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Montego Bay code update fails with owners, more votes needed

(April 26, 2013) Ballot results announced by the Montego Bay Civic Association late last week have revealed that the resort’s largest residential community will not, as was previously expected, be relaxing its private building codes to fall in line with those of the city.

“We didn’t get more than 50 percent of the people voting ‘yes,’” said MBCA Board Secretary Tony Kendrick. “However, it doesn’t look like people actively voted against it.”

In fact, 83 percent of those who cast ballots approved the change. But the association’s bylaws stipulate that more than half of all members, even if they choose not to cast ballots, must vote in favor for the change to become policy. With 56 percent of homeowners returning ballots, the referendum fell 33 votes short of success.

The referendum, sent to all 1,516 members of the community’s homeowners’ association, had posited an update to Montego Bay’s Declaration of Restrictions, which was last changed in 1992.

One of the proposed updates included the removal of the associations’ 24-foot limit on the width of homes. This would, in effect, give builders an extra foot of space.

By the city’s standard, a 25-foot-wide home is perfectly acceptable to be placed on a 40-foot-wide lot, which is the standard parcel size in Montego Bay. City zoning code only specifies an aggregate of 15 feet of side setback, with a minimum of 5 feet on one side.

But because deeds to properties in the community are tied, as a condition of ownership, to the governance of the Montego Bay Civic Association – set up when renowned Ocean City developer Jim Caine first subdivided the land in the late 1960s – the development is able to enforce land use laws that can be, if so desired, more restrictive than those of the city.

However, Kendrick maintains that the association has been routinely granting variances to this restriction.

“Over the past 20 years, the board has been approving homes to be built according to the lines of the Town of Ocean City code,” Kendrick said. “That precedent has been set, and it probably ties our hands for the future … we just wanted to eliminate the double standard and any confusion along with it.”

As insignificant as one foot of building width may seem, it reflects an ongoing change in the nature of the Montego Bay community.

When originally conceived by Caine, Montego Bay’s lots came with extensive restrictions that limited building on the property to nearly identical single-family structures – with the idea of creating a “small town” neighborhood in an area burgeoning at the time with high-rise condominiums.

The 24-foot limit referred specifically to the width of the prebuilt Nanticoke modular homes that were installed throughout Montego Bay in the 1980s, de-facto limiting lot owners to this style of home as the maximum build-out. But after the city relaxed its own zoning codes in the 1990s, allowing site-built structures on lots zoned for modulars, the MCBA began to grant leniencies with greater frequency.

However, Kendrick asserted that most of the objection to the referendum did not come from those concerned about the changing nature of construction in the community, but rather over some other elements of the restriction change.

“We went through eight months of meetings with owners, answering questions and phone calls, and providing a draft of the changes to everyone,” Kendrick said. “Towards the end, we kept asking if there were any other points that would make anyone vote ‘no,’ and no one seemed to have any.”

Even after this, however, Kendrick said he received a number of inquiries from residents who seemed to misinterpret new policies regarding dogs – one that required dogs that had been declared legally vicious to wear a muzzle, and another specifying that owners could not leave dog waste on others’ property.

“I got calls from people concerned because they thought they couldn’t walk their dog without a muzzle … or who said they didn’t’ like the update because it said you couldn’t walk your dog outside your own property,” Kendrick said. “Are we really talking about reasonable interpretations? It was sort of odd.”

Still, building in Montego Bay is unlikely to change substantively, as the MBCA Board will probably continue to approve width variances for those who are improving their lots beyond trailer or prefabricated homes.

“The precedent will still be followed,” Kendrick said.


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