By Maddy Vitale
The owners of a new Ocean City home that encroaches two feet into an alleyway, insisted that it was a mistake.
At a Zoning Board meeting Wednesday night, Ruth and Sidney Rosenblatt agreed to recommendations by experts and the board to remedy the situation without having to lift and relocate their home into the footprint that was supposed to be used two feet forward.
The construction of the two-family home at 801-803 Park Place drew concerns from neighbors about traffic safety, because some said it obstructed the sight-line of those traveling down the alley.
During the lengthy hearing, the Zoning Board heard from the builder and architect about the construction and from people who live in the neighborhood.
The Rosenblatts, who have lived in Ocean City for 15 years, went before the board for a variance from a zoning ordinance for a yard and parking setback.
Architect Terry Thomas told the board the Rosenblatts were, “just as chagrinned as anyone in the audience.”
“We are here to find out what you want us to do,” Thomas said. “They don’t want to have an unsafe situation.”
The result of the hearing was a tentative agreement, which included decreasing the garage by two feet, removing two feet of their wing walls, installing cantilevers so that they can remove the support poles to the porch, adding a deed restriction in which shrubbery and a fence would not be permitted near the alleyway, and eliminating one parking space (the one closest to Atlantic Avenue) from the project bringing it to five spaces (3 inside the garage and 2 outside).
Thomas is expected to make his revisions soon and the plan will be presented to the Zoning Board for approval.
Avery S. Teitler, attorney for the Rosenblatts, questioned Steve Howard, the home builder from Pinnacle Construction.
“We are here tonight for an error. Please explain in your own words,” Teitler said to Howard.
“We were setting the foundation and we had a plot plan. I’ve never in 10 years had a situation where my building was in the wrong place,” Howard said. “The plot plan I was using showed setbacks. I never had any issues before. We built the building. The next inspection, I had the entire structure built, and I get a call.”
Howard told the board and the approximately 30 people in the audience, that the caller informed him the home was in the wrong spot.
Zoning Board members wanted to know why Howard continued with construction.
“I wanted to weatherize the building and it be safe for the neighborhood. If you allow the home to sit out there – especially major rains, winds and storms through March – to allow that is extremely detrimental,” Howard said. “It was a mistake made based on a plot plan and never made with any ill will.”
Several neighbors testified, indicating it is a busy, narrow alley and sight line problems are an issue. There have been accidents in that area including one in which a child was hit by a car and suffered a broken leg.
Councilman Michael DeVlieger lives in and represents the First Ward, which encompasses Park Place.
“I was in shock when I found out there was no variance. At what point does someone who is a professional notice that a building is in the wrong place and too close to the alley?” he asked.
“The neighbors and I are concerned about the two feet. This one was an innocent accident, but what about the next guy? Will it really be an accident or someone pushing it for development purposes? When do we stand on our credibility? It is that simple. It is about safety and aesthetics.”
DeVlieger added, “I want the neighbors to feel like they have been represented, that it will not happen again, and I sure don’t want it in my ward again.”
John Geddes owns a property on Park Place. He told the board that he attended the meeting to find out what was going on with the property. After hearing testimony, he said, it was very clear. He said he was pleased that they agreed to shorten the garage.
Park Place resident Joseph Simpson said the house is beautiful, but after looking at the driveway, safety is a real concern, adding that the area is busy.
John Preston lives on Atlantic Avenue, the cross street to Park Place.
“It is quite obvious to me they laid the foundation way to close to the driveway,” he said.
Despite concerns over the two-foot encroachment to the alley, neighbors and members of the Zoning Board agreed that a four-foot-high wall that the Rosenblatts removed when they started new construction, also created a sight line problem.
Zoning Board Chairman Richard Waddell said, “This is much better than the wall, but it is much worse than it should have been.”
The Rosenblatts hope to be able to move into their new home by the summer. They are also hopeful that the revisions will appease everyone.
After the hearing, Ruth Rosenblatt said it has been a difficult time for them.
“It is very stressful,” Ruth Rosenblatt said. “Tonight, it becomes clear that my husband and I had nothing to do with it. We were the innocent party.”
Sidney Rosenblatt said of the revisions, “It solves the problem.”
Zoning Board member Michael Buck said that it was unfortunate that so much of this was “dumped in the applicant’s lap,” when everything else about the property conforms to the zoning laws.
Teitler said the hope is for the plan to be on the next meeting agenda for approval in May.
DeVlieger said after the meeting, “I believe that the resolution that was agreed to by the parties, in the end, creates a safer environment than merely lifting and moving the building would have created.”
He added, “At the end of the day, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been for the homeowners. If they had to move the building, they would never be in for this summer. Now, they should be in their new home for summer and the neighborhood will be safer. The Zoning Board did an excellent job on this.”