Whitemarsh Approves Policy to Purchase Flood Prone Properties
Will have the option to buy homes up to $500k and return them to open space.
Whitemarsh Township now has the ability to purchase certain flood-prone properties, under a new policy passed by the Board of Supervisors last week.
The policy was created to help property owners who have struggled with chronic flood damages, and who are unable to find other remedies, officials said.
"We have tremendous flood issues, not just in Whitemarsh, but in surrounding municipalities," said chair Robert Hart. "There are a handful of unique properties throughout the township where they are the one property in the neighborhood [with] flooding issues."
- Visit this article's media section to read the full two-page policy
Hart says that stormwater management projects often run in the $2-3 million range, and don't make fiscal sense to construct for just one home. Instead, the cheaper solution to remove the hardship would be for the township to purchase the property and return it to open space.
"We have sincere empathy for these people and want to do what we can in a time where we don't have [millions] to spend," said supervisor Melissa Sterling.
However, any such property would have to meet a strict set of criteria just to be considered, with no guarantees that the township will make an offer. According to the official policy, a home would require documentation of "severe repetitive loss," be located outside any current or planned remediation project, and be appraised at a value of no greater than $500,000.
In addition, the owner and the township would also have to exhaust all other remedies, such as grants from state and national programs, before moving forward.
"These would be homes that are not eligible for FEMA or PEMA grants," said supervisor Amy Grossman. "And it's not someone who just has water in their basement."
Hart said that he believes there are "a handful" of such properties in Whitemarsh.
In addition, the money for any such purchases would have to come from the township's open space funds, which carries strict requirements for what the land could be used for. Many properties would be returned to natural habitats, as opposed to parks or playgrounds, which would require additional capital to build, officials said at an April meeting.
Finally, each purchase would be subject to a public hearing, and demolition costs would be negotiated beforehand, officials said.
The policy was approved by council with a 4-0 vote. Supervisor Cathy Peduzzi was absent.
[The Board of Supervisors previously passed an amendment to the township's open space plan to comply with this policy in April. The actual policy passed on July 19, 2012, offered several changes to the policy presented in April.]