Mashpee Town Planner Evan R. Lehrer presented amendments to the town’s floodplain variance bylaw at a planning board meeting on June 15.
The town needs to update the bylaws to maintain its status in the Community Rating System, a voluntary incentive program offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to encourage community floodplain management, Mr. Lehrer told the board.
Flood insurance premium rates are discounted in Community Rating System communities to reflect the reduced flood risk resulting from the community’s efforts to reduce flood damage.
“These warrant articles are a FEMA requirement, if we do not pass this repeal and replace, any property on the floodplain that requires flood insurance will lose their flood insurance,” Mr. Lehrer said.
He also warned that not passing the modified bylaw could jeopardize any property owner whose mortgage is connected to the necessity of flood insurance.
“There have been situations where towns have not adopted these [updated bylaws] at Town Meeting, and it causes a mess. You have to keep bringing this to Town Meeting until it gets approved because it’s a requirement of our voluntary program we’ve participated in since the late ‘70s,” Mr. Lehrer said.
Mr. Lehrer met with Barnstable County Floodplain Coordinator Shannon Hulst to draft and scrutinize the amended bylaw, he said. He also went through the proposal with Mashpee Building Commissioner David Morris and Conservation Agent Andrew R. McManus to ensure there were no potential conflicts with the town’s current zoning.
One of the major changes to the bylaw is to discourage compacted fill used beneath house foundations to raise the grade of the structure above the ground.
“Solid wall foundation with flood openings is more aesthetically pleasing and much more well-equipped at handling floodwaters, so that was one note to change,” Mr. Lehrer told the planning board.
Most of the bylaw is consistent with the state’s recommended model.
Mr. Lehrer said the town can add more regulations than FEMA’s minimum requirements. However, for the purposes of getting the amended bylaws before voters as soon as possible to maintain compliance with the Community Rating System program, Mr. Lehrer recommended the board pass the bylaw as presented for October Town Meeting.
Warrant articles for the October 17 Town Meeting have to be submitted to the office of the select board in Mashpee Town Hall by July 11.
Members of the planning board had some questions about including additional provisions to the bylaw to regulate the ability of the zoning board of appeals to grant building variances in the floodplain.
Board member Karen A. Faulkner said she hoped the amendments would “give some real teeth to the bylaw” to curb the ZBA’s “easy granting of variances” in the floodplain.
She referenced the Massachusetts 2020 Model Floodplain Bylaws—which the new town amendments were modeled after—that say town authorities should not issue variances for construction within a floodway if the variance will result in an increase in flood levels during a flooding event.
Mr. Lehrer said the updates he drafted with the help of Ms. Hulst were intended to remove any implications in the current bylaw that the ZBA could issue variances in situations when the authority is with state, not local, government.
When updating the bylaw, Mr. Lehrer said, he removed sections that implied the ZBA had the ability to adjust certain floodplain requirements.
“The whole purpose of this bylaw is to remove any building code-related provision from the zoning bylaw, where it implies the zoning board of appeals has the authority to grant a variance when they do not,” Mr. Lehrer said.
Board chairwoman Mary E. Waygan asked if explicit language in the bylaw to restrict the ZBA could be included.
“If the intent is to remove the authority of the building commissioner and the zoning board from issuing variances, we should put that in there,” Ms. Waygan said.
“You’re asking me questions I don’t necessarily have the answer to. I only know that this bylaw has been thoroughly vetted by myself and the floodplain coordinator,” Mr. Lehrer responded.
Mr. Lehrer said he will meet with Ms. Hulst again and make sure Ms. Faulkner’s and Ms. Waygan’s concerns are addressed.
“If there is an opportunity for enhancing that section, I’ll bring it back to you at our next meeting prior to submission,” he said.
The board held off on voting on the amendment. If it is approved at a future board meeting, the updated bylaw will then move to the select board for inclusion on the October Town Meeting warrant.