James Davis

Catoosa County Zoning Director James Davis discusses the county's flood damage prevention ordinance during a Sept. 19 commissioners meeting. (Catoosa News photo/Adam Cook)

Catoosa County commissioners recently approved a zoning ordinance amendment that will make it less costly for residents and developers to build in designated flood plain areas.

County Zoning Director James Davis proposed the change to the Board of Commissioners during a Sept. 19 meeting. He said the change is essentially reverting to an earlier version of the county's flood damage prevention ordinance.

"The Board of Commissioners tasked the planning and zoning office with looking over our development codes," Davis said. "Basically our flood ordinance ... is one of the strictest in the state. Out of the three jurisdictions within the county — Catoosa County, the city of Fort Oglethorpe, and Ringgold — we have the most stringent. The city of Ringgold has the county's old ordinance and they are right in the middle between us and Fort Oglethorpe, who has the least stringent base model ordinance. The Planning Commission requested zoning staff to amend the ordinance so that it's not too stringent, but at the same time not too lenient. We basically felt as though going back to our old ordinance, what the city of Ringgold currently uses, would be the best option."

The current ordinance doesn't allow for any development or land service to take place in the flood plain without a "no rise" certification provided by the property owner, developer, or builder after first contracting with an engineer or surveyor.

Davis says the costs involved with the "no rise" certification are lofty, especially for a residential property owner looking to build something as small as a house.

"That 'no rise' certification can cost property owners — just an average property owner wanting to build a house — anywhere from $5,000, $10,000 to $15,000," he said. "It can really hurt people that may want to build in the county."

Instead of a whole flood plain needing the certification, the amendment essentially split the plain into two sections; the "lower fringe," closest to the floodway, and the "outer fringe," the area farthest from the floodway.

"Basically, on the outer part of the flood plain, there is an area called the flood fringe," Davis said. "What we're hoping to do is go back to our previous ordinance, which basically cut the flood fringe in half, and will treat the lower fringe — where our ordinance has now as the floodway — where if you want to do development in that dangerous floodway, lower fringe area, you would still need to do a 'no rise' certification. The upper fringe property owners, some of those would not need to have that certification. If development is going to take place in that lower half of the floodway fringe, a 'no rise' will still be required. That's basically the change that we're asking for."

Commissioners unanimously approved the change with a 5-0 vote.

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009. He can be reached at The Catoosa County News office at 706-935-2621 and by email at acook@npco.com.