Model Local Laws to Increase Resilience

Last year, New York State produced a series of model local laws to increase resilience. The 468-page document is a catalog of ideas for cities and counties to choose from. It covers everything from building in flood-prone areas to maximum lot coverage, land-clearing practices for new developments, stormwater controls, zoning, building elevation and more.

For those who can get past the not-invented-here syndrome, it could provide a valuable resource. As I read it, I found dozens of ideas that could reduce flooding in Houston.

Will New York Approaches Fly in Houston?

While some of the concepts, such as zoning, may seem radical to Houstonians, others have actually already been adopted by Houston. For instance, one of the suggestions was to record the extent of flood-plains on plats, a project the Houston Planning Commission recently adopted. Another is to require elevation of homes that flood repetitively to avoid substantial damage in the future. Houston adopted that one, too, after Harvey.

Another recommendation: prohibit land clearing by developers until AFTER plats are approved. This could likely have helped prevent a lot of flooding on the San Jacinto East Fork where Colony Ridge cleared thousands of acres before even getting plats approved.

The real target for this document is local government officials interested in addressing resiliency issues in their municipal codes. However, the discussions around each proposal also provide interesting background for flood advocates who are lobbying their elected officials.

Best Practices Codified into Local Regulations

The ideas provide of menu of what has worked elsewhere and why.

For greater resiliency, it is a wise best management practice, claim the authors, to ensure that developers design subdivision layouts in a manner that:

  • Minimizes land disturbance (tree clearing, land grading, soil compaction);
  • Avoids steep slopes, flood-prone areas and wetlands;
  • Protects important natural areas and habitats; Limits impervious surfaces;
  • Does not negatively impact public infrastructure;
  • Does not overload the roadway system, and
  • Provides effective stormwater control.

Other Major Areas of Focus

Other major sections deal with protection alternatives for:

  • Green Development
  • Wetlands
  • Watercourses
  • Coastal Areas
  • Stormwater
  • Woodland and Wildlife Conservation
  • Erosion Control
  • Performance Bonds

It’s interesting how some municipalities in New York applied the concept of performance bonds (see Chapter 5) to reduce erosion coming from new developments. I wonder if that could be adapted to sand mines on the San Jacinto?

A’ La Carte Menu

The ideas presented here do not represent a complete program that must be adopted from start to finish. They are more like an à la carte menu. Take a little of this. A little of that. Whatever you need. Wherever you need it.

Once local officials identify ideas they could use, the document even provides templates for the wording of resolutions.

For the complete text of Model Local Laws to Increase Resilience, click here.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 12/18/2020

1207 Days since Hurricane Harvey

The thoughts expressed in this post represent opinions on matters of public concern and safety. They are protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Anti-SLAPP Statute of the Great State of Texas.