After two meetings worth of deliberation, the Townsend Planning Commission is recommending more specific rules about building in more flood-prone areas in the city’s limits.

The Townsend Planning Commission agreed Aug. 8 to pass on a recommendation to the city’s board of commissioners to amend zoning requirements language on how flood hazard areas were shown in site plans.

Planning Commissioner Rick Younger proposed the move to make the changes during a July meeting.

Younger noted then that though flood-hazard identification was part of a checklist for plannings, there needed to be more specific language related to 100-year flood requirements or building elevation standards.

The amended items set to be considered by the the board of commissioners add standards concerning elevation and a potential development’s relationship to different flood boundaries.

“All sites wholly or partially within any flood hazard area shall depict the Special Flood Hazard Zone boundary, the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM), and the effective FIRM date,” the amendment reads. “Both the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and Finished Floor Elevation (FFE) shall be depicted on the site plan.”

“This doesn’t change the standards at all,” city Planner Joe Barrett told planning commissioners. “It’s just really a question of whether you need to put it on site plans.”

“It make sense. I like the change,” said city Code Enforcement Officer Andy Morton. “The wording is better.”

Some of the questions about building in a flood hazard zone arose when developer and Townsend resident Earl Brown requested to build on a lot near Little River.

Brown had shown requirements for 500-year floodplains for his development but nothing for 100-year, causing officials to question why there wasn’t such a requirement.

Floodplains with a 100-year designation are more closely regulated since the likelihood of dangerous conditions — a 1% chance each year — is much higher than in a 500-year floodplain.

More specificity in ordinances should cause less confusion for developments like Brown’s, planning commissioners agreed.

Discussions about floodplain compliance also led planning commissioners to discuss how codes were being enforced within the city limits.

Morton said he has made recent calls to a business owner building without an appropriate site plan.

“He’s got a bit of work to do. In the meantime, I told him ‘You can’t use the building or occupy it until you get your permit.’”

Planning Commissioner Bill Lindsay also expressed concern that another business in town was out of compliance because it had built too many buildings too close together.

“They never have been (in compliance),” Morton acknowledged.

“What does Townsend normally do? Is this the old adage, you do it and you get forgiveness?” Lindsay asked.

“I think at one point we ... were going to look to see what other cities did to fine (non-compliance),” Planning Commissioner Becky Headrick suggested.

Morton said he and City Recorder Danny Williamson had looked into fining non-compliance, but that many issues were too punitive and the resulting fines were too small.

“You set a precedent,” Lindsay said.

“But if it’s like everything else we do, people do stuff and it’s not compliant and nothing gets done about it,” Headrick agreed.

Andrew joined The Daily Times in 2019 and covers city government and breaking news.

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