Tougher floodplain regulations coming in Bethlehem

Planning commission makes recommendation to City Council

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Bethlehem Planning Commission amended its floodplain ordinance to match updated federal regulations for Northampton County on Thursday.

The change was prompted by new assessments on the part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, commonly referred to as FEMA, on existing flood maps, insurance rates and technical components of the legislature.

"The state is now updating all of the floodplain ordinances in Northampton County," said Bethlehem planning director Darlene Heller of the move that unanimously passed through the commission.

"These are mostly just technical or administrative changes."

Notable changes include a reduction in allotted time for construction within floodplain zones, dropping from five years to one year; and a variance removal that will make citizens completely unable to have manufactured homes or recreational vehicles in the designated areas.

While the latter shuts the door on possibility for appeal, officials say citizens may still request added time for construction.

"They can easily come back and get an extension if necessary," Heller said.

The ordinance will also now prohibit hospitals, nursing homes and jails from being built on floodplain areas, something director Heller said the planning commission  previously had overlooked.

"I'm not sure why we missed that before," she said. "Frankly, it should've been in there."

The amendment will now be brought forth to City Council for final adoption, where it must be approved before the July 16 deadline.

Floodplain regulations were originally introduced to Bethlehem's zoning regulations on December 12, 2012.

The floodplain ordinance was the sole item on Thursday's planning commission agenda.

The planning commission will meet next on June 12.

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