Sandy Springs City Council members are debating the implications of proposed changes to the city’s flood maps, changes that could affect home values but could also make homes eligible for federal assistance.

The city plans a series of public meetings about the issue, but no dates have been set.

On Aug. 16, representatives from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Bender Consulting Services, and Atkins North America gave the council additional information. The city plans to work with these agencies and consultants to better inform residents about the implications of changing the maps.

Some council members worry that increasing the area of the city designated as high-risk flood zone could force about 200 homeowners to buy flood insurance and could lower the value of their homes.

J. Bennett White, chief engineer with the city’s Community Development Department, said if homes’ flood plain status isn’t updated on FEMA’s maps, the homes might not be eligible for a federal hazard mitigation program if they are flooded. Sandy Springs used the same program to buy homes that were flooded in 2009, White said. He said in order to meet standards set by the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, the city hired a contractor to perform flood plain studies.

FEMA designates flood mapping zones where drainage basins exceed 640 acres. The planning district requires regulating flood plains on all streams where drainage basins exceed 100 acres.

He said the City Council has the option to decide whether FEMA’s maps designate special flood hazard areas in basins between 100 and 640 acres. The updates to the maps would go into effect in 2012, White said. Council members said they’d like to invite FEMA officials to attend the city’s public meetings.

Mayor Eva Galambos said the city doesn’t want homeowners to be surprised by having to buy more insurance.

“From the homeowner’s viewpoint, if they’re put in the flood plain, it may affect their property values and you may need property insurance,” Galambos said. “From the city viewpoint, if we know something about dangers that could occur, it would be totally irresponsible not to let the public know what these dangers are.”

City Attorney Wendell Willard said at the council’s Aug. 2 meeting that the city does not have a legal obligation to inform residents about possible flooding. Willard said generally it is the buyer’s responsibility to determine whether a home is vulnerable to flooding.

But Galambos and City Councilwoman Dianne Fries said the city has a moral obligation to inform homeowners about the threat of flooding.

City Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny and City Councilman Tibby DeJulio said owners also need to know the costs of having homes in a designated flood plain.

“It’s going to affect the marketability of your house,” DeJulio said. “Whoever buys your house is going to have to get flood insurance from the mortgage company.”

Fries said the costs of losing a home to flooding and not having insurance to pay for it outweigh the potential costs of insurance and the possibility a home’s value would decrease.

“I would rather those 200 people know what’s going on, take FEMA’s recommendations, continue getting FEMA’s help when the flood happens, and not be in a position where they didn’t know they slipped through the cracks, they come home and find they have nothing,” Fries said.

Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt wrote for Reporter Newspapers from 2011 - 2014. He is the founder and editor of Decaturish.com