Communities can take steps to lessen flood risk and lower flood insurance rates by participating and earning credit in FEMA’s Community Rating System under the National Flood Insurance Program. Preserving open space is one way to get credit. This step-by-step process describes how to calculate open space credits for existing preserved lands and areas that may be considered for future protection.
This “how-to” links to a companion GIS Workflow and Mapping Guide that describes the data and information needed to perform each step. Links to other helpful resources are also provided. These resources do not address open space credit for areas protected through open space incentives, low-density zoning, or natural shoreline protection programs, which may also qualify for credit under Activity 420 (open space preservation).
Before you get started
Calculate the Community’s Special Flood Hazard Area
The area of the community’s special flood hazard area is a key piece of information needed to calculate most open space credits. This area is also known as the “100-year floodplain,” which FEMA maps on the community’s flood insurance rate map, or FIRM. While the focus of this “how-to” is on the special flood hazard area, the community may adopt a floodplain outside this area, where it enforces development regulations similar to those for new development within the special flood hazard area. If seeking credit for open space in coastal erosion areas or special flood-related hazard areas, communities may need additional mapping to calculate credit for those areas.
Identify Lands That May Qualify for Open Space Preservation Credit
A community can earn open space credit for 1) “preserved” lands, typically for individual parcels, or 2) lands protected through land development regulations, which typically apply community-wide. Open space means there are no buildings, storage, fill, significant pavement, or other encroachments to flood flows. Vacant lands do not automatically qualify for credit; qualifying lands must be protected from future development through regulations or by the property owner. Start by screening for lands within flood hazard areas that will likely earn the most open space preservation credit (your “top 10” list), such as parcels with the largest portion of floodplain or those that may qualify for “extra” open space credit (see step 5).
Tips! See ASFPM’s CRS “Green Guide” Profile for Element 422.a.
Exclude Areas That Do Not Qualify for Open Space Credit
Several types of areas, besides federal lands and large water bodies, do not qualify for open space credit. Such areas include parcels smaller than 10 acres that contain an insurable building (some exceptions apply – see the CRS Coordinator’s Manual for details), large areas with impervious surfaces, features that serve the development or use of an area, parcels on which certain land uses or encroachments obstruct flood flows or aggravate flooding on other properties, and publicly owned land that is not intended for open space. Mark any excluded areas on the map when plotting open space lands to ensure that they are not included in the calculations. Section 422.a. (page 420-3) of the CRS Coordinators Manual provides detailed guidance on types of properties that do not qualify.
Tasks to follow in this step:
Calculate the Possible Credit for the Community’s Preserved Open Space
Credit for preserved open space (up to 1,450 points) is based on the ratio of the property that is preserved within the flood hazard areas to the total size of the SHFA (as calculated in Step 1). Additional credit for these parcels will be calculated in Step 5.
For each property selected,
Determine Whether Preserved Open Space Parcels Qualify for “Extra Credit”
Parcels that qualify for open space preservation (OSP) credit may qualify for additional credit if they are protected by deed restrictions, provide natural functions, or are subject to coastal erosion or special flood-related hazards. Determine which of these situations, if any, apply to the open space parcels. Then, for any qualifying parcels, calculate the additional credit for each category.
Gather Supporting Documentation for Each Parcel or Area to Submit to FEMA
To determine the final credit to be awarded for each activity, FEMA will need to review documentation provided by the community. The documentation a community will need to provide for each element is summarized below and described more fully within the CRS Coordinator’s Manual. Documentation can be hard copy or digital, although digital is preferred.
Tip! To help with the review, make sure parcel terminology or labeling is consistent across maps and other documentation.
Identify Opportunities to Earn More Open Space Credit
If desired, identify unprotected areas that may potentially qualify for open space credit within your community if protected in the future. These may include undeveloped natural lands, or lands designated in a natural floodplain functions protection plan, open space corridor, or as critical habitat for threatened or endangered species.