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After discussion about floodplains and floodways, the commission voted 5-0 to approve the plat, which was the only order of business at Monday’s regular meeting.
Don Wilson, one of a group of investors that owns the property, said the action is “long overdue.”
“I first submitted the plan in March,” he said. “Now it’s June. I’m just glad they finally got down to the issue: this is a plat and not a site plan.”
The City Council is scheduled to take up the plat Tuesday in a 5:30 p.m. special session. The plat comes after a discussion with the Paris Economic Development Corp. board about a forensic audit being conducted by Defenbaugh & Associates of Dallas after an anonymous letter raised concerns about a 2010 deal with Paris Warehouse Southwest and Rodgers Wade.
P&Z Chairman Holland Harper recused himself from the discussion, and Vice Chairman James Price took over. As the issue was a plat and not a zoning change, there was no public hearing. Price noted there would be no period for public comment. The audience included roughly a half-dozen people with yellow pieces of paper pinned to their shirts reading “Don’t flood Hillcrest!”
Most of the time Monday was taken up with discussions about such concerns. Most of the property sits in a FEMA-designated floodplain, with one side lying in a floodway. Plains are were water can spill over; floodways are where the water runs normally.
Commissioner Keith Flowers asked when FEMA designated the areas. Engineering Director Shawn Napier said he believed it was on the older maps before the government updated them in 2011.
“This is not something that just happened,” Flowers said.
The property owners had an engineering firm conduct a hydrologic study based on a survey of the property; the results show a much smaller floodplain than FEMA’s existing designations.
“We know when FEMA redid those maps, they were inaccurate,” Napier said.
For example, floodway maps show water running across the side of a hill. Napier said the changes proposed under the owners’ engineering study could remove many houses from the floodplain, which would save homeowners money as flood insurance would no longer be required.
P&Z member Mike Folmar questioned whether the city would be liable if other properties flooded after the city approved the plat. City Attorney Kent McIlyar said the city would not be liable simply for approving a plat.
“It’s very hard to sue a municipality,” McIlyar said, noting that the city is only responsible for those drainage areas specifically dedicated to, and accepted by, the city.
The plat is for a roughly 9-acre tract on Northeast Loop 286 across from Tractor Supply Co. P&Z approved it May 5 by a vote of 5-0, with two commissioners abstaining due to potential conflicts. The City Council denied the permit 5-2 on May 12, citing concerns about drainage and the lack of floodway and floodplain designations on the plat. City staff asked for a revised plat, which was submitted a week after the council meeting. It shows floodway, 100-year floodplain and has notes about off-site drainage.
In a memo to the commission, Napier pointed out that platting is the first step in the process of developing a property. “The purpose of platting is to subdivide property into buildable lots,” he wrote. “The city does not require a detailed plan of the future use of the property until the developer applies for site plan approval.” The buyer typically submits the site plan when seeking building permits. A commercial site plan will go into a great deal of detail about drainage, Napier said.
“Flood plain and drainage cannot be addressed until we know what will be constructed on a lot,” he wrote. “At this stage in the multi-step development process, we believe all requirements of state statutes and local ordinances have been met and the City Planning Commission and the Paris City Council should approve the Revised Final Plat for this property.”
Although plans have been announced for a Ford dealership, it’s impossible to say for certain what will go on the lot, Napier said, so it would be impossible to say what kind of drainage issues it would have.
“We don’t know how much impermeable surface it’s going to have,” he said. “You can’t dictate on a plat any kind of detention/retention.”
Getting into the future use of the property was inappropriate at that time, zoning Commissioner John Lee said.
“The conversation is interesting and it’s highly speculative,” he said. “Are we not just looking at a plat approval? What’s going to be there is not before us tonight.”
Such questions are necessary for the commissioners to fulfill their duty to residents of Paris, Folmar said.
“If there’s something that could cost the taxpayers’ money, we should ask questions about it, whether we’re voting on it or not,” he said.
Folmar said some had speculated the plat would be denied simply because Wilson is involved with the property.
“I would think all members of this group here would feel as I do, that we’re not going to pass or not pass anything based on anybody,” he said.