Whitemarsh Township may now use open space funds to purchase flood prone properties in the township, after the Board of Supervisors passed an amendment to its open space plan at Thursday's monthly meeting.
However, the township does not currently have any specific properties targeted, and would have to go through a rigorous public process before making any such purchases.
"The provision deals with identifying properties that are subject to recurring flooding problems for possible acquisition by the township for open spaces purposes," said Sean Kilkenny, solicitor for the township. "This is to meet the township's goals of purchasing properties in strategic locations within neighborhoods to provide pocket parks or public common areas, where applicable."
Charles Guttenplan, Director of Plannning and Zoning, added that the properties that might be considered are ones with a history of flooding.
"These are properties that are flood prone and are inappropriate to be maintained as developed properties, and should be returned to meadow or similar open space condition," Guttenplan said.
Homes that could possibly qualify for remedies from the state or federal government would not be considered, officials said.
"There's not many of these unique properties that don't qualify for other buyout programs," said board chair Robert Hart. "They really have very few options. They can't get out, they're continually flooded, they can't sell their home, so they're really in a devastating position."
Hart added that such homes often reside in low lying areas of neighborhoods that don't otherwise have many problems, making large scale stormwater projects uneconomical.
The board had to amend the open space law in order to enable the use of Act 153 funds, or monies specifically set aside for development of open space. Such funds cannot be used to build developments such as a park or playground, which would require additional capital project funds. Many acquisitions would be returned to natural habitats, officials said.
In addition, each property would require public hearing before purchase, and do not necessarily have to be zoned residential.
"Each and every property that the township considers to acquire…. the township has to hold a public hearing and has to adopt an ordinance," said Bruce Horrocks, Township Manager. "It's a very formal and advertised process for each and every specific property."