Looking toward the Delaware River from the Afton Avenue bridge, flood waters cover East Afton Avenue in Yardley Borough in this file photo. (File photo by Jeff Goldberg)

YARDLEY BOROUGH >> Following two years of public debate and discussion, the Yardley Borough Council voted unanimously on Feb. 2 to loosen building restrictions in the borough’s floodplain.

After two years of reviewing its floodplain ordinance, the council approved a number of amendments designed to make it easier for owners to improve their properties and stay in the community without having an adverse effect on the borough’s Community Rating System (CRS) credit points.

Council President David Bria hailed passage of the amendments as “a tremendous accomplishment” for the borough and one that was “long overdue” for its residents.

“When this is adopted you will be able to do some things without a variance that previously you needed a variance to do,” he said.

Under the amended ordinance, residents will no longer require a zoning variance to do the following:

Install driveways made from pervious materials

Add five percent to the base floor

Add to upper floors up to 50 percent of the cost of the home if its above the base flood elevation

Install medically-necessary changes to a property, such as handicap ramps or elevators

Relocate existing buildings and structures on the same lot further away from the waterway.

“The biggest thing people have wanted to do - put an addition onto their home - can now be done without a variance under this ordinance,” said Council Vice President Caroline Thompson.

“Floodplain residents have been asking for changes to our floodplain ordinance throughout my entire term on Council. Delivering on these requests was long overdue,” added Bria.

“We reduced the number of scenarios in which a homeowner would spend significant time and money obtaining a zoning variance,” he said.

“The option for second story additions gives residents new opportunities to expand their homes for growing families. And the change to allow medically necessary structures without a variance was a no-brainer,” added Bria. “It’s flat-out wrong for government to put up roadblocks for people with disabilities.”

During the formulation of the amendments, the borough involved PEMA and FEMA to make sure the changes would not negatively impact the borough's CRS credit points.

The Community Rating System (CRS) is a voluntary incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management practices that exceed the minimum requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program. Over 1,500 communities participate nationwide.

In CRS communities, flood insurance premium rates are discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk resulting from the community’s efforts that address the three goals of the program: Reduce and avoid flood damage to insurable property; Strengthen and support the insurance aspects of the National Flood Insurance Program; and Foster comprehensive floodplain management.

“Yardley residents currently qualify for a five percent annual discount on their NFIP premiums because of our participation in the Community Rating System,” said Bria. “We are hopeful this could increase to 10 percent discount in the future. Some of our residents pay as much as $5,000 per year for their plans, so that discount puts real money back into homeowners’ pockets.”

In addition to loosening restrictions, the amendments add clarifying language to some sections, but do not impose new restrictions.

“This was a two year process and there was a lot of opportunity for public input,” said Councilman Uri Feiner. “The borough took a holistic viewpoint in balancing both sides and I’m happy we have done that. It’s definitely a move in the right direction.”

Councilman John McCann added that there was a lot of work done on the ordinance by a lot of people, including the planning commission. “This was a journey and we asked for a lot of input from residents over time ... That shows you how important this was and how many people have looked at this, not just our council but previous councils as well.”

Bria agreed.

“This was a lengthy process that involved several stakeholders — two different Borough Councils, the Borough Planning Commission, representatives from FEMA and PEMA, Borough staff, and of course Yardley Borough residents,” he said. “I spoke with Council Vice President Caroline Thompson about this ordinance a few months ago, and we decided it was finally time to cut the red tape and push it across the finish line. Tuesday’s vote was a tremendous accomplishment.”

Before beginning any construction projects in the floodplain, residents should contact Yardley Borough Hall to ensure they are in compliance with the ordinance.

“Our staff is here to help residents make the most of these new options,” said Bria.

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