Almost six months after Tropical Storm Irene unleashed a brief but destructive force in Mamaroneck—evidenced by the mounds of sodden and ruined furniture left curbside in certain neighborhoods in the village—many, if not all, of the families displaced by the storm have returned to their homes.
One family, however, is struggling to hold on to their home on 615 First St. before it slips away.
For David and Kinuyo Witt and their 8-month baby, the trouble began on Aug. 28 when the first floor of their home—located parallel to the Mamaroneck River—flooded from Irene. From there, bad luck and a series of missteps conspired in such a way that repair work being done to their home came to a grinding halt way due to the lack of proper permits.
According to Clark Neuringer, an architect retained by the couple that appeared before the planning board on Feb. 8 seeking a floodplain variance, his clients were never advised that they needed the variance and are now in a precarious situation where only a portion of the necessary repairs have been done to make their home habitable.
“My clients have absolutely zero alternatives left—we are petitioning for a floodplain variance based on the requirements in the code that we have to demonstrate hardship—the hardship is we have no place to live,” said Neuringer pleadingly, speaking on the Witts’ behalf.
A floodplain variance is a grant of relief from floodplain management regulations and is typically only granted for a property with unusual characteristics that would cause hardship to owners or surrounding property owners.
Advised by the village that they were not eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants that would pay for the elevation of their house—a presumably more permanent solution to an ongoing flooding problem—the Witts’ proceeded to file a claim with their insurance company for repairs to be made. Despite the issuance of a building permit from the village in November, the department then backtracked and ordered work to be stopped in January for lack of the needed variance, causing a delay in the anticipated completion date of repairs.
“This was our first home—we were moving from the city. This was our dream to move here and start a family,” said David, adding that the home had previously flooded in 2007 according to the previous owners.
Members of the board, although sympathetic to the plight of the Witts, questioned why they had a general contractor prepare the spec drawings for the repairs.
“I’m very sympathetic to the story that you told…but it’s also true that we ordinarily don’t rely on the building inspector in order to figure out what’s required. We would expect an applicant to have a professional advise the applicant,” said board member Steward Sterk.
Board member Louis Mendes echoed Sterk’s concerns more bluntly.
“You have to hire an architect or an engineer—you’ve got a plan that basically isn’t worth anything,” he said.
“I don’t know how much more we can spend…we’re paying the mortgage and rent at the same time,” said David, continuing, “We’re running on empty now.”
Though board member Lee Wexler argued in favor of granting the variance at the meeting, other members argued that it would be necessary to prove, in writing, that all conditions of Village Code Chapter 186 were met before issuance of the variance. The next step would be for the Witts to obtain a floodplain development permit issued by the building department.
“We will do everything we can to get this moving for you,” said Board Chair Michael Ianniello.
The Planning Board will hold a special meeting in the Village of Mamaroneck courtroom tonight at 6:30 p.m. to discuss 615 First St.