Map revisions solve flood zoning problem - Tucson Local Media: Import

Map revisions solve flood zoning problem

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Posted: Wednesday, February 9, 2005 12:00 am | Updated: 7:49 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Feb. 9, 2005 - For the past decade, Laura and Clayton Wengert haven't exactly lived under the most ideal of circumstances.

As if having eight children wasn't enough, the Marana couple faced the burden of being zoned into the town's floodway, restricting them from adding onto their property as the family outgrew the three-bedroom home they purchased in 1993.

"We were just so cramped in this little, tiny, three-bedroom house. It was just terrible," Laura Wengert said.

The Wengerts are one of several families in the Berry Acres neighborhood expected to be removed from the floodway March 10, thanks to map revisions approved by Federal Emergency Management Association.

More than 700 acres is expected to be removed from the town's flood plain, making a large amount of land now available for development, said Jim DeGrood, Marana's flood plain administrator and executive assistant to the town manager.

Though Marana has its own hopes of eventually developing the area along the Santa Cruz River, DeGrood said, it was the Berry Acres residents who were the primary concern on this project.

"Certainly, we had an interest in trying to address a concern that affected a community of ours," he said. "This was something we felt we needed to do and put some energy into. We take it real seriously when we tell somebody, 'No' - that we can't allow them to build somewhere."

That's exactly what the town had told the Wengerts when they wanted to expand their home several years ago.

The Wengerts had bought the 23-acre property alongside the Santa Cruz River, in northern Marana's Berry Acres neighborhood, thinking they'd fix up and expand the place as the family grew. It wasn't long after that their property was rezoned into the floodway.

"We had always planned on building out," Laura Wengert said, adding that she had plans for a larger family room, more bedrooms, bathrooms and even an extra guest room. "Our plans when we moved in were to do a lot to this house, but we couldn't do anything. We had 23 acres and we couldn't put on an additional bedroom."

Laura Wengert's early hopes to construct her dream house - which she once even sketched out on paper - quickly faded. Having enough space for the growing family seemed far from a reality, let alone the thought of ever having an extra room for guests.

At one point, the couple shared a bedroom with three of the children, while the other five were divided amongst the remaining two bedrooms. The eight children now are ages 2 through 19. The oldest is away at college.

"I went to the town of Marana, over, and over, and over again," Laura Wengert said. "And finally, it took about three years, and they said we could enclose the back porch, but we couldn't build onto the house."

Town officials gave the family the OK to enclose and put a roof over their back porch, incorporating it into their home. The Wengerts used the additional space to add two small rooms and an extra bathroom.

That helped ease the family's growing pains to some extent. However, the $70,000 project cost them their spacious porch, which the family once enjoyed. The backyard now remains little more than a swimming pool, and its edge comes just feet from the side of the home.

Moving was always an option, Clayton Wengert said, but being in the floodway greatly reduced the property value. And besides, the family had found their niche in the neighborhood.

In addition to being the bishop of the town's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Clayton Wengert also runs the Marana Veterinary Clinic on the family's property.

He was lucky enough to have the 1,000-square-foot clinic completed before the property was put into the floodway, he said. However, he had hoped to expand it - and that's finally a possibility.

But it's a little late to think about their dream house anymore, Laura Wengert said. Though, there are no hard feelings toward anyone, she said.

"The town of Marana really tried hard. We really appreciate them doing the extra research to get us out of the floodway," she said. "But if I had known we were going to come out of the floodway, I would have waited to (enclose the porch)."

Clayton Wengert said he's optimistic because this likely will increase the property value, as well as lower their flood insurance. He said he has paid about $1,000 per year on insurance for the house and another $700 just for flood insurance.

A mass mailing sent to more than 100 residents Jan. 5 states that 900 or more acres of land is expected to be removed from the flood plain north of Imogene and Clyde streets.

A flood plain is an area of land that has been, or may be, subject to flooding. A floodway is the actual channel for an overflow of water caused by flooding.

