Blanco Gardens residents express frustration with city over letter

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Assistant News Editor
What was once a home on Conway Drive in San Marcos, is now an empty building Aug 15 as a result of the Memorial Day floods.

Blanco Gardens’ residents voiced their frustrations at the Aug. 4 city council meeting after they received federal letters notifying them their homes may no longer be protected by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

The City of San Marcos Permit Center and Engineering Department distributed letters July 23 to inform 135 home owners that in order to remain in compliance with the NFIP, houses with “substantial damage” caused by the Memorial Day weekend floods must be elevated more than one foot over the flood plain or they would no longer be protected by the NFIP.

Jared Miller, city manager, said many of the letter’s recipients initially misunderstood its message, thinking their only options were to elevate the homes or destroy them.

Miller said homeowners could choose not to elevate their homes and continue to live in them. However, if residents do no comply with the NFIP they will no longer be protected by the NFIP.

According to the letter, some of the houses suffered damages exceeding 50 percent of their current fair market value.

During the citizen comment portion of the Aug. 4 city council meeting, some Blanco Gardens residents said they were frustrated because they already invested flood relief funds to home repairs.

Other homeowners said when they obtained permits to begin repairs on their homes, they were not informed of specific alterations that needed to be made for their homes to be in compliance with the NFIP.

Miller said repair permits were granted prior to having Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) final determinations on which homes were considered “substantially damaged” and needed to undergo specific adjustments in order to remain protected by the NFIP.

He said all of the permits had disclaimers warning residents that FEMA may deem their home substantially damaged, but the final determinations had not yet been released.

“We gave (residents) the necessary permits (to make repairs) and also included, on that, information that stated, ‘This does not include any final determination data from FEMA or any final determinations on your status on substantial damage,’” Miller said. “But it did have—in very big red letters at the bottom of the documents—the proviso associated with that permit.”

Miller said city officials were not in the position to “keep people from making repairs,” and were unable to speak on behalf of incomplete FEMA determinations.

Melissa Derrick, a flood-stricken homeowner, told city council members at the Aug. 4 meeting that she realized there must have been a technical issue because the disclaimer was only viewable on a computer, not an iPhone.

Since many lost their computers in the flood and obtained permits online, Derrick said many of the residents did not receive the necessary information to make the smartest investments.

“The people in Blanco Gardens deserve more communication so that they can understand what’s going on instead of getting a letter that says you might have to tear your home down,” Derrick said. C

ommunity member Lisa Marie Coppoletta, addressed city council Aug. 4 and said she met with city management and development after receiving the letter.

“I do feel a lot better after I met with city management,” Coppoletta said. “I was just hoping that y’all would be a little more diplomatic in the future. I’ve been involved in politics for a long time and even when I looked at the letter it freaked me out.”

Coppoletta said officials need to be better prepared for these types of situations.

“The apartments over there by that Walmart, they got flooded and some of those kids had to swim to safety—and they are inexperienced,” Coppoletta said. “When you put those kids in those apartments, they’re unaware of the flooding issue.”

She said city officials need to be more judicial in the future and make developers focus on drainage plans before the aesthetic of the project.

“People’s lives have been ruined,” Coppoletta said.

Miller became emotional at the city council meeting, shedding tears as multiple residents shared frustration over miscommunications and feelings of defeat upon receiving the city’s letter.

Miller said affected homeowners needed to meet with the city engineers to discuss a game plan.

We can definitely offer them hope and we can offer them, potentially, solutions,” Miller said. “When we bring them in we can talk creatively to each one of them, uniquely and individually, in regard to their unique problems and situations with regards to their properties.”

The city is actively seeking flood and hazard mitigation grants, as well as aid from nonprofit organizations to provide citizens with financial assistance in the aftermath of the historical floods, Miller said.

Follow Anna Herod on Twitter at @annaleemurphy.