If Horry County Council scales back the building regulations in certain flood zones, county leaders owe the public an explanation for their decision.
County leaders on Tuesday again said they would consider reducing the height requirements for construction in the recently approved supplemental flood zones. These zones extend beyond the areas outlined in federal flood maps to include land that saw flooding during Hurricane Florence in 2018.
The proposed amendment calls for lowering the building height requirement in the supplemental flood zones from 3 feet above the Florence floodwater level to 2 feet. The council considered this same proposal in November and voted against changing the regulations.
The maps for the supplemental flood zones were drawn by Western Carolina University ‘s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, which was hired by the county as a consultant when leaders looked for ways to avoid future flooding problems.
Horry County saw devastating flooding in 2015 and 2016, too, though Florence was the worst.
The design of the supplemental zones was based on Florence’s watermark. But local engineers and developers have criticized these zones. They contend the regulations increased the cost of building homes and make established neighborhoods look awkward because the houses are constructed at varying elevations. They’ve also said the county shouldn’t craft a policy based on a storm that was a historical outlier.
The zones, however, have been celebrated by advocates for flood victims. They see the policy as a safeguard, and they expressed frustration with the council last year for looking at revising the regulations without a data-supported reason.
We agree with these advocates and would hope the council would offer a reason for the change that is supported by science and data. After all, these zones represent not just a preventative measure but an investment of public dollars. It seems foolish to arbitrarily make this change without providing the citizens with a justification for the decision.
Sadly, the real reason for the change was briefly mentioned during Tuesday’s council committee meeting.
A developer wants to build homes in the supplemental flood zone but doesn’t want to pay the additional cost of raising those houses to meet the required height.
The county is involved in a lawsuit related to this matter, and county leaders have said that dispute could be resolved if the building level in the supplemental zone is simply lowered to 2 feet above the Florence flood line. They have said that was the compromise they reached with the builder.
This seems like a weak reason to overhaul such an important policy. We hope the council spends some time studying this issue — and consulting experts — before diluting this key safeguard.
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