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Flooding in Lansing

Earlier this month a dozen or more emails prompted the Lansing Town Board to consider updating its flood plane law.  Supervisor Ed LaVigne said he would like to move forward with an update, but only if the intent is to strengthen flood plain restrictions on a general town-wide basis, and not just to target the Lansing Rod & Gun Club, which has suffered a great deal of community opposition to moving shooting ranges on its property in response to an EPA consent order that seeks, in part, to address concerns about shooting lead in a flood plain area.  The emails led to a discussion at the May Town Board meeting about whether and how a flood plain law should be addressed, and whether flood plain contamination should best be addressed by a flood plain law or changes in the zoning law.

"If the intent is to stop the Lansing Rod & Gun Club's project stopped, I don't think that is appropriate," LaVigne said. "But if this is about in general what people are concerned about the flood plain law I'll open it up to the rest of the board members and share their concerns."

Councilman Joe Wetmore responded that the intent is to protect all Lansing flood plain land.

"A dozen and a half people wrote asking us to amend the flood plain law, to not allow toxic substances to be distributed on flood plain land," he said. "I think that's a genuine concern.  I'm sure there are specifics like the gun club that would fall within that, but I think in general flood plains are places where the water collects off the land and runs into the streams and lakes.  We don't have any protection to stop people from spreading toxic materials in that area, and I think people want to see it in general, not just on the gun club land."

Town Attorney Guy Krogh said that the goals stated might more appropriately be addressed with a change to zoning, rather than a flood plain law.  He said flood plain laws are similar to building permits in that they are triggered by new construction that must then meet the standards of the new law.

"What I think everyone's talking about is actually a zoning change," he said. "In terms of whether there is grandfathering for flood plain laws, yes.  They operate like building permits by and large.  So if you have an existing structure in a flood plain you don't have to come up to those new standards until you need a new permit or do new construction.  There are rules that identify how much square footage you have to damage and repair, how much square footage you increase by in order to trigger it."

Krogh said that enterprises such as the gun club would have some form of 'grandfathering' (having to meet the standards of the new law only if new construction or substantial changes are made to a property), but different kinds under a flood plain law or a zoning ordinance.  He said flood plain laws aren't concerned with what you're building, but more with the structure itself, while zoning law addresses allowed uses within the properties contained in a zone.

"One has to do with repair and replacement of existing structures, and one has to do with constitutionally protected property rights," he said. "So they're different things, but they're related."

Councilwoman Katrina Binkewicz said the emails were encouraging the Town Board to review and solidify what they consider to be uses that are inappropriate in a flood plain.

"I think the request was to look further at what actual zoning we have and the restrictions in our code related to toxic materials and whether we should firm up the code in specific ways, not just related to lead," she said. "Say, if you have a car wash you don't want it in an area where there is a lot of outflow of a certain type.  If we're going to look at it, we should look at it on the larger scale, for all things that are inappropriate in flood plain areas.  We want to do good zoning in our next update, so the concept is not to rush anything through and compromise that ultimate goal."

Since the passage of the Lansing Comprehensive Plan update just over a year ago, the Planning Board has been considering an update to the land use -- zoning -- ordinance. The most significant potential change is changing much of what is now Rural Agricultural (RA) zoning to a new Ag zone that would have different restrictions aimed at preserving farm land in the northern half of the town.

Director of Planning C.J. Randall noted that the right kind of flood plain law could yield benefits with flood insurance customers.

"The County is working on updating their hazard mitigation plan right now through the end of the year, so it's a really good time to look at the scope of any changes you'd want to see made, especially because the Town can upgrade the flood damage prevention law to participate in CRS, the national flood insurance program," she said. "It has a community ratings system.  It's a voluntary program for municipalities that are willing to strengthen their flood plain regulations to provide discounts to flood insurance policy holders."

LaVigne said he would says share the emails with Randall, and suggested she work on a scope of work for a possible flood plain law to prepare for further discussion at the June Town Board meeting.

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