First Annual Car Float, Monday, November 17, 2003

In overturning the Zoning Board approval, Common Pleas Court Judge Flora Barth Wolf stated "While at first blush, this proposal seems desirable: a residential development adjacent to a burgeoning commercial district with charming waterfront ambience adding new residents to the City's tax roles. On closer inspection, however, the residential development proposed by Dranoff poses too great a risk to human life and property even to approach the high standard for approval of a variance. This Court cannot permit one project to put the entire City's participation in the FEMA program at risk, expose the City to legal action and jeopardize the health, safety and welfare of the community as a whole."

In overturning Judge Wolf and approving the projects, the state courts have simply buried their heads in the sand. In doing so, they have made a mockery of the zoning laws. No longer do developers have to show hardship. No longer do they have to show safety. No longer do they have to consider adverse impacts.

As clearly seen in the transcripts of the Zoning Board hearings, the decision to approve these apartments was a foregone conclusion. The Zoning Board, then under the directions of Tom Kelly, mocked us and they mocked our experts--some of the finest in the country.

What we did not expect, was the same level of pandering to special interests from our state court system. We did not expect the same indifference to public safety. We did not expect the same indifference to even minimal standards of evidence and logic.

We are here today, in part, to express our outrage and dismay at the failure of our legal system. Beyond that, we are here to say the fight is not over. We believe these developments have fundamental flaws and they cannot be made safe. These are the undisputed facts.

Venice Island is within the Floodway of the Schuylkill River. The floodway is the part of the river, in a flood, where water flows the deepest and fastest.

With heavy rainfall, Venice Island could flood in as little as three hours.

During Hurricane Floyd, water topped the island about the same time the flood warning was issued.

In a severe flood, the water will be over 10 feet deep and flowing too fast for rescue boats.

Helicopter rescues are the most dangerous form of rescue and my not be possible in severe weather.

It takes only two feet of water to float a car.

Philadelphia does not have adequate rescue capability on the Schuylkill River. It will cost millions and take years to develop that capability. Manayunk has only four firefighters and no water craft.

People will wait to the last minute and try to save their cars, pets, and other belongings. Vehicle access to these developments will be the first to flood. This utterly predictable behavior was seen most recently in the Southern California fires, causing several deaths.

There is no place within a mile of these developments where vehicles could be evacuated. The 600 cars from these developments will require almost two miles of curb space. With no place nearby, people will be further encouraged to delay evacuation and ignore warnings.

Police cannot force residents to evacuate.

The zoning battle for the Dranoff project may be over but there is still a long way to go before apartments can be built on Venice Island. These developments must receive permits from city, state and federal agencies. These developments will be under the scrutiny of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection, national environmental groups and local residents like us. It's not over until the next 100-year flood.

Throughout the state and around the country federal funds are being spent to relocate homes and businesses away from flood danger. Residential development on Venice Island will ultimately burden city, state, and federal taxpayers and will endanger residents and rescuers. Future flooding on Venice Island is not just likely, it is certain. The future loss of life and property is not just possible, it is certain.

Kevin Smith, President


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