We had a major coup a week or so ago and things are progressing along pretty well these days.  This is after almost a year of developing plans and two years after petitioning FEMA to remove our house from their draconian “Floodway” designation, to a less restrictive “B Zone” – which is wholeheartedly appropriate in our case.

When we bought the house, we knew that the front half of the property was located in FEMAs Flood Zone “B” and the back half was located in what they consider the “Floodway.”  The Floodway is a “no build” zone.  So we basically went through several years of living in our house wondering if we were ever going to be able to add onto our house.  Of course, when we bought the house we had many mixed signals from the County as to whether or not building would be possible, so we went ahead with the buy knowing that there was a risk, but believing that adding on had to be possible on some level.  After some serious research and thinking on our part we decided that we may have a decent case to have FEMA to revise our Flood designation on the back half of our property.

Our reasoning was that the back half of our property was a higher elevation than the front half – FEMA creates its flood maps and the flood zone designations on them by altitude elevations determined by taking surveys at numerous locations, then plugging the numbers into a computer with known topographical data and extrapolating between the points to determine contour lines of flood zones along a water way.  So we thought that maybe they took some data points near our neighborhood but not exactly at our front porch and the computer filled in the rest not realizing that the back half of our property was higher, and therefore, should be out of the flood zone.  Fema has procedures to protest your flood desgnation, and if you turn out to be right, you get your property re-zoned.  In our case, we had to hire a surveyor to take several elevations around our property to determine what is referred to as the “Base Flood Elevation” (BFE).  In our case, the BFE for our property was 241 feet.  So the hope was that we would find the 241 elevation line running through our property, but that the portion of the property where our house was (and the building envelope our addition would be in) was above 241.  Our luck had it that the back half of our property was above 241 – including a perfect location for an addition.  With Fema’s guidance, a great surveyor who knew what he was doing, lots of luck, and plenty of determination, we submitted our application for a LOMR (Letter of Map Revision) and it was approved by FEMA back in 2006.

After finishing our garage and having kids, we finally decided it was time to add on to our house.  Of course, we knew there was nothing certain until we got our building permit from the county.  And the county flood department was getting tougher and tougher and tougher to be in compliance with FEMA, and then Katrina hit and they went completely bonkers – top that off with the fact that they really only have one guy in the department that reviews plans for Flood permits, and it started looking like quite a mess.  Anyway, we submitted our plans to the flood department about 6 weeks ago.  The reviewer in the county initially called my designer/planner to tell him our plans would not get a flood permit because the LOMR that he got from FEMAs website showed that ONLY our house was removed from the floodway, not a portion of the property, as I had believed.  It had been so long since I got the LOMR, I couldn’t remember the details, and basically I freaked.  Luckily, after digging through my records I remembered that I had TWO LOMRs: One for the house, which was a mistake that resulted from FEMA giving me wrong instructions at first; And another that included the house and a portion of the property.  For some reason, only the first one showed up on FEMAs website under my address file.  In any event, I called FEMA frantically and started digging into this – hoping that there was not some Federal Bureau screwup like a LOMR retraction or something.  Anyway, the call center guys at FEMA had no idea, so they promised an “analyst” would call me back within three days.  I was amazed that some one called me within one hour.  And it wasn’t just anyone, it was the head guy for LOMRs in all of the western US.  He assured me everything was great with my LOMR and that he would contact the county directly.  He did.  Despite some hesitancy from the county reviewer, he ended up getting on board gleefully and approved our plans.

It was quite tense, but we prevailed in the end.

We install our septic this week/next week, then the building dept should issue us a building permit.