Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to propose tougher drainage, building regulations for city

HOUSTON – In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and two other major floods, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is proposing  tougher drainage and building regulations for the city.

The new regulations would require homes and businesses to be built to withstand a 500-year flood, like the last three floods that have inundated the city.

New buildings would have to be built 2 feet above the 500-year flood plain. The current city standard requires building be constructed 1 foot above the 100-year flood plain.

The city would also tighten drainage standards to require developers to provide adequate run-off detention for entire properties, not just parts of them.

It would stop the current practice known as “grandfathering” which allows developers to build out properties over a period of years or decades adhering to drainage regulations that were in effect at the time the property was purchased.

“These changes are intended to be major, substantive and transformational. And they’re intended to build a city that will be strong and more resilient,” Turner said Wednesday following a City Council meeting.

If passed, the new requirements would bring the city into line with Harris County, which tightened its building codes in December.

Turner also wants to temporarily allow Houstonians who are still out of their homes due to damage inflicted by Harvey to put Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers in their yards, which is currently illegal under city ordinance.

“I believe it’s in the best interest for us to modify the ordinance, to allow mobile container homes, trailers ... they may own ... may get from FEMA, on a temporary basis,” Turner said.

On Wednesday, the city task force on drainage met to discuss details of the new regulations.

Cynthia Neely made a point to be present.

Neely lost her Memorial home to high water from Harvey. She’s also a member of Residents Against Flooding, a grass-roots group currently suing the city over drainage issues in west Houston.

“That’s a wonderful thing,” Neely said. ”I want to read the fine print. I want to know exactly what they’re saying because they’ve been saying a lot of things for a lot of years that haven’t really amounted to a whole lot.”

Neely doesn’t like the fact that building permits already granted would be exempt from the new rules. That means about 800 homes planned to go in on the site of the old Pinecrest Golf Course in west Houston won’t be held to the new standard.

The mayor said he hopes to present the proposals to the City Council soon.