High Ground
A related concern is what is the City’s policy regarding development on high ground where the risk of flooding is reduced? Incentivizing developers to build on high ground rather than flood-prone areas is a major element of the Norfolk model (see attachment) and a highly regarded best practice generally. To a degree the proposal to increase building standards in the CHHA does provide some incentive to developers to build on high ground as construction cost will be less, but further measures should be considered as part of a formal plan. The ULI Study noted that a “constraint” of the pending proposal articulated in stakeholder meetings was that the City was missing an opportunity “to instead
focus/encourage development in less vulnerable areas and utilize coastal land for preservation/mitigation” (p. 8).
Regardless of whether building on high ground or CHHA it is fundamental that this be done in a manner which respects neighborhood character, including concerns in some neighborhoods regarding gentrification. The option of development on high ground should receive as much consideration and analysis as is being given development in the CHHA. Development throughout the city should include affordable housing, not just workforce housing, as a priority.
Vision 2050 Final Draft Report Scheduled for Release October 22nd
Again, the public could benefit from consideration of the proposed CHHA policy change in light of the pending Vision 2050 Report, and long-term planning. Climate change, sea level rise, storm intensification, flooding, and CHHA expansion were a significant part of the workshop discussions and surveys contributing to the Vision 2050 process generally under the themes of Sustainability, Climate Change, Growth and Character. It is anticipated a range of draft recommendations will be made related to this in the staff Final Report. Again as reflected in the ULI Study (p. 8) “There is a lack of understanding of how this draft code [pending CHHA proposals] relates to other city initiatives (Complete Streets, ISAP, Vision 2050).”
It is understood the Final Draft Vision 2050 Report will be presented to the Council on October 22nd. Deferring the pending CHHA proposal until the Council and public have the opportunity to review the report will potentially help either validate or improve upon the pending proposal. Given that the Vision 2050 Report is scheduled to be presented to the council just a few days after the scheduled October 8th hearing, this additional step would not significantly affect timely final action on the pending CHHA proposal.
Other Issues Related to the CHHA Density Proposal
Relative Vulnerability of Development Sites. The proposal may be improved further by adding an additional criterion mandating consideration of the relative vulnerability to greater flooding of a specific parcel within the CHHA. Not all areas are equally vulnerable. For example flooding from seal level rise will be limited to a portion of the CHHA.
Objective CM10A. Why is the word “services” struck from the policy “No public funds shall be used for infrastructure and services which subsidize population concentrations in the coastal high hazard area beyond the planned densities identified on the Future Land Use Map… [emphasis added]”? The need for and consequences of this change are unclear.
Effect on Flood Insurance Rates. There was address at the first hearing of the potential effect of the proposals on the city’s National Flood Insurance Community Rating. However, comments were limited to the possible effect of the proposed improved building standards. The effect of the change in policy regarding permitting increased density in the CHHA was not addressed. It would be helpful for the public to have a qualified expert’s opinion on this.
Level of Service Standards. Should Level of Service Standards (LOS) be higher in the CHHA than in other areas of the city, for example storm water drainage?
Thank you for your consideration.
Excerpts from “Norfolk’s Revised Zoning Ordinance
Aims to Improve Flood Resilience”
(The PEW Charitable Trust, Nov 2019)
“In 2013, officials decided that Norfolk’s zoning ordinance did not support the city’s goals and needed to be overhauled to mitigate flooding and promote safer development. The revised ordinance, approved in January 2018, includes new zoning requirements to encourage investment in less risky areas.”
“In January 2018, officials adopted a zoning ordinance to direct new and more intense development to higher ground.”
Owners of property in areas which have less flood risk can forego certain building standards if they agree to conservation easements in property more vulnerable to flooding allowing the city there to “make improvements for water retention or flood protection.”
“by requiring more resilient construction and encouraging development on higher ground, Norfolk is better positioned to protect its residents…from the impacts of stronger storms and sea level rise. Officials say it can serve as a model for other coastal cities.”