Planning Board members have given their approval to a proposed ordinance that creates a variance process for property owners who want to contest their Advisory Base Flood Elevation status.
The proposed ordinance, which now must be adopted by the Township Council, establishes that the Planning Board would function as an appeals body for that process. But obtaining a variance is expected to be difficult, according to Assistant Township Planner Erika Stahl.
"Any variance that may be granted by the board would impact our National Flood Insurance Program participation. So we would have to be very, very careful with what variances are granted. That will be something you guys will have to consider," she told the board last week.
The township is required by the National Flood Insurance Program to develop this ordinance to remain in its good standing. A similar ordinance is already on the books, but does not include a variance procedure, Stahl said.
It appeared as though board members would not be able to have much leeway in the amount of variances they can grant.
"If you give too many waivers, [federal officials] are going to ask — because you're supposed to be enforcing those elevations," Stahl said.
The advisory flood maps were adopted by the state in January, but township officials have expressed concerns that they are inaccurate.
The Township Council would like to adopt the ordinance — which is expected to have its first reading during the body's Monday meeting, 6 p.m. at town hall — by Feb. 26, according to the Planning Board.
Board Attorney Greg McGuckin said that the Planning Board's responsibility was to review the proposed ordinance to ensure that it is consistent with the township's master plan.
The master plan does state that the township should comply with flood plain management, so the ordinance is consistent with that document, Stahl said.
Once adopted by the council, the next step will be to determine how the variance procedure will operate, McGuckin said.
The township is developing policies regarding the height restrictions for structures that need to be raised, but for now those property owners would have to appear before the Zoning Board.
McGuckin said that property owners should not expect any trouble obtaining a variance to exceed a height limit if they must raise their structures beyond what is allowed by township code.
"Clearly, they've established a hardship," he said. A forthcoming township ordinance is expected to address the issue further.