Larimer County floodplain information session draws a crowd

Extra extra chairs were needed in the hearing room in the Larimer County office building on Jan. 26 when citizens of LaPorte met with the Larimer County Commissioners to discuss their concerns regarding existing floodplain regulations. Larimer County land Use Code 4.2.2 stipulates that any building in a floodway that sustains 50 percent or more damage in a flood or other disaster cannot be rebuilt.

All three commissioners and members of the Larimer County planning, engineering and emergency management staff were present. Commissioner Steve Johnson informed residents that the purpose of the session was to gather and share information. No discussion would be permitted and no action taken.

Matt Lafferty, principal planner, Mark Peterson, county engineer and other staff members provided background information, defined the difference between a floodway and a floodfringe, gave a history of flooding in the area. He explained that flood regulations were first instituted in Larimer County in 1975 in order to comply with the requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program. They were updated in 2013. The county code requires a higher standard than either state or federal regulations, seen as necessary to reduce losses and life in a high-risk area.

The frustration among LaPorte residents revolves around confusion as to when the regulations were first in place, the fact that residents were not notified of their existence and what property owners see as unfair standards. The current code creates an economic hardship for LaPorte area residents, severely reducing their property values, residents claim.

Greg Koch, chair of the Larimer County Flood Review Board said that balancing private property rights with maintaining health and safety in flood prone areas is a challenge. “The board leans toward allowing variances whenever that is possible. We do not require removal of existing buildings in a flood zone but we are against rebuilding,” he explained. “Sometimes it seems unreasonable, we know.”

Resident Scott Tally described three instances in which residents have been affected by the code: In one case a potential buyer backed out because of the code, a Realtor refused to list a property and an elderly couple who are property owners are saddled with two mortgages because their house has not sold. Larimer County Land Use Code 4.2.2 is more stringent than FEMA and state of Colorado requirements, Tally pointed out.

Reid Hayhow spoke in behalf of the residents suggesting several options ranging from dropping the “no-rebuild” requirement to finding a middle ground fair to residents that also addresses public safety concerns, to keeping the 4.2.2 code in place, an option he felt was unfair to property owners.

A number of other residents including Bob McConnell, who owned and subdivided much of the land in question, spoke about “too stringent, unreasonable, Gestapo-like tactics” on the part of the county.

At the close of the session, commissioners Johnson and Tom Donnelly assured the audience that they would work with county staff to find the best way to address the “no re-build” requirement of the code in hopes of seeking a middle ground. The possibility of grants, funds for buybacks and an adjustment of the code were mentioned as areas worthy of discussion.

Commissioner Steve Johnson conducts an open meeting monthly with LaPorte and Bellvue area residents at Laporte Pizza.

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