No floodplain variance for Nationwide building

Jim Bialek at the site where he wants to build a Nationwide Insurance office. FEMA regulations require that he build six feet off the ground at the site, which lies four feet below the Greenbrier River floodplain elevation of 2,128 feet.
Jim Bialek at the site where he wants to build a Nationwide Insurance office. FEMA regulations require that he build six feet off the ground at the site, which lies four feet below the Greenbrier River floodplain elevation of 2,128 feet. S. Stewart photo.

Marlinton Council found itself between a rock and a hard place during its meeting Monday night, when it considered a floodplain ordinance variance request from Nationwide Insurance broker Jim Bialek.

Bialek wants to build a 24×50-foot building for his business next to The Pocahontas Times on Main Street. The office was formerly located in the Old Bank Building, which was destroyed by fire on November 10.

The businessman told council that the elevation of the lot on which he wants to build is four feet below the floodplain. In order to comply with the floodplain ordinance, the ground floor of any new building must be two feet above the floodplain. Therefore, the ground floor of any structure built at the site must be six feet above ground elevation to comply with the ordinance.

“We’re going to be towering over the Town of Marlinton with this structure,” Bialek said. “What I’m trying to do is apply for a variance to the town ordinance, where I could build inches above the flood elevation, so my first floor would only be four feet above the existing elevation.”

Bialek purchased the lot from the Marlinton Housing Authority earlier this year. The business owner was aware of the floodplain ordinance requirements before the purchase.

“I was aware of the ordinance but I was also aware of a variance,” he said.

Councilmember Louise Barnisky said it would be unfair to grant a variance to Bialek and deny one to anyone else later. Barnisky said town residents could lose their flood insurance if Council granted the variance.

Mayor Joe Smith confirmed that possibility.

“I called FEMA today because there was so much controversy over this,” he said. “I talked to a gentleman named Richard Carte, who is a representative of the State of West Virginia. By granting the variance – and we do have the authority to grant the variance – but this is what could happen. FEMA could do nothing and just forget about it. Or, they could raise the insurance for surrounding properties.”

Smith said the official was unable to define “surrounding properties,” but said FEMA’s third option left no doubt.

“This is the worst option – they could cancel the flood insurance for everybody in the Town of Marlinton if we grant the variance,” the Mayor said.

Bialek said he would not proceed without a variance.

“I am not going to build a building that is six feet off the ground,” he said. “First of all, I need 10 steps to get up to the building. There’s not enough property on a 124-foot right of way for a handicapped ramp with the proper grade to get to a building that’s six-feet off the ground.”

Councilmembers expressed support for Bialek’s building project, but concern for the insurance ramifications. Smith said he would speak with Carte again to see if there was a possibility of allowing a variance without risking rate hikes and loss of flood insurance for other town residents. Council will reconsider Bialek’s variance request during a special meeting on April 15.

Bialek said the Housing Authority gave him a money-back guarantee.

“Basically, my deed states that if I don’t build within 365 days, they will buy the property back from me,” he said. “I’m not going to lose anything. I’ll get my money back”

 Town applies for $4.5 million project funding

Alice King, representing Region IV Jobs Development Council, briefed council on the Small Cities Block Grant from the West Virginia Development Office. King said municipalities are eligible to receive as much as $1.5 million in grant funding for water, sewer and housing projects.

Mayor Joe Smith said the town was preparing an application for the grant money and an additional $3 million in loans to rebuild the town’s water plant, rebuild one water tank and replace another water tank.

Wayne Hypes, with Charleston firm Dunn Engineers, said the application was almost ready to submit to the IJDC.

King said loan money, if approved, would carry interest rates ranging from 0.5 to 2.5 percent.

“We just wanted you all to be aware, so that you all could realize, that we will need a rate increase associated with the project,” she said.

Council voted 5-0 to submit the funding application. Councilmember Norris Long was not present.

A public hearing on the Small Cities Block Grant will be held on May 5 at the Municipal Building.

 Urban deer hunt planning will continue

Mayor Joe Smith gave an update on plans for an archery-only deer hunt, proposed to be conducted inside town limits this fall. Recorder Robin Mutscheller and Councilmembers Sue Helton and Louise Barnisky stated their opinions that hunting in the town would be unsafe.

Smith assured Council that all hunters would be safety-qualified and all hunting would be done from deer stands, so that arrows would be traveling in a downward direction. The mayor said only large blocks of unoccupied land were being considered for the hunt.

Mutscheller moved that all planning for the hunt be stopped. Helton and Barnisky joined Mutscheller in support of the motion. Smith and Councilmembers David Zorn and Loretta Malcomb voted against the motion. The motion failed on the 3-3 tie vote and planning for the urban hunt will continue.

In other business, Marlinton Council:

– Unanimously approved parallel parking only along the whole length of Tenth Avenue.

– Approved a $3,000 expenditure for fireworks on the Fourth of July.

– Agreed to get legal advice on qualifications for membership on the Building Commission.

– Took no action on Health and Sanitation ordinance changes because town attorney Steven Hunter had not provided an opinion.


The next Marlinton Council meeting is scheduled for April 15, when Council will set the levy and reconsider Bialek’s variance request.



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