September 9, 2023
Ms. Angela Davis
Acting Division Director Floodplain Management
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
Division of Dam Safety and Floodplain Management
600 East Main Street, 24th Floor
Richmond, VA 23219
Re: Draft Virginia Floodplain Management Standards for State-Owned Property
Dear Ms. Davis:
Old Dominion University is an R1 research institution serving a diverse population in the state of Virginia. The campus lies in the tidewater area of southeastern Virginia and we have been addressing stormwater and resiliency on our campus for decades. We have over 50 BMP’s on campus – I expect that would be the largest number of any state university. We have developed standards for permeable paver systems for all new surface lots. We locate all major building systems including generators on our roofs. The concern with these standards is that they will grind all activity to improve quality of education and research at ODU to a halt.
My comments have tried to tie to specific sections while some of these apply to a number of sections, not all listed.
It was with great surprise that we even found out that the standard was open for public comment. ODU has been tracking the discussion and had previously commented on a draft from 2022. It was only because I reached out to your department inquiring about the standards that I was notified of the published draft and comments due in just days of my inquiry. As an institution greatly impacted by these standards, a heads up would have been considerate. With limited time to comment and collect our input, this is not going to be as clear and concise as desired.
2.2.B As a state agency significantly impacted by these standards, we have been advancing stormwater mapping using techniques that go beyond FEMA historical maps. There should be a provision allowing advance mapping techniques to be submitted for project specifics, without waiting a year or more for a LOMA. (applies to 2.3 as well) 2.5A – does this allow that a qualified agency be the universities civil engineering firm who has used advanced modeling techniques of the entire campus (Such as a PCSWMM Model).
3.1A The variance permit process is completely out of sync with established state processes for project approvals. The process should align with the process outlined in the CPSM as required to be met by each state agency. Requiring that all materials be completed prior to receiving a variance will cost the taxpayer undue expense. For example a planning study for a new capital project would address the issue of the need for a floodplain variance. To be clear, for ODU that will be EVERY project since the development area is used as the basis, not the building footprint and because the standard has chosen to include the 500 year or shaded X zone. The requirements outlined in section 4.1 put the level of design advancement equivalent to preliminary design and further, item 4.1L, is at the level of working drawings. For a large capital project MILLIONS of taxpayer dollars will have been expended without consideration or ANY preliminary discussion as to whether a variance would be considered. The process should allow for a phased approach, where projects can be discussed with DCR, similar to the pre-project conferences encouraged by DEB. Furthermore, this process does not align with capital request for funding. Long after a project might be legislatively approved, DCR could, per these standards, determine that the project should not be granted a variance. We must have the ability to discuss consideration for future new construction and/or renovations at the earliest stages of design with follow up submittals at schematics, preliminaries and working drawings. Yes that put more effort on both sides (requiring higher A/E fees) but without a phased approach the all or nothing situation these standards require, will create undue delays increasing construction costs through escalation.
3.2 A Routine Maintenance and B Small Projects. We manage and maintain building across our campus 365 days year with projects running the gamut. We do not have the luxury to wait to compile submissions for repairs and maintenance. For example we have a temporary chiller sitting in a parking lot adjacent to a 2015 building whose chiller failed and we will have to wait a year or more for a replacement. We have elevator repairs and replacements that are ongoing as providing accessibility to our facilities is critical. Research facilities that cannot be without proper infrastructure at all times so valuable research is not lost. We maintain our campus grounds and do annual beautification projects that should not be subject to the flood standard. We have parking garage structural repairs that are ongoing, an important life safety measure. The standard is inordinately restrictive and does not consider what it take to run a university of existing buildings on a daily basis with buildings dating back to 1935.
ODU is undertaking state funded multi-million dollar stormwater specific projects to assist in addressing flooding issues, but would now have to be given a variance to even exist.
We had a project last year for a patio replacement (patio was built in the 1970’s), relocation of some bike racks, repairs to sidewalks and the construction of a Kayak storage shed. During DEB review, the project was flagged by DEQ because the project was in the 500 year floodplain with a small portion of a repaired sidewalk in the 100 year floodplain. Triggering comments regarding the kayak storage shed – and open unoccupied structure with walls on three sides which did not go to the ground. That this standard should apply to a structure that was an unoccupied 600 square foot structure is reaching too far. This is an example of extreme oversight. There should be allowances for structures that are unoccupied enhancements to the campus without onerous requirements. Would having to build the kayak storage shed above grade by 2 to 3 feet necessitating building a larger raised platform and ramping increasing the impervious area unnecessarily – be logical?
4.4B ODU has areas of the campus that are in the A/E zone and sea level rise inundation areas. This section does not clearly address the A/E zone (as shown on VFRIS) and freeboard requirements. The standards talks about the line of moderate wave action, but our A/E zone is adjacent to two rivers, NOT the ocean. We do not have any shaded X zones that are also in the sea level rise inundation area. The freeboard requirements noted here are unclear. Additionally section 4.7 is too restrictive without consideration of designing new, or in our case, replacement buildings to accommodate flood conditions.
4.6 ODU has a number of structures that are in the floodplain which will need renovation now and in the future. For example, many of the older building built in the 1960’s were built on crawlspace and whose finished floor is at or more than 3’ above BFE. These same buildings may have a small portion that falls below the elevated finished floor elevation such as a sloped lecture hall. The restrictive nature of these standards would say we would need to abandon this structure, use state taxpayer money to build a new structure elsewhere and then demolish the existing instead of renovating. We should be using these buildings of examples of how to renovate reasonably within the floodplain. When I used this example previously, I was told to “abandon the first floor” of a two story building.
4.7 V Zones. For many years we have been building structures whose finished floor is at 11’ or higher which is 3 feet above BFE of 8’. The existing grade around these buildings is on average at elevation 9 or 10. Paragraph a does not apply, as written, in these cases. The lowest horizontal structural member could be considered the slab on grade, although it does not support the structure above. ALL of our new buildings and the vast majority of our existing buildings are on piles with grade beams. Buildings that are steel or concrete frame, four and five stories in height, should not be subject to break away walls etc. In relation to the slab on grade condition noted above, item 7 is unsupportable.
Overall the standards do not consider the need to provide accessibility to all public buildings. Due to the flat nature of our campus, we are able to minimally grade sites to meet the 3 feet above BFE limiting the use of ramps. If required to change this approach and elevate finished floors without grading the site, the FFE will increase the depth of structure (typically around 3 to 4 feet) adding to the finished floor elevation – thus exasperating accessibility to all facilities as 60% of all exists/entrances are to be accessible for life safety. I can only imagine having to raise buildings on platforms with numerous ramps to gain access to the platform resulting in an INCREASE in impervious area negatively impacting stormwater mitigation.
Overall, ODU considers flooding in every project, but these standards reach too far and will restrict the ability of ODU to manage, maintain and replace facilities on campus.
Of significant concern is the process which does not align with previously established state processes for all work on state property from funding approval through permitting. The all or nothing approach will be impossible to meet, along with the established requirements. I have attempted to provide examples that we have already experienced to illustrate our concerns and the conflicts unduly arise.
Jean Kennedy Sleeman, AIA AUA LEED AP
Old Dominion University