Dewey board denies special exception, approves variance

Residential requests sought for properties on Cullen Street, Seastrand Court
July 4, 2023

After hearing from two separate owners seeking special exception and variance requests, the Dewey Beach Board of Adjustment ruled in favor of the owner it determined was experiencing exceptional practical difficulties due to town code.

At the June 26 public hearing and meeting, Michelle Lee and Michael Hempfling presented their case for a special exception to extend an existing second-floor deck 3 feet into the 18-foot front-yard setback of their home at 7 Cullen St. 

Lee said a large DuPont estate sat on the oceanfront when they bought their home in 2021; their adjacent house was second from the beach. After the DuPont estate was sold, she said, the property was divided into three lots and construction on various new homes began last year.

Lee said her new neighbors are lovely, and she has no complaints about the construction, but she would like to receive a special exception to regain the part of her ocean view that was lost due to construction of the new homes.

In a slideshow presentation, Lee and Hempfling showed photos of their ocean view before and after construction began, pointing to the portion of a new home and a tall vertical concrete slab impeding their former view.

By extending the current deck into the front-yard setback, the couple said they could regain some of the ocean view without causing harm to their neighbors.

Board members disagreed, stating the new homes under construction are being built in compliance with code, so they cannot see a hardship for Lee and Hempfling. 

Chair Julie Johnson said she’s unsure what impact Lee and Hempfling’s extended deck would have on neighbors, and losing part of the view does not meet the definition of exceptional practical difficulty.

In the other case before the board, Michael Davies requested a variance to add a half-story to a nonconforming townhome in the Seastrand Court community with party walls extended into the 8-foot side-yard setback.

Plans will not extend the home’s footprint or roofline, Davies said, but will enclose an oceanside screened porch and add a half-story. Two of the 11 townhomes in his row have done similar additions, he said, and all townhomes are touching each other, so there is no setback.

Davis’ attorney Hal Dukes said the townhomes were built after the March 1962 nor’easter, when Sussex County didn’t have a building code. In 1964, he said, it was decided that each owner would get a strip of land 16 feet wide and 185 feet long. With lots set at 16 feet, he said, there is no setback.

However, the town’s zoning laws do include setbacks, he said, which makes it impossible to renovate or remodel the townhomes without a variance, as advised by the town building official.

The board agreed, and Johnson said 8-foot setbacks are unrealistic for this renovation. Property owners will still have to go through plan review with the town, she said.


Subscribe to the Daily Newsletter