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Floodplain Information


When Is A Floodplain Application Required? 

Floodplains add an additional series of requirements for development, and additionally a wider range of topics count as development under the floodplain ordinance. When any development takes place in the 100 year floodplain a floodplain permit is required. 

Under the current ordinance, in alignment with FEMA definitions, development is defined as the following;  

“Any man-made change to improved or unimproved real estate, including but not limited to buildings or other structures, mining, dredging, filling, grading, paving, excavation, drilling operations or storage of equipment or materials.” 

If you are unsure if your project requires floodplain review, or if the work is located in a floodplain, call Development Services to speak with the Floodplain Administrator. 

Building Structures in the Floodplain 

If you’re building a structure in the floodplain of any size a floodplain development permit is required. This includes fences, walls and signs as well. The following are materials that may be required depending on project.  

  • Elevating the lowest floor of the structure one (1) foot above the Base  Flood Elevation 

  • A Flood Study to determine Base Flood Elevation where there is no data on the Base Flood Elevation 

  • Vents installed to allow flood water flow to protect against hydrostatic forces. 

  • Anchoring to prevent floatation, collapse and lateral movement 

  • An Elevation certificate prior to pouring the foundation and an As-Built Elevation Certificate at time of completion 

Other work in the Floodplain (Non-structural) 

Structures aren’t the only things that require a floodplain permit. If you are grading, adding or removing fill, drilling, excavating, mining, or storing materials in the floodplain a floodplain permit is still required. Flood zones will play the same role in determining what is required, but at minimum engineered plans for the proposed work are required.  

Existing Structures and Structures built before December 1982 

Our code makes a distinction for existing structures as either Pre-FIRM or Post-FIRM. This distinction has to do with buildings built before or after the first Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) were adopted by the city.  

Buildings built before December of 1982 are considered Pre-FIRM. If you are proposing work on a building that is Pre-FIRM you can apply for a Substantial Improvement Determination. If the total cost of your project plus the last five years of permit history is less than or equal to 50% the market value of the structure (not the property), then the Floodplain Administrator will determine this is not substantial improvement and does not require the higher standards of the floodplain ordinance. If the proposed work is greater than 50% then the work is considered substantial improvement and must be upgraded to comply with the full floodplain ordinance requirements. 

Building Responsibly and Its Importance 

Building or making changes in the floodplain doesn’t just impact the property owner, it affects the entire area. When you build within the floodplain or alter it this changes the ability for the soil and terrain to manage flood waters. Increases in solid surfaces, changes in ground through grading, and storage of materials increases flood risk. This is why development needs to be reviewed for approval prior to initiating the development. 

Additionally consideration for how you protect your property could result in increased flood risk for your neighbors. Certain flood zones of the 100 year floodplain have higher requirements to ensure this risk is minimized, such as the floodway. Construction inside the floodway can only be permitted if an engineer conducts a No-Rise Certification and submits the technical analysis/modeling. This ensures that only development that can demonstrate zero increase in base flood levels are allowed and better protect the entire community. 

Historic Buildings 

Work on historic buildings in the floodplain still require approval from the Floodplain Administrator, and are not guaranteed to be exempt from the floodplain ordinance. The Floodplain Administrator will review the proposal to determine if it triggers substantial improvement/substantial damage first. If it is not substantial improvement/substantial damage, then the work will not require further floodplain requirements.  

In the event the work on a historic structure is determined to be substantial improvement/substantial damage then the Floodplain Administrator will contact the Iowa State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) for a determination on the project and its impact on the historic designation. If the Floodplain Administrator is able to determine that the alteration will not preclude the structure’s continued designation as a historic structure, using the determination from SHPO, then the structure will not be required to comply with the higher floodplain standards. If this determination cannot be reached, then the structure must comply with floodplain regulations and be brought into full compliance. The Floodplain Administrator can help discuss options to meet floodplain regulations. 

Additional Information 

The Cedar Rapids Public Library has several FEMA publications providing guidance on how to protect your property from flood damage. You can also find additional information on protecting structures through FEMA’s websites floodsmart.gov and FEMA.gov. 

Any work inside the floodplain requires a floodplain development permit. You can contact City of Cedar Rapids Development Services to check if permits have been approved. If someone is working in the floodplain without permits, report this through the My CR Webpage. 

If you wish to discuss potential development, mitigation, retrofitting and other floodplain requirements contact Cedar Rapids Development Services, the Floodplain Administrator is available for one-on-one appointments, phone calls and on-site meetings.  

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