From Catastrophe to Conservation
MSD flood mitigation project makes way for Alberta Jones Park in West Louisville
More than a decade after historic rainfall caused flash flooding, a new public park will soon be built in an urban neighborhood that was devastated by the disaster. Homeowners along low-lying Maple Street were severely impacted in 2009 when more than seven inches of rain fell in just 75 minutes.
Louisville MSD secured a FEMA grant to purchase most of the flood-prone homes, help residents move out of harm’s way, and prevent future flooding. MSD conserved about 20 acres and facilitated the transformation of vacant land into a public park—forging alliances to serve a neighborhood that has suffered decades of disinvestment.
Thanks to extensive community engagement, donor support, and collaboration with the Parks Alliance of Louisville and city government, the partners will break ground on the city’s newest public park in Spring 2023. This project strengthened the neighborhood by shaping a new recreational green space around ideas from residents of the community. Alberta Jones Park will be a shining example of the importance of engineering that promotes equity and keeps our residents safe.
Learn all about Alberta Jones Park and the pioneering woman who inspired its name.
THE MAPLE STREET STORY - The California Neighborhood takes its name for once being the “far west” of Louisville. Maple Street between Dr. W. J. Hodge and 28th Streets is a low-lying area built along a historic streambed and combined sewer that was constructed in the early 1900s. As a result, it is very vulnerable to flooding. That danger became real in August 2009 when Louisville experienced a historic rain event—more than seven inches in just 75 minutes. Thousands in West Louisville, including residents on Maple Street, were affected, with some rescued from their homes by boat.
|08/04/2009||2013||2013 - 2020||2016 - 2019||2021|
|Heavy rains cause massive flooding in Louisville with serious damage on the Maple Street corridor. A Presidential disaster declaration allowed funding to be available to assist impacted residents across the commonwealth.||As the local sponsor, MSD secured a $9.75 million grant ($8.48M from FEMA and state of Kentucky/$1.27M from MSD) to fund voluntary homeowner buyouts, moving residents out of harm’s way and creating green space to naturally absorb rainwater.||118 of 128 eligible flood-prone properties purchased through the FEMA grant. The purchased structures are demolished and soil tests completed, creating nearly 18 acres of open space in the California Neighborhood.||Neighborhood and community gatherings/events allow the collection of 400 surveys to obtain meaningful public input on potential land uses.||
More than a decade after the flooding catastrophe, Maple Street’s promise as a community asset is poised to become a reality. The Louisville Parks Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting our public parks, is spearheading community engagement and fundraising efforts to convert this vacant land into a community asset for the residents who live, learn, work, and worship in the California Neighborhood. To get involved, please visit: https://www.parksalliancelou.org/maple-street-project.
Maple Street by the Numbers
- 114 flood-prone properties purchased through FEMA grant (out of 128 eligible)
- $9.75 million invested to move California residents out of harm’s way
- Nearly 20 acres of open space in the California Neighborhood
- 20 community engagement opportunities over 3 years
- 400+ community survey responses on uses for the site
- 63% of the California neighborhood is covered by impervious surfaces
- 438 acres out of 786 (nearly two-thirds) of the California Neighborhood is at very high risk for heat island effect.
To find out more, visit here.
What the Community Said
Residents know best what is needed to make their neighborhood more vibrant and connected. That is why community voice has been central in the design, development, and leadership of the Maple Street project. From 2015-2018, MSD collected surveys from more than 400 residents through public meetings, online, at community events, YMCA camps, and door-to-door campaigning.
A “Community of the Future Advisory Committee,” comprised of neighbors and stakeholders, met to discuss acceptable uses. A “Champions Committee” of institutional participants also met regularly from 2018-2019 to explore long-term ownership/maintenance solutions in order to make the community’s vision a reality.
In 2020, the Parks Alliance of Louisville joined the effort as the fundraising champion—and redoubled neighborhood engagement in the design and development of the greenspace. For two years, this community-driven planning process included establishing a resident Leadership Committee to steward the project; playground visioning with area children and families; tabling at neighborhood festivals; direct mail surveys; and free pop-up events at Maple Street.
Here is a summary of community feedback
What are the Property Deed Restrictions?
The FEMA grant enabled homeowners to move from a flood-prone area on and around Maple Street and removed structures that could be damaged by future flood events. Land acquired through the grant is now “deed restricted” under federal regulations and must be permanently conserved as open space to allow the soil to naturally absorb rainwater. In addition, ownership of the Maple Street properties is limited to entities with a conservation mission; or public entities so long as the property is transferred with a conservation easement (this is a legal agreement that permanently limits use of the land to protect its conservation value).
Acceptable uses under the FEMA deed restrictions include:
- Parks for outdoor recreational activities
- Wetlands management
- Nature reserves
- Unimproved, unpaved parking lots
- Buffer zones
- Public restrooms
- Public facilities that are open on all sides and functionally related to open space or recreational use
- Other structures compatible with open space
Any land use changes must be approved by FEMA. Read the Maple Street CFR Deed Restrictions here.
Why weren’t some properties included in the FEMA grant?
Only residential homes which were impacted by the August 4, 2009 flood were eligible to be included in this grant in order to give those residents the opportunity to move out of harm’s way. Neither residentially zoned properties without structures or non-residential structures could be considered for buy-outs, based on FEMA requirements.
Why did it take so long?
The process of purchasing 114 flood-impacted homes, relocating homeowners, and razing structures through the voluntary buyout program took years of effort. Moreover, operating a park is beyond the scope of MSD’s core mission to provide quality wastewater, stormwater and flood protection services to protect public health and safety. The dream of transforming the vacant land into a public park began to become reality when the Parks Alliance of Louisville became a partner in 2020. They have raised the funds to begin construction. With this support, Louisville Metro agreed to assume ownership of the property in 2022, paving the way to create a new public park.
What is your vision?
MSD strives to be a good neighbor in all the communities we serve. Giving back to the California Neighborhood by acquiring these flood-prone properties for a community park is just one example of that commitment. By taking a holistic approach to watershed management, we have created a community asset in which residents take great pride and ownership. When completed, it will transform seven city blocks of vacant land into high-quality recreational greenspace with more than 100 new trees and elevate the health and well-being of hundreds of area residents. This new community space illustrates how innovative engineering and collaboration can drive equitable investment and reduce environmental risks.