Lessons from Tower Street

| December 22, 2011

Missoula's Orchard Homes district learned a lasting lesson this summer: When the Clark Fork River rises, it doesn't play nice.

That lesson carried over into the latest plans for the Stonybrook Subdivision, a 43-lot development on West Third Street proposed by the WGM Group. The Missoula City Council approved a phasing plan for the subdivision Monday, but only after WGM addressed concerns from neighboring Tower Street residents, who experienced major flooding in June.

"It's not fun living through a disaster," says Tower Street resident Laura Howe. "Why would you put more houses there?"

In response to summer flooding, WGM altered its plans in late October. Stonybrook homes will now be elevated to two feet above the 500-year flood elevation. The subdivision, which was initially approved in 2008 and will be built in six phases between 2014 and 2024, lies outside the floodplains designated by FEMA and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Ward 6 councilman Ed Childers says he has no reservations about the subdivision's location. The council reviewed photos from this summer's flood as well as testimony from a hydraulic specialist, he says, all of which suggested giving WGM the green light. People do tend to build where they shouldn't, Childers says, but in the case of Stonybrook, the city has done its best to make sure flooding isn't a problem. Stonybrook is "way out of the floodplain," he says. "Basements aren't allowed in the subdivision. Crawlspaces have to be two feet above the 100-year water level."

Howe insists that raising houses and forbidding basements won't mitigate all of the impacts for Stonybrook. Even residents of several elevated homes on Tower Street spent a month of their summer coordinating relief efforts for others. "Septic systems were down, we had port-a-potties in the street," Howe says. "Flooding is a neighborhood issue. It's not just about whether your house gets wet."

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