FOLEY – Foley leads the country in homes prepared to stand up to hurricanes and city officials are working to improve preparations to deal with future storms or other disruptions.

Foley is developing a Resilient Housing Plan to help the city determine how to prepare for the impact of floods, hurricanes or other events. A draft of the plan is scheduled to be completed by the end of September, Jay Estes, a planner with Allen Engineering and Services, a company working on the project, said..

“Resilience is all about a community’s ability to bounce back from a disruptive event, whether it’s a flood or hurricane,” Estes said. “Out west, we have wildfires. Different things impact different areas of the country. In the Gulf South, the first thing that comes to mind for us is typically a tropical event or a hurricane.”

Allen met with Foley residents and officials at a recent public meeting to discuss the city’s Resilient Housing Plan.

Overall, Foley is a resilient community. The city is third in the nation for the number of homes rated as fortified, that are built or renovated to withstand hurricane force winds, Miriam Boone, Foley community development director, said. 

The city has grown at a rapid pace since Foley adopted the Coastal Supplement Code in 2015. Any new homes built since the code was adopted must meet the standards., 

“Growth has occurred so rapidly in the city of Foley right now about a third of the existing housing stock in the city of Foley has been built to that standard,” Estes said.

The plan is intended to help officials guide development 

“We want to provide the city with some tools to to help them understand some areas where the city is less resilient and then go to whether it’s state government agencies, federal government agencies, that might be in a position to help them mitigate those risks or become more resilient in those areas,” Estes said. 

Foley’s zoning ordinance also allows residential development in almost all areas of the city. Only four out of about 24 Foley zoning designations do not allow homes.

That flexibility allows homes to be built in the areas most suited for resilient development.

About 6.67% of the land in Foley is in areas that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has designated as a floodplain. About 3.3% of the homes in Foley are built in the floodplain Estes said.

He said some FEMA funding could be available to make some of those homes more resilient. Some homes could be elevated. Foley requires new homes built in a floodplain to have the lowest floor at least two feet above what is designated as the base flood elevation.

“That’s Foley’s minimum standard,” Estes said. “That actually exceeds FEMA’s minimum standard. Again, back to the fact that Foley does resilience pretty well.”

If homes cannot be elevated, some funding could be available to buy some property that is subject to flooding and relocate the residents in certain circumstances, Estes said.

Estes said some areas of Foley that are not in the floodplain have also flooded in recent years. After a severe rain in April 2014, flood damage was reported on 233 Foley properties that are not in the FEMA floodplain. 

Hurricane Sally in 2020 also caused flood damage in 175 parcels that were not listed as being vulnerable to flooding.

“This is land that is typically thought of as not being flood prone. But in these two events we had about 400 houses that received flood damage,” Estes said. “So maybe those properties are not as high and dry as we originally thought they were.”

He said one option would be for Foley to work with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and FEMA to have a new study done that focused on the areas flooded during the recent storms.

Some of those areas could be added to the floodplain. The owners of property in the floodplain would have better access to flood insurance. The study would also provide a better regulatory mechanism for Foley to use to guide future development in those areas.