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Manja Remains, Woodwinds May Go

The Hatboro Borough Council will pare down its FEMA buyout application to include 12 condominiums at the oft-flooded development.

Federal government buyouts could be possible for up to a dozen Woodwinds residents – but some fear that neighbors could be the ones paying the price.

Originally, six buildings, totaling 24 total units within the community, which abuts Pennypack Creek, were included in an . Of those, the four units in building No. 4 at 24 Drummers Way, have the “strongest benefit to cost ratio,” according to Fred Zollers, Hatboro’s Public Works superintendent.

Zollers, in briefing Hatboro’s governing body, as well as Woodwinds residents in attendance during Monday’s council meeting, said Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency officials gave the borough until July 16 to submit a revised application.

“(Number 4) is the only building that stands by itself that would be allowed to continue in the application process,” Zollers said, adding that buildings 1 and 5 are “very close” based on the strength of building 4. “We can not submit an application without building number 4, but we can submit with other buildings too. Moving forward does not guarantee that 4, 5 and 1 get bought out and demolished.”

The council, after hearing from Woodwinds residents, directed Zollers to include Woodwinds buildings 1, 4, and 5 in the application, while removing Woodwinds buildings 2, 3, and 6. All of the properties considered for buyouts are on Drummers Way, the portion of the 79-unit community hardest hit by last summer's back-to-back storms.

Long-time Woodwinds homeowner Tracy Thatford questioned the logic behind possibly demolishing only some of the flood-prone buildings. 

“If you take down three of these buildings, what kind of effect is it going to have on the other buildings?” Thatford asked. “They can’t sell them. They’re not sellable.”

Others feared that with fewer buildings, flooding could be worse for the remaining property owners and that Woodwinds’ management company would assess the remaining homeowners at higher amounts following floods.

Still, Carolin Rutherford, who lives in one of the buildings eliminated from this round of buyout consideration, said she would not begrudge her neighbors the opportunity to leave.

“Absolutely. Why punish 12 other people?” Rutherford responded when Council President John Zygmont asked if she thought the council should include two other buildings along with building No. 4. “If you have to stay it really is a punishment. I’d be happy for my neighbors who were able to get out.”

Besides the three Woodwinds buildings eliminated from buyout consideration, Zollers said a home on Horsham Road, as well as , based on advice from a PEMA representative. The owners of the York Road property, which lease to Manja Gourmet and , had been seeking a $2.2 million buyout, he said.

This round of potential buyouts stems from damages resulting from last year’s and , Zollers said. The funding breakdown is 22 percent from the state emergency management agency, 3 percent from the local municipality and 75 percent from FEMA, he said.

“They would weigh our application against others,” Zollers said, adding that he did not have a timeline for decisions or the actual buyouts. “It’s a filter down of money.”

Joann Gefter, who, along with her husband Gary and their then-2-month-old daughter , said her family is trying to be optimistic.

“I will pray every night in hopes we get a letter saying our building will be demolished,” Mrs. Gefter told Patch.

But, even before those decisions are made, Zollers said he’s prepared to begin work seeking additional help.

“We don’t even have to wait for another flood. There are other programs available,” Zollers said. “I think we can pursue them starting right away … I would include everything because this is not a guarantee to move forward."

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