City and county staff collaboration on floodplain issues vastly improved, city’s emergency manager reports

Remark made as City Commission addresses annual Floodplain Management Plan update

Buster Chapin (left) listens as Todd Kerkering addresses the City Commission on Jan. 16. News Leader photo

City of Sarasota staff has forged a much better working relationship with Sarasota County staff in regard to floodplain issues, the City of Sarasota’s emergency manager has reported to the City Commission.

Having been a city employee for close to four years, Todd Kerkering said on Jan. 16, “I will tell you the level of coordination between the city and the county has done a 180. Before, it was butting heads. … We’re working slowly to solve the problems.”

Kerkering offered the remarks as the commissioners addressed the city’s Floodplain Management Plan Evaluation and Status Update, whose preparation each year is a requirement for continued credit under the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System, according to a staff memo provided to the board in advance of its regular meeting on Jan. 16.

“[T]he City is annually required to provide an Evaluation and Status update regarding only the Action Strategies in the plan,” the memo says.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch had pulled the floodplain management item from the board’s Consent Agenda No. 1 to ask about a couple of concerns.

Her first question focused on her feeling — after reading through the 2017 material, she said — that the update was omitting an emphasis on permeable and porous surfaces.

She noted two sections to underscore her point. The first included the staff comment, “The City is currently undergoing a process to create a form based code which plans to propose methods for on-site stormwater management to minimize post-development increases in stormwater runoff within residential areas. The form based code is proposing percentage requirements to retain [runoff] volume between post development impervious surface and pre-development surface.”

A consultant has been working for a couple of years on a comprehensive revision of the city’s zoning and land use regulations. The commission is planning a number of public hearings and other public sessions on that process this year, as it works toward the conclusion of the process.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch. File photo

No. 15 in the update, Ahearn-Koch continued, references actions by city departments to “evaluate the feasibility of permeable surfaces to minimize runoff.” The staff comment in the 2017 update to that statement says, “City Departments continue to evaluate on a project-by-project basis and are working through the form based code process at potential updates.”

She just wanted to make certain, Ahearn-Koch added, that staff’s inclusion of porous and permeable surfaces “is on the forefront of what we are looking at” with floodplain management.

Kerkering explained that the 2017 floodplain management update is based on the city’s 2002 zoning ordinance. Such an evaluation has to be undertaken every five years, he added.

In regard to the form-based code, he pointed out, “We’re waiting to see the end result.” However, he said, he and Buster Chapin, the city’s senior zoning analyst, meet on a monthly basis with the consultant working on the code, as well as with county stormwater staff.

Stevie Freeman-Montes, the city’s sustainability manager, and city Public Works and Engineering staff members, along with him and Chapin, also meet almost once a month to discuss issues, Kerkering said.

“I’m really glad to hear that” and the news about the relationship with county staff, Ahearn-Koch replied.

Kerkering also pointed out that although staff has no plan to move away from pursuit of the use of porous and permeable surfaces in development, the City Commission ultimately will approve the new form-based code.

Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown added that city staff was working to complete an update on the applicability of permeable surfaces, especially in regard to circumstances when such surfaces should be required.

Ahearn-Koch then made a motion to approve the annual update of the floodplain management plan, and Commissioner Willie Shaw seconded it. The motion passed unanimously.