Planning commission sends new flood regulations on to Select Board

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MANCHESTER — The Planning Commission has signed off on changes to the town's flood hazard regulations, sending them on to the Select Board for a further review and an eventual vote on their approval.

The Select Board has scheduled a public hearing for Nov. 10 and is expected to hold the vote that night after the hearing is closed.

The flood hazard regulations need to be updated to enable town residents to be eligible to obtain flood insurance if they live in one of the designated flood hazard zones, which lie mainly along the banks of the Battenkill and its tributaries, said Janet Hurley, the town's zoning administrator.

One of the main differences that will come into play when the regulations are formally adopted is that new construction, other than accessory buildings to an already existing building, or improvements to the existing structure, will be prohibited.

Under the current regulations, new construction was permittable if certain conditions were met, but after Dec. 1, when the new regulations must be in place in order for residents to qualify for the National Flood Insurance Program, such new construction of primary buildings will be out of compliance, Hurley said.

According to the revised regulations, other prohibited developments include storage yards or junk yards, and new fill except as necessary to elevate structures above the base flood level. Permitted developments would include recreational uses, development related to on-site wastewater or water supply systems and utilities for existing buildings, as well as the accessory structures.

At its meeting on Monday, Oct. 19, when the planning commission gave its nod to the new proposed regulations, Debbie Hayes McGraw asked if they would invalidate a previously issued town permit to build on a property which would now be in the flood hazard zone, but wasn't when the permit was issued. Both Hurley and members of the commission said previously issued permits would still be valid.

"You'll be allowed to build if the permit's valid; however you still need to get insurance," said Greg Boshart, the chairman of the planning commission, in response to McGraw's question, adding later that "a permit to build something is as good as having been built."

Town permits have nothing to do with the national flood hazard insurance program, Hurley said; that program is what allows people who live in a flood hazard zone to obtain flood insurance.

Whether a property owner can still get the flood insurance for a new building, if it is now in a designated flood hazard zone, is another question, one that belongs in the laps of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which runs the federal flood insurance program.

"The town has to have certain regulations in its zoning ordinance that tell you (that) you can use that property and how if it's going to be developed it has to meet certain standards," Hurley said during last month's meeting. "The feds, through FEMA and the national flood insurance program, have asked for certain changes, and that's what we're approving today."

The new flood hazard zone boundaries were last mapped and regulations established in 1986, and it is only recently that FEMA's new mapping of Bennington County has been completed sufficiently to re-draw the zones. About 20 new properties have been added to the flood hazard area in Manchester, according to FEMA's maps.

Last September, representatives from FEMA and the state's Agency of Natural Resources paid a visit to Manchester to advise property owners who had concerns about whether their properties were now in the flood zone and what that implied for their ability to obtain flood insurance. A grace period lasting until Dec. 1, when the new maps take effect, is in place to allow existing homeowners to obtain such insurance at the previous rates, which were likely to be lower than what would be available after Dec. 1.

But even property owners who may not be in the flood hazard zone, but own property in what's known as the "river corridor," should be aware of possible new restrictions, Hurley said. The river corridor is defined under Manchester's new and as yet unadopted regulations as land area adjacent to a river that is required to accommodate the dimensions, slope, platform and buffer of a naturally stable channel.

"They (FEMA) are starting to regulate what they call the 'river corridor' and that's something mapped by ANR, and so there are some new regulations even if you are outside the flood hazard area as mapped by FEMA," Hurley said during the meeting. "If you are within the river corridor you still may have some restrictions."


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