Flood level dropped for Pitt Meadows homes

Developer asks city for exemption to build at slightly elevation

Two months after historic floods swept through Calgary, Pitt Meadows council is moving towards lowering the flood construction level for a new townhouse project in the southern part of the city.

Council’s committee meeting OK’d Tuesday the request by Onni Group of Companies to lower the level by 42 centimetres, to 5.33 metres. The change still needs council approval.

“It’s a very small amount that we’d be lowering it by so I’m not worried,” Mayor Deb Walters said Wednesday.

The level of 5.33 metres is also the provincial guideline for construction in a flood plain and will be the same level as nearby homes. Pitt Meadows’ current bylaw requires a flood construction level of 5.75 metres. Onni wants the exemption so the new townhomes are the same height as the existing ones.

“I think one thing we have to realize is we do live in a flood-plain area and we are surrounded by dikes and I think anyone who moves into Pitt Meadows realizes that,” Walters said.

But the city ensures its dikes are solid and “we take drainage very seriously.

“We’re not going to say people won’t be flooded but at the same time it’s a very small amount that we’d be lowering it by so I’m not concerned.”

Onni wants to rezone the 4.6-hectare property at 19451 Sutton Ave., south of Airport Way, for a multi-family townhouse development.

A staff report notes that the nearby Sawyer’s Landing and Bonson’s Landing, both new developments, are built to the lower flood construction level.

The developer wants the exemption so it can prepare drawings and elevations for a future development information meeting.

Longtime resident Ken Joyner though doesn’t like the move.

Joyner, a former member of the diking and drainage committee on Pitt Meadows council, remembers past floods when water was 30 cm deep on top of roads.

“I don’t think it’s wise to reduce that level at all. If there’s any ways to protect our housing, they should be taken.”

Council watcher Mike Stark said Pitt Meadows is allowing building in the flood plain without requiring the flood plain to be compensated elsewhere.

“Every time they change something, they change the dynamics of the flood plain. “We live in a flood plain. If there’s a flood here, Airport Way will disappear.”

A revised flood prediction model by the Fraser Basin Council in 2006, predicted that the Fraser River could flood a metre higher than predicted in some areas, such as in Abbotsford, in the Metro Vancouver area.

High waters in 2007 prompted many cities along the Fraser to upgrade their dikes.

Steve Litke, with the council, said municipalities now have the authority to set their own flood construction levels.

Litke said any building in a flood plain can increase risk of flood damage but it’s not realistic to prohibit all building in such areas.

Ike de Boer, with the City of Pitt Meadows, said Pitt Meadows raised its dike along the Pitt River about 40 cm in 2007 and by about 80 cm for a stretch along the Fraser River in the same year.

Walters said flooded out homeowners would be compensated by the Provincial Emergency Program if the construction followed the provincial construction elevation guidelines.

Pitt Meadows staff are also reviewing the 2008 bylaw that set the higher level of 5.75 metres.

The city previously granted a flood plain exemption for the lot where the new Kia auto dealership is located. In return, the business owners signed a covenant agreeing that the city couldn’t be blamed for any damage resulting from the exemption.

Staff are recommending the same deal for the Sutton Avenue property.

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