A family that built a controversial home on Silver Lake in Rehoboth Beach is responding to critics, calling charges hypocritical and without merit.
In a statement, the family’s attorney, Scott Wilcox wrote, “We have tried to avoid responding publicly to the seemingly endless allegations regarding the construction of the Levys’ home on Silver Lake. Given the volume of misinformation percolating throughout the Rehoboth Beach community, we believe it is finally necessary to provide a more complete picture of what has transpired.”
Wilcox said the misinformation includes the notion that the Levys did not meet with neighbors about what they were building. He wrote the Levys repeatedly offered to meet and discuss the issues but received no response.
Instead, opponents, represented by attorney Gene Lawson, elected to file an appeal of the building permit to the board of adjustment, which twice declined to hear the case because the appeal was not filed within 30 days of the issuance of the building permit.
Wilcox said while opponents portray the Levys as having built their home in secret, when they followed the exact same process as everyone else building a home in Rehoboth.
The Levys owned a multilevel condominium on Lake Comegys before Veda and Joseph Levy developed health problems. They wanted to provide a space large enough to accommodate their children and grandchildren, which led them to purchase Lot 6 Silver Lane in March 2010, Wilcox said.
The late Warren MacDonald, the former Rehoboth commissioner and historical society president who passed away in December 2007, previously owned Lot 6. The more than 7,000-square-foot property was sold to the Levys by MacDonald’s trust.
The building permit for the house was issued in May 2011. The house began to draw criticism in October 2011, when a cinderblock exterior wall went up.
“The Levys took great care in selecting the appropriate architecture and construction plans because the protection of Silver Lake and the surrounding environment were of the utmost importance to them and to their family’s legacy,” Wilcox wrote.
Among those measures, he said, were the landscaping around the house. The family tried to use best practices to prevent runoff into Silver Lake, he said.
Opponents of the house raised objections because the exterior wall looked like it was rising out of the lake. While the house is very close to the lake, Rehoboth’s building and licensing department determined that the house met city setback requirements. Objections were immediately raised by neighbors Marti Cochran and Joe Filipek and lake advocacy group Save Our Lakes Alliance3.
Cochran said the notion that the Levys met with neighbors to discuss their building plans is a fabrication and that neighbors asked to see the plans, which is spelled out in the covenants for the lots at Silver Lake Shores, but the Levys did not do so.
Wilcox's letter also alleges that while the city had a moratorium on building within 15 feet of the lake, Cochran had applied for a building permit to expand her property, and soil from the construction was running into the lake.
Cochran said she never applied for a permit and that the work done was landscaping work putting in trees well within her property. She said her landscaper used silt fencing to prevent runoff and had reached out as a courtesy to Levys to see what they were doing on the other side.
"I have no idea where they got that," Cochran said.
Sullivan said Cochran did not apply for a building permit.
In April 2012, the city commissioners, who tasked the planning commission with writing a report recommending ordinances to best protect the lakes, took up the issue of lake protection. The first two ordinances to come before the commissioners are one that would require site-plan review for any structure built within 25 feet of the lake, and one that would establish a 10-foot no-build buffer around the lakes.
The site-plan review ordinance came up for a vote Feb. 15 but failed when the commissioners deadlocked 3-3.
“Curiously, the loudest opponents of the proposed ordinance were SOLA3, Marti Cochran and Joe Filipek, the very same people who opposed the Levys’ house and lot placement due to concerns for the environment,” Wilcox wrote. “In a stunning reversal, however, they each wrote letters of opposition to the ordinance stating that the pollution of the lake was no longer the issue. Instead, the obstruction of their views was their main concern.”
Cochran said the reason she opposed was because the standards for what would be subject to site-plan review were open-ended and ill-defined.
The commissioners will hold a public hearing on the 10-foot, no-build ordinance Friday, March 15.
Lawson said SOLA3 is not against the 10-foot, no-build ordinance; the organization supports a 15-foot buffer. SOLA3 raised concern over the site-plan review ordinance because it would put lakefront homeowners through a process that no other property owner in the city has to go through, he said.
Sallie Forman, president of SOLA3, also said she had concerns about the intent of the site-plan review ordinance, and that she wanted more protections from runoff and erosion included in the ordinance. Forman added that the Levys did not meet with them before SOLA3 filed its appeal with the board of adjustment and that SOLA3 only became involved when residents raised concerns about the wall.
Lawson has asked Rehoboth’s building and licensing office to review Lot 6’s building plans to determine if it violates city building code. Lawson has said because DNREC has asserted ownership rights over the lake, the land claimed by the Levys within Silver Lake is state property; that puts the Levys in violation of city setback requirements, which would prevent the city from issuing a certificate of occupancy for the house.
Wilcox said even if DNREC owns the lake, the foundation is still outside the setback and that the Levys own the land they claim they own.
Sullivan said according to the surveys on file with the city, the house is within the setbacks, even with the property claimed within the lake. She said without land in the lake, the house sits just over the required six feet.
“This argument, like all of the others advanced by Mr. Lawson and the opponents in the past, is without merit, and the Levys will again be forced to needlessly spend thousands of dollars to defend their right to construct their home,” Wilcox wrote.
In response, Lawson said, “It’s nice that they know that, but they have not shown that.”
Wilcox said the Levys were surprised by the reaction to their house. He said they believe when the house is complete, it will add to the scenery around the lake.
In a parting shot, Wilcox wrote, “The Levys nevertheless continue to hope that someday soon the hypocrisy and tactics will end so they can enjoy their new home.”