By John Schaffner
About this time last year, parts of Buckhead were under water, the result of heavy rains that caused 500-year flooding that destroyed homes, tremendously altered daily lives and wreaked havoc on infrastructure.
The Buckhead Reporter voted the flooding and its aftermath the No. 1 story of 2009.
An aftermath part of that story is just now beginning to unfold along Peachtree Creek. The Atlanta City Council on Sept. 20—exactly one year after the historic flooding—authorized the purchase of 12 residential properties along Peachtree Creek which were substantially damaged.
There are actually 11 properties that will be bought out and demolished. The city is authorized to receive $5,507,725 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program to purchase the properties. One property owner, Jenifer Juarez at 1356 Hanover West Drive, opted out of the program on Sept. 16.
All 12 of the homeowners chose to participate in the program early this year and were part of the city’s application for the funds in January, according to Susan Rutherford, manager in the Watershed Protection Division of the city’s Department of Watershed Management.
But the 11 participating property owners should not expect their checks in the mail anytime soon. According to Rutherford, the city has a year to complete the process of purchasing the properties. “There are still a lot of due diligence items to be done,” including inspections of the properties for asbestos, surveys and contracts to be drawn.
Rutherford said, “We expect to have closings on the properties in the winter and first quarter of 2011.” She said there are not any estimates at this time on the average buyout amount for the homes. “The properties all vary in size and cost of the house and land. The cost estimates will be based on appraisals of each property and we will treat everyone the same,” she explained.
Rutherford said the city will front the money for the home purchases through a special fund created by the city and then will be reimbursed by FEMA. The $5,507,725 figure in the legislation passed by City Council represents 85 percent of the initial estimated costs that FEMA will reimburse.
When the purchases are completed, structures on the properties will be demolished and the areas will be returned to green space.
“These properties can’t be parks, but they can be green spaces,” Rutherford explained. “There can be no playgrounds, no concrete paths, no structures of any type on the property. The purpose of the program is to increase the capacity of the flood plain to mitigate potential impact from flooding to the surrounding watershed through absorption of the water in open green spaces.”
Rutherford said one nice aspect is that “some of the neighbors to these properties have already offered to help maintain the new green spaces.”
The properties stretch from the southeastern tip of Buckhead to southwest Buckhead, with most of them clustered around Atlanta Memorial Park.
Two properties located at 2381 Armand Road and 2144 Melante Drive are actually in City Council District 6, just south of I-85. One property, at 2093 Fairhaven Circle, is in Councilman Howard Shook’s District 7.
Councilwoman Felicia Moore had two properties in her District 9 before Juarez opted out of the program. She still has another property at 1342 Hanover West Drive that remains in the program.
Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean’s District 8 has seven of the remaining 11 properties in her district. Three of those properties are on 2235, 2243 and 2249 Haven Ridge Drive, two are on Woodward Way at 473 and 757, one is located at 391 Golfview Road and the final one is at 1601 West Wesley Road.
Rutherford said the whole purpose of the buyouts and demolition of the properties, which were built in the flood plain, is so that they will not be collecting on FEMA flood insurance in the future.
She said most of the properties have been flooded three or more times in the past. However, in order to qualify for a buyout under this program, the property had to have been substantially damaged—more than 50 percent of the value of the property—during the floods that occurred between Sept. 20 to 22 in 2009.
Rutherford said a couple of other homeowners opted out of participating in the FEMA program before the city submitted its application early in 2010. Some of those decided to either rebuild their homes on the existing properties or raise the present homes on the property so that they would not be flooded in the future.