Your guide to SB 9 in flood zones and regulatory floodways.
Here at Homestead, we recently received an email that began, “I noticed from your website that my property is not eligible for SB 9 because it is in a flood zone. However, reading the bill text, I do not see any mention of flood zones being a factor for lot splits.”
There’s a lot of confusion regarding flood zones and Senate Bill 9. Many homeowners hear that flood-prone areas are ineligible for SB 9 development, but when they examine the text of the law, they find no mention of flood zones whatsoever. How can flood zones be banned from SB 9 development if the law doesn’t say anything about them? And if they really are prohibited, are there any exceptions?
In the following blog post, we’ll address some of our most frequently asked questions about flood zones and SB 9:
- What are flood zones?
- What does SB 9 actually say about flood zones?
- Can I still use SB 9 if my property is located in a flood zone?
What are flood zones?
Flood zones are geographic areas that the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) categorizes according to varying degrees of flood risk. You can determine the flood risk in your area by using FEMA’s flood map search tool.
Every property is technically located within a flood zone, since FEMA assigns zones to all areas. When people say “flood zone” however, they are usually referring to a high-risk flood zone.
What’s a high-risk flood zone?
High-risk flood zones are areas in which the annual likelihood of flooding is 1% or greater. In contrast, low and moderate-risk zones have a yearly chance of 0.2% or less.
1% may not sound very high, but over the course of a standard 30-year mortgage, a property in a high-risk flood zone has a 26% chance of flooding at least once. For this reason, homeowners in flood-prone areas are required to purchase flood insurance.
Additionally, high-risk flood zones may be off-limits for certain types of real estate development, or may require special flood prevention measures in order to be deemed safe for development.
What does SB 9 law say about flood zones?
Technically speaking, Senate Bill 9 doesn’t say anything about flood zones.
It does, however, reference a section of state government code that limits housing development in flood-prone areas.
In the legal text of SB 9, it states that properties are eligible for development as long as they meet all of the necessary criteria. It goes on to list the various criteria, among which is compliance with a particular section of California Government Code Title 7 on Planning and Land Use. The passage in question restricts housing construction in certain locations, including special flood hazard areas and regulatory floodways.
Therefore SB 9 does restrict development in flood-prone areas, albeit indirectly.
Can I use SB 9 if my property is in a high-risk flood zone or regulatory floodway?
The state government code clarifies that development is allowed within high flood-risk regions as long as either of the following criteria are met:
- The site has obtained a Letter of Map Revision from FEMA and filed it with their local jurisdiction
- The site meets necessary FEMA requirements for flood plain management, according to the National Flood Insurance Program
Properties located within regulatory floodways, on the other hand, are ineligible for development unless the site has obtained a no-rise certification from a registered professional engineer.
Because Senate Bill 9 follows the requirements of Title 7, your high-flood risk property may be eligible for SB 9 development if you have a Letter of Map Revision or meet all necessary flood plan management requirements. If your property is located in a regulatory floodway, you may be able to utilize SB 9 if you have a a no-rise certification.
We hope this guide has clarified high-risk flood zones and how they can impact SB 9 development. Understanding legal text can be difficult, and SB 9 in particular is complicated due to local ordinances and restrictions.
For more information on zoning-based restrictions and exceptions, read our post on SB 9 in High Fire Severity Zones.