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Wildwood approves resolution to seek grant for flood-damaged properties

By: Jessica Meszaros

The city of Wildwood is kicking off 2018 with steps to extend recovery from 2017 flooding.

At its Jan. 8 meeting, the City Council approved a resolution authorizing the request of federal funding for floodplain property acquisition as part of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program [HMGP].

The resolution was approved 14 to 1, with Councilmember Debra Smith McCutchen [Ward 5] opposed. Councilmember Jerry Porter [Ward 6] and Mayor Jim Bowlin were absent. Councilmember Larry McGowan [Ward 1], serving as mayor pro tem, did not vote.

The resolution was examined by the council in response to record flooding from the Meramec River in December 2015 and May 2017. The flooding impacted multiple areas in Wildwood, specifically Alt Road, Radcliffe Place Drive, Old State Road and multiple Glencoe streets.

Near Hwy. 109 and Old State Road, 17 structures were flooded, including four Glencoe homes that withstood substantial damages, which exceeded 50 percent of the structure’s fair market value. One structure is located on Grand Avenue, one on Woolsey Lane and another along Valley Drive. The fourth structure is the Glencoe Community Church, which is located on 3rd Street. The church was flooded in 2015 and again 16 months later.

The Glencoe Community Church of God, located near the Al Foster Memorial Trailhead

If a structure is considered substantially damaged, occupation is prohibited unless the structure is elevated above, or relocated outside, the floodplain. Property owners typically have three options: relocation, elevation or demolition. Unfortunately, the current land use zoning for the Glencoe properties limits the feasibility to relocation or elevation for homeowners.

“These people have basically been given a catch-22,” said Rick Brown, director of public works and Wildwood city engineer.

The Glencoe lots were zoned NU Non-Urban with a floodplain component in 1965 by St. Louis County. That zoning requires lot sizes of three acres or greater. The Glencoe lots, which do not meet this requirement, remain legal but non-conforming. However, while the lots can be used for their current purposes, but they cannot be expanded, altered, changed or otherwise increased in their nonconformity without coming into compliance with zoning regulations, meaning they would need to be three acres or larger.

In response to the “catch-22” that the residents find themselves in, Wildwood’s Department of Public Works submitted a Notice of Interest [NOI] to the State Emergency Management Agency [SEMA] to apply for federal funds under the HMGP. The notice proposed that Wildwood use federal funds to acquire and demolish the structures. Under the HMGP, the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] will provide up to 75 percent of the cost to buy and demolish flooded properties.

Assuming a total cost of $393,840 to purchase and demolish all four properties, the cost to the city would be $98,460, Brown said at the Jan. 8 meeting. “So it’s a 25-75 cost share program, so we’re only on the hook for 25 percent of the cost.”

The issue was presented to the Public Works Committee, who recommended Dev. 7 to submit the HMGP funding application. The council’s approval of the resolution authorizes the mayor to submit the application to SEMA. The application process is only available to city governments, not for private property owners.

McCutchen said the process of approving an application prior to a discussion of each property’s eligibility and a lack of formal agreements about flood mitigation on the properties, specifically for the church, is the city “putting the cart before the horse.”

“We’re moving forward on something we really haven’t made a decision about,” McCutchen said at the Jan. 8 meeting.

For other councilmembers, the application was seen as an opportunity to salvage properties belonging to owners who cannot occupy them. Some of those owners had approached the city on multiple occasions about possible aid or buyout opportunities, especially in the area of the Al Foster Memorial Trailhead and other community park assets.

“This is not a ‘cart before the horse’ scenario, it’s being proactive,” Councilmember Tammy Shea [Ward 3] said.

Application efforts and possible approval will confirm if properties do or don’t qualify. The date for submitting the completed application is March 1.

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