Cape Gazette

Rehoboth board approves Lake Avenue variance

City OKs renovations on improperly licensed apartment
By Ryan Mavity | Dec 09, 2013
Photo by: Ryan Mavity The Rehoboth Beach Board of Adjustment approved a variance allowing Frank Verna, owner of 49 and 49A Lake Ave., to use a rear garage apartment as a residence.

Rehoboth Beach — Renovations will be allowed at 49A Lake Ave. after the Rehoboth Beach Board of Adjustment unanimously granted a variance allowing a second dwelling unit on the property.

Owner Frank Perna wanted to renovate the garage-style apartment behind the main house on the property. However, a 2001 agreement between the city and a previous owner specified that the building was approved as an office and could not be used as a residence, building inspector Terri Sullivan said.

Perna, a developer and banker based in Washington, D.C., said his real estate agent told him the outbuilding was approved for use as a residence when he bought it in August 2006 for $1.6 million

City zoning code requires 3,300 square feet for each dwelling unit on the property. Because the lot is not 6,600 square feet, a second dwelling unit is not allowed on the property, Sullivan said.

She said the city incorrectly issued a rental license for the apartment in 2006 and the license was automatically granted every year as long as the license fee was paid.

It was only when Perna wanted to renovate the building after a water leak on the second floor that Sullivan discovered the apartment should not have been granted a rental license. Once the error was discovered, she said, she told Perna the current license would not be renewed in July. Sullivan said the structure did not meet the standards for a certificate of occupancy.

Perna said it was he who first located the files, which were in a state of disarray and confusing to read. He said up until this year the city was still sending letters asking him to renew the rental license.

How all this happened, Sullivan could not say; she did not come on as building inspector until 2008.

“As far as how it was issued to begin with, I have nothing,” Sullivan said.

City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas also said he did not know why a rental license was granted, and that Perna was an innocent victim of errors by the city. Sullivan said building and licensing is in the process of computerizing all its files.

Perna’s attorney, John Paradee, said granting the variance was a matter of fairness and that mistakes by previous city building officials should not cost the Pernas use of a property they paid a high price for. He said they would suffer a tremendous financial hardship if the variance were not granted.

Board member Clif Hilderley said, “The city makes a decision that someone relies upon, then the city turns around and slaps them in the face. That’s a hardship.”

The case had been on the board’s Sept. 23 docket, but was continued until Nov. 25 after Paradee introduced evidence that had not been presented to the board before the Sept. 23 meeting.


A closer view of the rear cottage at 49A Lake Ave. Rehoboth's building and licensing department had mistakenly granted a rental license for the cottage, an error that was not discovered until the property owner wished to renovate the apartment after a water leak. (Photo by: Ryan Mavity)
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