Dewey adapts to sea-level rise

Council tables ordinance on elevating nonconforming homes
New zoning code amendments allow Dewey Beach homeowners to adapt to sea- and bay-level rise. SOURCE FILE PHOTO
January 28, 2014

Dewey Beach Town Council approved three zoning code changes that help property owners adapt to sea- and bay-level rise.  A fourth amendment was tabled after Commissioner Courtney Riordan said it would create a hassle for residents whose homes are destroyed in a storm.

The ordinance that was halted would have created a conditional-use process to allow homeowners to raise their houses even if the home is built into setbacks.

Riordan argued the town code already allows nonconforming homes to be raised, and a conditional-use application would add an unfair burden to a property owner whose home has been severely damaged.

Planning Commission member David King said nonconforming homeowners currently need a variance from the board of adjustment to build at a higher elevation.

“I disagree,” Riordan said.

The board of adjustment recently ruled a nonconforming home on Read Avenue was allowed to elevate because of conflicting provisions in the zoning code.

According to the code, if a nonconforming structure is damaged by a storm, it must be reconstructed to essentially the same configuration that existed prior to the damage.  If the property owner wants to expand, the owner must first bring the home into conformity, the code says.

But FEMA guidelines for homes in high-risk flood areas, such as Read Avenue, include elevating seven feet above the 100-year flood level, and town code requires at least one additional foot above FEMA guidelines.

At the meeting, Town Manager Marc Appelbaum said he asked the planning commission to create an ordinance that would address situations similar to the one on Read Avenue.  “This is so the town and I would know what to do when confronted with these problems,” he said.

Riordan said if the homeowner is already going through the trouble of elevating, they should not need to also obtain a conditional-use permit from town council.

Town council voted unanimously to table the ordinance.

Council unanimously passed an amendment to align the town’s zoning code with Federal Emergency Management Agency maps.  The amendment is aimed at making it easier for homeowners to apply FEMA maps to their property.

Another amendment, which also passed unanimously, cuts the building permit fee in half for homeowners who are either repairing from substantial storm damage, or retrofitting in anticipation of future storm damage.

The third approved amendment forces owners of property in high-risk flood zones to elevate their homes if the home suffers substantial damage.

To read the amendments, go to