New FEMA maps expected; flood insurance, building restrictions should end

CHAMPAIGN — Green Street businesses in the campus area should be able to start dropping their flood insurance in two months, and city officials credit massive improvements to the Boneyard Creek for keeping the corridor dry.

That's a far cry from years past, when Green Street was swamped with regularity.

City council action on Tuesday night to recognize FEMA's proposed new flood maps for Champaign County will also keep the development of a 12-story hotel, residential and retail building on schedule.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has revised its 1981 maps for Champaign County and is expected in April to give a six-month notice that the maps will become effective as of October. When the federal agency issues that notice, Planning Director Bruce Knight said, businesses can start dropping their flood insurance.

Those maps reflect improvements the city has made over the years to the Boneyard Creek just north of Green Street.

The old maps place many campus-area businesses within a 100-year flood plain, a designation that carries with it a requirement for property owners to carry flood insurance. In some cases, that designation also requires that construction within the 100-year flood plain use special building designs to minimize the impact on storm-water flow.

The new maps will place those campus-area properties in a 500-year flood plain, which means there is a 0.2 percent chance in a given year that a storm will drop water with such intensity that those properties would flood. In other words, a storm that big is only expected to occur roughly once every 500 years.

"The change we're going to see in the Campustown area is entirely the result of our investment in Boneyard Creek drainage improvements," Knight said.

City officials say the old flood plain rules may have prevented JSM Development from building a 12-story hotel, apartment and retail tower on what is now a parking lot near the intersection of Sixth and Green streets.

Now, that project — and any future proposals along Green Street — may move forward without design hurdles due to flood-plain restrictions.

"We see many, many benefits from the remapping," Knight said.

The improvements that increased the capacity of the city's storm-water drainage system along the Boneyard Creek north of Green Street and along Second Street were Phases 1 and 2 of a long-term, five-phase project to increase the creek's capacity through the city.

Gina Jackson, a former city council member and candidate for the District 1 seat in an April 9 election, said she looks forward to further projects — the Phase 3 is north of University Avenue — and she expects neighborhood businesses to "sprout up" in the wake of drainage improvements.

"This is good to see," Jackson said. "The Boneyard project has been updated many times, and it's been going on since the early '80s. Now we're finally seeing benefits."

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