The Livingston Parish Council on Thursday unanimously adopted an ordinance requiring all new construction projects in flood zones be built one foot above the base flood elevation—a move generally supported by homebuilders, who say it will help prevent flooding as well as lower flood insurance rates.
The parish’s current ordinance mandates new homes in certain flood zones (A and AE) to be built at or above the base flood elevation. But if signed by the parish president, the recently passed requirement—known as a “one-foot freeboard”—would enforce building at one foot above that level and would also apply to areas outside municipalities. The base flood elevation is the computed elevation to which floodwater is anticipated to rise during the base flood, or the standard needed to acquire flood insurance.
“We typically make it a practice to go at least one foot above anyway,” says homebuilder John Blount of Walker. “The parish has got to catch up to the rating system—these flood rates are getting out of hand.”
Homes built at higher levels collect lower flood insurance premiums, meaning the higher the parish tells builders to raise homes, the more homeowners will save in flood insurance.
Pushing the move is increasing pressure from FEMA, which last month threatened to pull millions of dollars in aid from Livingston because of its problems addressing the 2016 flood. FEMA also revoked Livingston’s participation in the Community Rating System after permits were issued for construction in flood zones.
Karen Zito, president of the Home Builders Association of Greater Baton Rouge, says the organization, which represents dozens of builders in the parish, “appreciates the efforts of the council to improve their standing within the community rating system for the betterment of Livingston Parish.”
It’s among several flood prevention efforts coming through the parish council. Another is a measure to limit the amount of dirt fill to two feet on lots smaller than half an acre and to three feet on larger lots, unless they could show it wouldn’t affect their neighbors in a 100-year storm.
While she supports the one-foot freeboard requirement, real estate agent Kayla Johnson of Covington and Associates says she’s slower to embrace the proposed fill limits.
“We need to get someone to come in and study it first,” says Johnson, who also sits on the committee tasked with reviewing the proposal.