‘Out of harm’s way’: Horry County looking to change regulations to help flood zone homes

Horry County is looking at different ways to keep homes and buildings out of harm’s way when flood rains come.

The Horry County Planning Commission discussed an ordinance on Thursday that would loosen some regulations on homes in flood zones, helping homeowners build 3 feet above the flood elevation as determined by FEMA flood maps.

“It would not punish existing structures that are just trying to get out of harm’s way,” Planning Director David Schwerd said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to recommend Horry County Council change two sections of the building code in hopes of helping existing buildings in flood zones.

Currently, FEMA gives homeowners a flood elevation assessment that determines flood risk for the purpose of insurance and construction standards.

In Horry County, regulations set a maximum height of a structure or how far off the property line it must be set back. A home in a flood zone must have its finished floor built with a minimum of 1 foot of “freeboard” (how high above the flood level the floor can be built).

The new rules would allow but not require flood zone homeowners more wiggle room to raise their building up to 3 feet above their base flood elevation if the homeowner deems it necessary for their property’s safety without impacting their height allowance.

“The ordinance also allows the property owner an additional height allowance of up to 3 feet of freeboard to elevate their structure above the base flood elevation as a safety net in case the flood is higher than the required 100-year flood elevation.,” Schwerd said in an email.

FEMA flood maps change over time and gauge the threat of flooding in specific areas of the county. If you’re in a flood zone, you’re required to have flood insurance, and often special building rules apply.

Flood-prone areas make up a great deal of Horry County’s land close to waterways and rivers. Some special provisions apply to these homes; for example, new construction is required to be raised 3 feet above the flood elevation.

Horry County recently released new official flood maps. While the maps still need County Council approval to be official, they can be viewed online.

County documents detailed that many older homes in flood zones were built before zoning rules were made and are often at the greatest risk for flooding. Homes that are not raised in flood zones will be deemed “legal, non-conforming” due to them not being inline with the regulations.

Under these rules, homeowners are limited to “significant limitations” for what additions or improvements can be done to the property.

At the end of Thursday’s meeting, Schwerd said County Council’s Harold Worley has requested an ordinance that would remove wetlands from the calculations of land that can be developed out of Commercial Forest Agriculture zoning code. CFA is a zoning code that allows for homes to built, but changes to it could be on the horizon.

This ordinance could reduce the density amount of development in areas in and around flood-mitigating wetlands.

Schwerd said say the maximum density of units on an acre is three houses. Currently, if you have 40 acres with 20 acres of wetlands, you could build 120 homes. If the new ordinance passes, those 20 acres of wetland would be subtracted and you could build only 60 homes.

The planning commission will debate this topic at its upcoming meeting before it heads to council.

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