Charleston City Council has scrapped a proposed ballot question asking city voters to consider whether homeowners in flood-prone areas significantly damaged by flooding raise their homes 2 feet above federal standards.
Instead, the council plans to vote on the nuanced issue in August.
At issue are the intricate details of addressing flooding in the city. Charleston requires homeowners in flood-prone areas that suffer home damage worth more than half of its value — from flooding, fire or something else — to raise their homes 1 foot above the Federal Emergency Management Agency's standards.
Depending on the location, FEMA’s minimum level could be as much as 15 feet above sea level, according to city floodplain manager Stephen Julka.
In places where buildings can suffer damage from wave action as well as rising water, homeowners would be required to elevate their homes on piers or stilts. Homes outside that area could use soil to increase height.
Council approved that additional 1-foot barrier above the FEMA standard — called "freeboard" in engineering language — in 2015.
At their meeting Thursday, council members said that because the issue is so complex, it would have been tough to translate a referendum question to voters and will resume discussion on the issue in August. City leaders have advocated a higher freeboard requirement because they say it will improve the city's FEMA flood insurance rating.
The council will consider an amended ordinance by Councilman Keith Waring that only requires new construction and buildings damaged beyond half of its value because of flooding to be elevated 2 feet above FEMA standards.
If a homeowner in a flood zone were to suffer a similar amount of damage because of a fire, wind or termite damage, the homeowner wouldn't be required to lift the home to comply with the FEMA and freeboard requirement.
Waring said he is concerned the height requirement would create an added financial for homeowners already faced with rebuilding their homes. He proposed that homeowner rebuilding because of fire, wind, or other damage be exempt from height requirements.
Waring's proposal received approval on second reading. Instead of receiving a final reading and approving the new ordinance, Waring asked to defer that final approval and receive feedback from FEMA about the non-flooding rebuilding exemption.
On Aug. 20, the council will consider a third reading of an amended city ordinance that would require homeowners who live in flood-prone areas who suffer significant damage to their homes due to flooding raise their homes 2 feet above FEMA requirements.