View Other Items in this Archive | View All Archives | Printable Version







November 3, 2009

5:30 p.m.


A Special Meeting of the Flagstaff Floodplain Board was held on November 3, 2009, convening at 5:39 p.m., in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 211 West Aspen Avenue, Flagstaff, Arizona.




The Meeting was called to order by Mayor Presler.


2.      ROLL CALL


On roll call, the following were present:



Mayor Presler


Vice-Mayor White

Councilmember Brewster - Excused

Councilmember Evans

Councilmember Haughey

Councilmember Overton

Councilmember Swanson



Also present were:



City Manager, Kevin Burke

City Attorney, Patricia Boomsma



Consideration of Request for Variance from City Code, Title 12, Floodplain Regulations, Section 12-01-001-0006.7, “Development Standards for Regulatory Floodways”:  Property located at 6900 E. Old Walnut Canyon Road, Flagstaff.




Deny the request for variance.


Tom Hieb, Stormwater Project Manager, presented aerial photographs of the site under consideration, which is in the floodway.  He stated that storage of materials or equipment, recreational vehicles, or other development are prohibited in, on, or over the regulatory floodway, unless the property has been removed by a Federal Emergency Management Agency map revision.


The Water Commission researched whether a variance would still be needed if the use of the site could be interpreted differently.  The site was looked at as a commercial parking lot use, as a use with flood damage potential, and as a use for recreational vehicles.  The City Code explicitly prohibits all of the uses considered by the Water Commission.


The land is currently zoned residential and would have to be rezoned to light industrial for the proposed use.  Variances to the City’s floodplain regulations can only be issued by the City Council sitting as the Floodplain Board.


City Code states that, “A variance may be granted for a parcel with physical characteristics so unusual that complying with the requirements would create an exceptional hardship.  The characteristics must be unique to the property and not shared by adjacent parcels, and they must pertain to the land itself, not the structure or its inhabitants.”


Floodplain use permits were issued in 1993 and in 2005 for the site in question, however, they were not variances.  The floodplain regulations were different at that time and less stringent with regard to constructing in a floodplain.


Malcolm Alter, Stormwater Manager, reported that FEMA State Representative Brian Cosson supports the recommendation of staff and the Water Commission to deny the request for variance.  A week prior, stormwater staff, the applicant Lon Franklin, Paul Turner the applicant’s engineer, and Brian Cosson of FEMA held a phone conference to discuss Mr. Cosson’s recommendation and potential impacts to FEMA programs.  During that conference call, Mr. Alter found some of what Mr. Cosson said to be non-committal.  The FEMA representative acknowledged to the group that there could be some risk associated with the variance, but he would not say exactly how much.  Mr. Cosson pointed out that granting variances raises a red flag for FEMA auditors and that communities with a good Community Rating System (CRS) rating such as Flagstaff are held to a higher standard.  He went on to say that a community that issues multiple variances, or establishes a pattern of questionable variances, is a big concern for FEMA.  The City of Flagstaff recently granted and extended a variance to Flagstaff Shelter Services.  Mr. Cosson acknowledged that the variance does not relate to structures; and, therefore, concerns about National Flood Insurance Program insurance claims are not an issue.  However, vehicle insurance claims could be an issue. 


Also during the phone conference, Mr. Cosson noted that when a municipality recommends denial of a variance, he typically supports that recommendation.  His recommendation has not changed and he supports denying the variance.  The FEMA representative suggested that an evacuation plan might make a variance more acceptable.  However, staff feels that the logistics of knowing when a flood is coming, removing and storing the numerous vehicles, and public safety issues all make an evacuation plan unfeasible.


The main concern is potential liability to the City should flood losses occur with the recreation vehicles, as unsafe conditions would likely occur in a flood emergency.  Floodwaters are anticipated to rise 1 foot per hour.  Should the flood occur at night, flood depths would soon inundate the recreational vehicles.  As indicated in the vehicle storage contract, owners are responsible for removing their recreational vehicles during times of flooding, which gives staff serious safety concerns.


The City acts on FEMA’s behalf to enforce the provisions of the National Flood Insurance Program; then FEMA audits the City to ensure compliance with the program.


