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Bucks County Playhouse expansion plans could be foiled by FEMA

By Bo Koltnow, Reporter, BKoltnow@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 11 2013 07:01:29 PM CST

Playhouse operators say FEMA flood map may foil plans for expansion

NEW HOPE, Pa. -

The Bucks County Playhouse is in the midst of its holiday theatrical season. But behind the curtain and outside its doors, the playhouse is involved in a different kind of drama.

"I've been here through the floods and water comes up pretty significantly," New Hope Mayor Larry Keller said.

Few can forget three massive Delaware river floods that nearly washed away much of the borough.  This poses a problem for a highly anticipated expansion the playhouse has planned.

 "Make a waterfront promenade open to the public," Playhouse Marketing Director Mandee Kuenzle explained.

 The project also calls for a hotel, restaurant and shop complex,a glass enclosure along the Delaware would come too.

However Kuenzle says the plans could be foiled by FEMA.

 There has been a map in place that doesn't allow modification to the property," she said.

 FEMA currently has the area designated in high risk flood zone. FEMA has been working on a map from 1999. It's in the process of updating but that won't be until August of 2015.

Kuenzle says a letter of modification, requesting a downgrade of  the Playhouses' high risk classification has been given to FEMA. The government agency needs to sign off  to make the project move forward.

 "Question is how high would have to go over that flood plain? That is the question mark determining what that level should be," Keller said.

 Keller says the recent 7 million dollar renovation to the playhouse has been a great for the borough but admits the new plan could be at the mercy of the Delaware.

"If you do this will it just get destroyed from the high water? I asked Kuenzle.

"That is a risk you encounter no matter where you are on the waterfront," she said. We do have emergency plans in place on how we work on things like getting electric systems," moved she went on to say.

Kuenzle says unofficially FEMA has already agreed to the change. An official decision by FEMA could come in March.