Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 23, 2013

Flood insurance woes stall Traverse City home sale

Senior's home near Kids Creek never required it before


TRAVERSE CITY — John Keeling is 72 years old and he's ready to retire.

But the Traverse City resident's plans are indefinitely on hold after the sale of his Sixth Street home near Kids Creek fell through because of confusion over whether he has to have flood insurance.

"You would think someone would have notified me," Keeling said. "In 27 years, it's never flooded to where water has come near my house."

Keeling, a bus driver for Bay Area Transportation Authority, bought the house at 724 Sixth nearly three decades ago and listed it for sale last summer.

"I wanted to retire, and the only way to do that was sell my house," Keeling said.

A buyer soon made an offer.

"We had a home inspection done, an appraisal was done, and at the 11th hour, the buyer's bank said (the purchaser) had to buy flood insurance," Keeling said.

Flood insurance could cost $3,400 each year, the buyer learned, and he backed off the deal, a move that left Keeling in a relative state of shock.

He'd had two mortgages on the property over 27 years, and the issue of flood insurance never came up. He was never required to have flood insurance and never knew his home apparently is in a flood plain.

Keeling said after the sale of his home fell through, his mortgage holder, Huntington Bank, notified him he needed to buy flood insurance. Huntington Bank spokeswoman Maureen Brown said the Federal Emergency Management Agency changed the designation for Keeling's home in 2011.

Not so, said a FEMA spokeswoman. She said flood plain maps dating to December 1982 clearly show Keeling's home is in a special flood hazard area, and they haven't changed.

"The flood plain does go through that property," said Laurie S. Kuypers, a floodplain management specialist for FEMA in Chicago.

A special flood hazard area is considered a high-risk area subject to inundation by a 1-percent-annual-chance flood. They are also known as 100-year floodplains.

Adding confusion to Keeling's plight is a document sent to him by the former would-be buyer. The document, known as a standard flood hazard determination form, shows Keeling's flood designation was changed at his property, but it offers few other details.

Keeling hired local engineering firm Gourdie-Fraser to sort through the conflicting information. Gourdie-Frasier Project Manager Dan Wagner confirmed the FEMA analysis showing Keeling's house sits in a flood plain.

Now Keeling is working with Wagner to see if he can get the house removed from the 100-year floodplain.

The first step is to get a special statement from the Traverse City Zoning Board of Appeals. Then Keeling has to through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for permission to make modifications to his property, include in-fill and the building of a flood dike to help Keeling move out of the flood plain.

"They said it's going to be like pushing a very large stone up a steep hill," Keeling said.

Keeling is particularly frustrated given how long he's been at the property with no flooding and how his retirement is indefinitely delayed.

"My grandchildren have grown up playing in Kids Creek," Keeling said. "They've loved it. I've looked after the creek and enjoyed it. Now, it's come back to bite me in the butt."