It is not known what consequences FEMA would level against the City should the variance be granted. The most severe consequence is that a municipality could be suspended from the

program, which would make that city ineligible for any emergency declarations.  No matter which natural disaster should occur, the city would not receive any Federal funds.  More probably, the city could be put on probation, or FEMA could add $50.00 to every flood insurance policy in the city.  There is also a FEMA rewards program, where the City of Flagstaff is currently rated at “7” which provides for a 15% discount for all policy holders in the City of Flagstaff.  The City’s rating and accompanying discount could be lost if FEMA deems the City out of compliance.


Since the City of Flagstaff has been a part of the FEMA program, only one variance has been granted and that was to the Flagstaff Homeless Shelter.  FEMA approved that variance because it was temporary in nature.


City Attorney Boomsma indicated that, if Council takes action on the item tonight, the City Attorney’s Office will provide a written opinion within 30 days.


In order to avoid a variance and to develop the property in compliance with the floodplain regulation, 15 to 17 feet of fill would be needed to elevate the storage area above the floodplain.  However, by doing so, the water surface will rise and be displaced to another location.  The sink holes in the Continental Country Club near the applicant’s property are commonly recognized as a drain for the lake.  During a 100-year flood, the lake would drain into these pits in two to three days.


Lon Franklin, the applicant, commented that during the phone conference with Mr. Cosson, the issue of FEMA insurance and the Community Rating System was discussed.  The FEMA representative told the group that the insurance risk of this project would have “minimal impact and would be considered low risk.”  Mr. Franklin continued by saying the parking lot is not going to impact the volume of the pond area know as Continental Lake, and would have the least amount of impact for any other use of the land.  While acknowledging that the land was designated as a floodplain when he purchased it, he is asking for a variance just like the ones he received in 1993 and in 2005. 


He proposed to take dirt from one section of his property and move it to another section in order to raise the level of the land and build a parking lot on both sections.  However, he does not have enough dirt to raise up all of his property, and would have to buy dirt from an adjacent property owner.  It would have to be of equal conveyance so that the ponding area does not change.  His exceptional hardship is that he cannot develop or use the land without a variance.


The applicant noted that the rental agreement he has with those who park their recreational vehicles on his lot discloses that the land is in a floodway and that the owners are responsible for moving their recreational vehicles out of the area in case of a flood.  Each vehicle owner carries their own insurance.  He agreed to indemnify the City of Flagstaff against any claims due to a flood, and would provide a well-defined evacuation plan.  His lot currently contains 140 recreational vehicles and the expansion would add 80 to 120 new spaces.


Mr. Franklin served as the General Manager of Fairfield Continental during the 1993 flood.  He contended that the sink holes took three days to open because the Fire Chief had ordered them closed off in 1987.  When the water broke through, however, it drained the entire area in 8 to 9 hours.


Mr. Alter explained that City staff is less worried about a FEMA disciplinary action than the loss of property and the creation of a dangerous public safety situation with property owners trying to remove their recreational vehicle during a flood.

Councilmember Haughey moved to grant the variance with three conditions:  (1) the applicant provide an acceptable evacuation plan; (2) a warning system be implemented; and (3) a written indemnification be provided to the City in the case of flood losses.  The motion was seconded by Councilmember Swanson.


Mr. Franklin voiced his agreement to the stated conditions.


John Solianno, resident, noted that the applicant’s sink hole provides drainage benefits to the 50 to 100 adjacent properties.


The motion passed on majority roll-call vote as follows:



Mayor Presler



Vice Mayor White



Councilmember Evans



Councilmember Haughey



Councilmember Overton



Councilmember Swanson





There being no further business to come before the Board, the Special Floodplain Board Meeting was adjourned at 6:55 p.m.















Coconino County.







I, MARGIE BROWN, do hereby certify that I am the City Clerk of the City of Flagstaff, County of Coconino, State of Arizona, and that the above Minutes are a true and correct summary of the Special Floodplain Board Meeting of the City of Flagstaff held on November 3, 2009.  I further certify that the Special Floodplain Board Meeting was duly called and held and that a quorum was present.


DATED this 16th day of December, 2009.