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By Erin in Ennis, TX on 11/11/2008


I am in the process of choosing a piece of land to build a home on in Ennis, TX. Does anyone know who I would use to tell me if my house would fit on the property? (It's located on a flood plain and has some challenging build sites).


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By Bob in Ennis, TX on 11/11/2008


On how bad of a flood plain is your land? Is it a 100-year flood plain or did it flood with the rain we had last night?  You should be able to go out to the site & see where the water was or is. That should give you a starting point. How many acres do you have? How large is your house going to be?

Are you financing your house? If so, are you getting a loan locally?

Sorry for all the questions.


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By Mike in Bonham, TX on 11/12/2008


Erin,

A surveyor should be able to shoot the property and show on the survey where the flood plain is.  You can put this in your contract that the survey has to be acceptable to you for your purposes.  Also, you can look up a map of the area with U.S. Corps of Engineers that should have the zones identified.

Do you have a real estate agent assisting you in this process?  If not, then it might be a good idea to get one who is knowledgeable in buying land for just this purpose.

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By Ron in Austin, TX on 11/12/2008


Development in the floodplain can bring some of the best rewards like low acquisition costs and beautiful building site.  It can also bring some challenges and risks.

A surveyor/engineer should be able to help with a delineation and/or an elevation on your lot.

To help determine floodplains the FEMA floodplain maps can be found on the net at the following site:

msc.fema.gov/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Fema

Questions to ask yourself/professional consultants for your site should be:

1. Is the floodplain a Zone A or Zone AE?

- Zone A floodplains are approximate delineations, not studied with precision (buyer beware/high degree of uncertainty)

-Zone AE floodplains are approximate, but with elevations.  These floodplain have been studied to the point of a fair level of certainty.

2. If the floodplain is an AE floodplain, where is the floodway?  Floodways are contained within a floodplain and are delineated a part of the flood study. No home or fill material can be placed in the floodway.

These answer will likely require a professional.  The local county/city Floodplain Administrator could answer these questions.  If these questions cannot be answered then do not buy. 

Homes/development can be place in Zone AE floodplains and can have inexpensive flood insurance or even eliminate any need for flood insurance with some thoughtful considerations to:

1. County/City regulations;

2. Septic/well locations; and

3. Slab elevations.

Please keep in mind that even if not on a floodplain map, anything can be flooded.

Good luck.

Ron


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By DCG in Lago Vista, TX on 11/12/2008


Ron, I live within about 700' of Lake Travis, just outside the 100-year flood plain.  I agree that building in a flood plain should require consultation with a specialist  - and may require that you contact the LCRA - or other authority.  In my area, the flood plain has been raised once in 10 years and the zone is constantly being resurveyed.

Permitting requirements (in my area) when building in a flood plain are more significant.  The septic permitting system and engineering of the septic system is also more expensive.  Flood insurance - well, I'm not sure what you mean by "inexpensive" - the last time I checked flood insurance was not trivial, even being well out of the 100-year area and had additional "fine print" on it - like the requirement that at least one other home in the same area was flooded before the insurance claim would be valid.

In Lago Vista, we have a lot of great homes built in the flood area.  About once every 2-3 years, these homes become inaccessible and some sustain varying levels of damage.  Some are absolutely spectacular, being built 20 feet up - but can't be accessed for weeks when there are flood issues...


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By Ron in Austin, TX on 11/12/2008


Please note that FEMA's floodplain maps do change with the following:

better survey information; fill above the floodplain, or a more updated analysis. 

For examples, the floodplain for Lake Travis is to be raised to an elevation of 722' due to a more detailed study. Sorry, Lago Vista, nothing you can do; but if you buy flood insurance before the official map change then you may get the grandfathered rates. 

Professionally, I am an engineer and a Certified Floodplain Manager.   Personally, I purchased a inexpensive beautiful creekfront lot south of Austin to O-B for our family home.  With a couple of feet of fill I can get an Elevation Certificate stating that the finished floor is above the floodplain and/or I can modify FEMA's map with a LOMR (Letter of Map Revision).

Flood insurance can be affordable ($300/year) if the structure is demonstrated to be higher than the floodplain elevation; otherwise the risks are obviously higher as are the premiums. Common sense is always more important than "fine print".

Good luck

Ron


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By Erin in Ennis, TX on 11/13/2008


I haven't chosen a real estate agent yet. The listing agent sent me a copy of the survey, which shows the 100-year flood plain. The property is 9.59 acres; however, only 2.7 acres is not in the flood plain. Also, the creek separates the 2.7 acres, making a portion by the road out of the floodplain - probably 1.5 acres, and a portion behind the creek out of the flood plain - probably 1.2 acres. I wanted to find a builder who would give me an estimate and idea if my house plan would fit on those areas and how much it would cost to clear the land.


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By Erin in Ennis, TX on 11/13/2008


I did get a copy of the survey, it is in the 100-year flood plain. The creek is normally dry, but I can tell it must swell during rain. I didn't have a chance to make it out there after the rain. That is a good idea to go check it out for myself as well.

The total acreage is 9.5 acres; however, only 2.7 of it is out of the flood plain, which is separated by the creek. About 1.5 acres up by the road and 1.2 acres behind the creek. I wanted to build the house off the road and was hoping to build on the 1.2 acres behind the creek. The house plan is between 4,000-4,800 sq ft. I also want to build a pool with cabana.  I will finance the house and have not got a loan yet. Since I am waiting for the house market to turn around I just got a land loan for now. Thanks for all information.


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By Erin in Ennis, TX on 11/13/2008


It looks like it is in the 100-year flood plain, and using the map you suggested it appears to be Zone A. From what I understand, I cannot build in the floodplain at all, is that correct?
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By Erin in Ennis, TX on 11/13/2008


Who would I contact locally to determine if I add fill or do something similar? The property is in Ennis,TX which is Ellis County.


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By DCG in Lago Vista, TX on 11/13/2008


Re: "From what I understand I cannot build in the floodplain at all. Is that correct?"

I'm going to tell you it depends on your jurisdiction.  I can tell you that in Travis County, we can build in the flood plain - but the permitting process is more significant and the restrictions increase.

To inquire:

Start with the county.

Go to the city.

Find out who permits septic/sewer/marinas/boat docks.


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By Ron in Austin, TX on 11/13/2008


Erin,

You can build in the floodplain, however...

FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) have the rules and regulations for development, mapping, and getting home insurance in floodplains.  When a community adopts the minimum NFIP guidelines, they are eligible to participate in the program.  Some cities and counties may have more restrictive guidelines than those required by the NFIP.  The city or county overseer of the local NFIP program will have the title of Floodplain Administrator.  They are really the final word for development.

The Zone A floodplain is a "pretty good" estimate; usually a little more conservative than the "real" floodplain. 

In most rural areas the Zone A (Approximate) is more common.  As an area becomes more urbanized, developers and FEMA will spend money for a more detailed analysis.  This analysis will merit a floodplain map change to a Zone AE (Approximate with Elevation) map.  The benefit of the more detailed map is that an owner can know what elevation to build up to and can develop responsibly near and in the floodplain.

Best of Luck

Ron


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