The Rehoboth Beach planning commission approved a partitioning for property at 111 Rodney St., but the commission was sharply divided over the decision.
Although the property meets city requirements for a partitioning, Commissioner Harvey Shulman and Chairman Preston Littleton said the property lines were not adequately defined.
At a July 12 public hearing, owners Jeffrey and Trina Varone, represented by attorney Gene Lawson, were seeking to divide their property into two lots: one lot would be 5,001 square feet, the other 5,000.6 square feet.
At issue for the commission were conflicting surveys done by the Varones and their neighbors, the Reed family. The commission found a 2-inch discrepancy between the two surveys, raising questions as to where,exactly, the side-yard lot lines lie.
“Somebody on that street has a shortfall,” Shulman said. He said this could cause a problem in the future if other property owners on the street want to partition their property; eventually, someone will be short of the land needed to subdivide.
Representing the Reed family, owners of 115 Rodney St., were siblings Bob, Jim and Joe. All opposed the partitioning. Jim Reed said the 2-inch shortage on the lot is a result of the way the city placed at the ends of the block to denote where the block begins and ends. The markers were erroneously placed, Reed said, and as a result two inches of property are lost on the block.
“In this case, the applicants are placing the shortage off their lots and onto our lots,” Jim Reed said.
City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the markers were placed on the block by the city in the 1930s, but he, nor anyone else, seemed to know why. Michael Hurley, surveyor for the Varones, said there are several instances of incorrect markers placed throughout the city.
“There’s no question in my mind they have a 100-foot wide lot. The question is, where is that 100-foot line? If you take it from King Charles, it’s where we think it should be. If you take it from the other street (Bayard Avenue), there’s an overlap of two inches,” Hurley said.
Joe Reed said the family is not opposed to the Varones partitioning their property; their issue is the property line. Mildred Reed, the matriarch of the family, wrote a letter to the commission saying the property lines on the block have never been in dispute until now. She said the city should take action to ensure that all 33 lots on the block are determined to be legal building lots.
“We don’t want to lose two inches on the side of our lot,” Bob Reed said. “We don’t think that two inches should prevent the applicant from getting a partitioning.
“This is like a can of worms,” Shulman said. “It’s going down a road that could come back to haunt us.”
Shulman said eventually, a homeowner is going to say the commission has been arbitrary by approving the Varones’ application, but possibly denying someone else because of uncertain boundary lines. Littleton said the commission couldn’t determine property lines.
Commissioners Jan Konesey, John Gauger and Brian Patterson all favored approving the partitioning because the Varones had a credible survey and the lot meets the standard for approval. Shulman said the commission has been inconsistent in how it rules on partitionings with conflicting surveys, citing the case of 2 St. Lawrence St., which was denied because of uncertainty over the property lines.
Littleton said the Varones and the Reeds were innocent victims of a city screw-up in placing the markers. He recommended putting the Varones' application on hold and going to the city commissioners to allow the planners to have some leeway when it comes to inaccurate city markers. Littleton said an approval could lead to expensive legal action between the Reeds and the Varones as to where the property boundaries are.
Gauger and Konesey said the planners could give the Varones their partitioning while also solving the issue of allowing more leeway for incorrect city markers. Patterson said Littleton and Shulman were using the Varones as leverage to solve the problem.
The next phase of the hearing caused Mandalas to break out his copy of Robert’s Rules of Order.
Konesy moved to approve the partitioning. Commissioners Gauger, Bunky Markert and Patterson all expressed their support for granting the partitioning.
When Gauger asked for a vote, Shulman moved to table the partitioning, preferring to allow the city commissioners to come up with a policy. Littleton seconded the motion, after verifying whether the chairman could second a motion, a move he is permitted but typically refrains from doing. That sent the motion to table to a vote.
The commission then voted 4-2 not to table, with Shulman and Littleton the only yes votes.
That brought back Konesey’s original motion to approve the partitioning. When brought to a vote, the application was approved 4-1, with Shulman casting a no vote, and Littleton refusing to vote. Although he did not vote, Littleton expressed his disapproval of the partitioning, saying it would create an adverse impact on neighbors.
“I cannot support that motion,” Littleton said.
The unluckiest member of the commission was Commissioner David Mellen, who recused himself because he lives on the same Rodney Street block and spent the entire two-and-and-half hour discussion waiting outside the commissioners’ room.