WILMINGTON — Hurricane Florence and the subsequent flooding from the Cape Fear River gave Wilmington a real-life example of the usefulness of building codes and flood mitigation requirements. But the city’s own public-private development known as River Place — an $83.6 million project — has been granted permission to not follow the guidelines put in place by the city.
In August of 2016, before Hurricane Florence was even a thought, Lucien Ellison of Water Street Ventures LLC, acting as an agent for the City of Wilmington, made a request to the city’s Board of Adjustment to exempt River Place from floodproofing requirements. This means the City of Wilmington effectively granted itself permission to not follow the rules it has in place.
The official meeting minutes list the application as a, “Request for a variance to City Code Chapter 18, Land Development Code, Section 18-660 to reduce the flood proofing requirement for nonresidential structures from 2-feet above base flood to 1-foot above base flood elevation for the development of Riverplace.”
A portion of River Place is located within a special flood hazard area and the city’s Land Development Code (LDC) states, “… new construction must have the lowest floor elevated to at least two (2) feet above the base flood elevation or floodproofed below the regulatory flood protection elevation.”
So why did the city make the request in the first place? Well, as it turns out, following the rules would be too difficult — and cost too much money.
The LDC requires any street-level facade be predominantly glazed by incorporating windows or doors of clear or lightly tinted glass that allow views in and out of the building. According to the request, “The feasibility of effectively flood proofing glazed areas is reduced as the level of the required flood proofing increases.”
According to the meeting minutes, Richard Collier of McKim and Creed Engineering, as well as Vice-Chairman of the City of Wilmington Planning Commission, said the additional 1-foot of flood proofing would be too expensive but spoke to the flood proofing they would do.
Speaking on behalf of the developer, Bruce McGuire, also a Planning Commission member, pointed out that the extra 1-foot requirement was a city requirement, not one put in place by the Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines.
When asked if the extra 1-foot requirement was for insurance purposes and reductions in policy premiums, McGuire confirmed it was not.
Collier did not respond to Port City Daily’s request for comment on the request. Port City Daily asked Collier if, after the recent flooding during Hurricane Florence, he still found it responsible to exclude the project from city regulations and if it was too late to revisit the flood-proofing measures.
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