Home construction continues despite appeal

Attorneys: Court ruling unlikely before August
An appeal questioning the approved height of this house at 125 Read Avenue in Dewey Beach is making its way through the courts. A ruling isn't expected much before August. BY CHRIS FLOOD
May 7, 2014

Construction continues on a Read Avenue house while neighbors appeal a zoning decision that allows the home to rise higher than specified by code.

In November 2013, the town’s board of adjustment allowed Read Avenue property owner Walter Bruhl to elevate his home above what town officials said they would allow to protect the home against future flood damage. The home, one of four units on a single Read Avenue lot, sustained substantial damage from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012, and the Bruhls wanted to elevate their home to a height that would protect the structure from future damage.

The board approved 8 feet above grade – more than 3 feet higher than the 8 feet above base flood elevation found in the town's Flood Zone Management section and Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements.

In January, a group of neighbors from Read Avenue and Vista and Hayden roads challenged the board's ruling in Sussex County Superior Court.

Attorney Mike Hoffman, representing the board of adjustment, said he doesn't expect a decision until August.

The court issued a briefing schedule April 7, said Hoffman. The neighbors filed their opening brief April 25. The Bruhls and the board must file an answering brief by May 16. The neighbors can then file a reply brief; and once that's filed, the court could take up to 90 days to issue a decision, he said.

“As for a decision being made soon, that is unfortunately not correct,” he said in an email.

Attorney Dave Ferry, representing the plaintiffs, confirmed the briefing schedule. Ferry, who owns a home in Dewey Beach, said the judge would set his own schedule.

“It could be days. It could be weeks. It could be months. We don't know,” he said.

The death in March of Bruhl – whose self-written obituary went viral, with amassing 330,000 views in three days – didn't change anything regarding the appeal, said his attorney James Fuqua. He said Bruhl's wife and son now own the property and everything will go forward as before.

The Bruhls have continued to elevate their home; the house now sits 8 feet above grade on a brick and mortar foundation, 12 cinder blocks high.

Marc Appelbaum, Dewey Beach town manager, said during the town's April 12 commissioners meeting the town issued a stop-work order in early April when the town requested a set of drawings to see what the Bruhls intend to build - to make sure it's proper, Appelbaum said.

Fuqua said the two sides have met, and the stop work order has been lifted. He said the Bruhls will continue to move forward with renovations knowing that they're doing so at their own risk.

For the Bruhls, the best case scenario is that ruling comes back in their favor, said Fuqua; then they'll get to complete the house as planned. If they lose, he said, they will have to lower the house.

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