Following six devastating floods since 1999, a Hatboro landlord shared with the zoning hearing board Wednesday why he should be permitted to build 16 two-story apartments where automotive businesses are currently situated.
Jim Case of Horizon Property Management said if the zoning hearing board grants the variances he is seeking to build residences in the floodplain, the premise of clearing all but Manja Pizza from 332 S. York Road would "improve the look of the town."
As it stands now, Case said the existing handful of auto repair shops are 13 feet high. Provided that his plans advance, Case said he would build on top of the existing structures. The idea, he said, is to "cut off at whatever this flood level ends up being," and build two stories up. Case said on several different occasions that four feet is the water mark for the property and that he intended to add another foot for added flood protection.
"I don’t know how you get any crazier than the ones we’ve had," Case said of the property's most recent floods from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, as well as four prior to those.
In all, the total apartment building height would be 35 feet, officials said. Hatboro amended its zoning code earlier this year to reduce allowable building heights from 35 feet to 30 feet.
The existing apartment, which sits atop the restaurant, would be "modified" and would be one of the 16 residential units planned, attorney Herb Rubenstein told the board, adding that the units would have the "same general character" as mid-rise apartments.
In his closing remarks, Rubenstein said that Case, the property's owner since 1986, has been "tolerating" flooding since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
"We’re dealing with a structure that’s already here," Rubenstein said. "Something has to be allowed here, something better than what is here now."
Since the development, as proposed, would decrease impervious coverage from more than 90 percent to about 40 percent, Rubenstein said it would be better from a flooding perspective as well as an aesthetic standpoint.
Officials repeated what they said during previous meetings that residents would be notified when severe storms are in the forecast and asked to move their cars to higher ground, possibly the parking lot of nearby Lehman Memorial United Methodist Church.
Language would be included in the lease to disclose to potential tenants that the property has had a long history of flooding, officials said.
Zoning board member Geri Weideman said that increasing the number of residences there could put more people in harms way than is currently the case.
"At 2 o'clock in the morning if that floods nobody cares," Weideman said, adding that that would be a different scenario if 16 residences were built. "Suddenly we’ll be putting the boats out to evacuate the building like they do down the street."
Enterprise Fire Company Chief Keith Gordon, who said he neither supported nor opposed the application, suggested taking a more "aggressive" stance when bad weather is coming. Gordon said first responders have gone door-to-door asking residents of flood-prone areas to evacuate.
"Emails don't work," Gordon said. "They don’t leave until the last minute. Then it’s too late. We’ve got to go get them."
Gordon also suggested installing high water alarms, which would sound when potentially bad floods are coming, but while still safe for residents to evacuate.
Hatboro resident Ron Battis, who noted his opposition during last week's planning commission meeting, said floods continue to get higher and building residences in an area already designated as a flood zone would only make matters worse.
"It puts at least 32 people in danger around the clock," Battis said. "If you were building a boat I might be in favor of your proposal."
The Hatboro Zoning Hearing Board took no action Wednesday. A decision is required within 45 days. Board Chairman John Demcisak said the board would render a decision during its April 17 meeting.