Residents "may" no longer be required to carry flood insurance, and can possibly make improvements on their properties which they previously could not make, according to the letter.

DeGrood said the map revisions aren't a product of any new occurrences, but, rather, a reevaluation of old studies. The town hired Kimley-Horn and Associates in 2003 to study the area, turning up different results than the previous Flood Insurance Study, he said, adding that the original study used less-sophisticated flood analysis techniques.

"We were basically able to go back in and look at the same original data and make an argument for removing more land from the floodway," he said.

The town involved Pinal and Pima counties in the process of gathering input on the maps, and letters of support were sent to FEMA from both counties, DeGrood said.

Pima County had studies of the flood plain and certain map revisions approved by FEMA in September, taking other residents out of the flood plain. DeGrood said Marana waited for the results of that approval before it could finalize its own analysis.

"We were basing all of our changes on the work that Pima County was doing," he said. "We couldn't get our project approved until Pima County got their project approved. It takes a long time processing these revisions."

But while the majority of Berry Acres residents now are free of the floodway, a few remain less fortunate. There still are about four or five properties that the town has been unable to accommodate on the south side of Imogene Street.

Marana may offer to help relocate those residents through a "flood-prone land acquisition program," DeGrood said. If permits can't be issued, the town will have the option to acquire the property, but DeGrood noted that appraisals for flood-prone lands come up pretty low.

Jack Curry, a retired underground utilities contractor from Illinois, is one of the unfortunate residents who live on the south side of Imogene, thus still in the floodway.

"They must be two inches higher over there," he said sarcastically, pointing across the street to his neighbors who are now out of the floodway.

Curry has six acres of property along Imogene, upon which he has a two-bedroom mobile home and a garage, as well as another unit that he rents out. He also has 22 acres of undeveloped land on Silverbell Road, which he said he'd gladly move to if the town could make him an offer for his current property that wasn't an insult.

"I was all for moving out, until they gave me an appraisal over a year ago and disrespected me," Curry said, adding that the town sent out appraisers who deemed his garage worth $5,000. "You couldn't even build a garage like this for $5,000," he said.

Curry enjoys spending his spare time in his garage, using his technical skills to put old vehicle motors to use. However, he said, he hasn't enjoyed being left out each time attempts are made to remedy the flood situation.

Pima County constructed a soil-concrete levee in 2000 along the north bank of the Santa Cruz River, from south of Avra Valley Road up to Sanders Road. FEMA deemed the levee a few inches too short in some areas, causing many downstream residents including Curry left to bear the brunt of the technicality.

FEMA's federal guidelines required that a levee must be high enough to stop a 100-year flood with three feet to spare. A 1983 flood that resulted in three deaths, 697 residents requesting temporary houses, 1,347 people register for disaster assistance, and a cleanup bill of $700,000, originally prompted discussions about constructing a levee.

"The water actually comes out faster now because it's got no place to go. It comes right out here," Curry said, commenting on the levee's threat to Berry Acres residents. "They took care of everyone upstream and said to hell with us down here. They just want us out of here, but they don't want to pay us."

Regardless of the technicalities that burden residents like Curry, DeGrood said, floods are a serious issue to take extreme caution with. He said the flood of 1983 was not a fluke, and will happen again.

"We're on a giant weather continuum - it's just a matter of when," he said. "Anyone thinking the floods of '83 are never again to be repeated is mistaken. We will have floods of high magnitude and how frequently that occurs is just a matter of probability."

"We're torn between wanting to help the property owners develop their land and enjoy a high quality of life on their property, and also respecting that the river is a serious threat to this area," he added.

DeGrood said Pima County and Marana already have acquired some properties in the Berry Acres area, but don't have any grand scheme for their future use. The land could be a future park site, but neither time nor energy has been devoted to such a project, he said.

"This is in everyone's vision to develop the linear park further downstream, but that's not going to be ripe for many years," he said.

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