STONINGTON — If the Planning and Zoning Commission reduces the town’s lookback period from five years to one year, the change could have positive effects on property investment in floodplain areas.
The commission will hold a public hearing on the potential change on Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. at Mystic Middle School. The hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday but the meeting was postponed.
The town currently has a five-year lookback period, which means property owners whose buildings are in the floodplain are limited to investing 50 percent of the building’s appraised value over five years. If the 50 percent mark is exceeded, then it triggers the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s definition of substantial improvement and the building must be brought into full compliance with the agency’s regulations.
In 2013, the commission changed the lookback period from one year to five years because the shorter period wasn’t meeting the town’s goals of bringing buildings into compliance with flood hazard regulations, said Keith Brynes, town planner, Tuesday.
“Back then the commission thought it was too much of a loophole where someone could just do a certain amount of improvements, wait a few months and then do the rest and get around doing substantial improvement that way,” he said. “With the change to five years, it’s easier to trigger that threshold where you have to bring your building into compliance.”
Brynes said the commission is considering the change because the longer period may be deterring investment in the area, particularly in the new PV-5 zone in downtown Pawcatuck.
“What we found since then is it may have negative effects on investing in buildings in the community,” he said. “It’s one of the things we’ve been running up against with some of the properties in [the PV-5] area.”
In May 2015, Stonington was removed from the Community Rating System, a federal floodplain management program that provides discounts on flood insurance premiums to residents, after it failed to file paperwork related to compliance issues. The town was readmitted to the program in October 2017, this time at a Class 8, which provides a 10 percent discount on flood insurance premiums, resulting in approximately $156,489 in savings community-wide. The town was previously at a Class 9.
Even though towns earn extra points for longer lookback periods, a shorter period will not affect Stonington’s rating, said Scot Deledda, town engineer, Tuesday.
In terms of program points, Deledda said the town is closer to a Class 7 than a Class 9 and would not lose its Class 8 status.
The town has earned points toward its CRS rating through a number of actions, such as reaching out to the public through its flood awareness newsletter, which has gone to every resident in the flood hazard zone for 14 years.
The town also gains points for having printable flood hazard maps and a Geographical Information System with a flood zone layer. Additionally, the town’s service to lenders, realtors and insurance agents that provides property flood zone determinations earns points.
Deledda said a downside to changing to one year would be some additional difficulty in achieving a better CRS rating if the town wanted to do so.
“It’s not going to change our current rating but it could make it a little harder to achieve a better rating in the future, to reach a level 7 down the road if we wanted to improve our rating,” he said.
Philip Becker, who purchased Laura’s Landing at 34 West Broad St. in October, said changing the lookback period to one year would help investors and property owners in the area. His purchase of the building was seen as a catalyst in the economic redevelopment of downtown Pawcatuck.
Becker said a one-year lookback period would make it easier for investors and property owners to make improvements without going over the 50 percent mark.
“It’s a great thing for everybody and I think it will be good for Pawcatuck, you’ll see a lot of good things going on because of it,” he said from his Glendale, Cal., home on Tuesday.
Brynes said the commission will have to consider the need for reinvestment in areas such as Pawcatuck Village against the town’s goal of bringing more properties into compliance with the flood hazard regulations.
“Protecting people and properties is a good thing so they’ll have to consider whether the one-year or the five-year or somewhere in between is a good option for the town,” he said.