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Ocean City

PZ Commission floats leniency for renovations

(Nov. 29, 2013) The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission proposed the idea this week of giving more leeway to those who want to renovate or improve their property without doing a complete redevelopment.

“Right now, we want people to improve and better their properties, but our code doesn’t allow that,” said Commissioner Peck Miller. “People need to be able to improve without demolishing.”

Under city code, older buildings that do not conform to current zoning standards are allowed to exist as they are. If the structure is rebuilt, however, it must be constructed to the new code in matters such as parking, setbacks, elevation, etc.

Any improvement valued at more than 50 percent of the building’s assessed value counts as rebuilding, and the city keeps track of permitted improvements from the date of non-conformity to gauge how far a building has been altered.

Thus, in any significant overhaul of a building that was constructed prior to the current code, it is likely that the structure will have to be torn down and the property completely reconfigured.

“You can retrofit an existing building, but if you trip 51 percent the whole building has to be brought up to spec,” said city Zoning Administrator R. Blaine Smith.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the commission reviewed a case in point, where a family home on the Boardwalk between 12th and 13th Streets had been demolished and was presenting new plans to be rebuilt, given the value of the improvements planned.

This is the city’s intent with regards to major redevelopments, noted Commissioner Lauren Taylor, but in the case of smaller property owners who are trying to do gradual improvements, it’s a detriment.

“If you did it over 15 or 20 years, it would be different than doing it all at once,” Taylor said. “When you look at people who are trying to improve their property incrementally, it’s a penalty.”

Many of these improvements that require a building to be brought up to code are not major expansions, but improvements in insulation, ventilation, fire-proofing, and other modernizations of some of the town’s older beach homes.

“My issue is that they’re doing it for safety reasons,” said Commission Chair Pam Buckley. “I would think that we could have some kind of exemption for winterization or sprinklers or things like that.”

One of the major issues in the downtown area, where many buildings need such improvements, is that the 50 percent margin is applied to the value of the structure, Ocean City Development Corporation Executive Director Glenn Irwin noted.

In many cases where OCDC has helped homeowners with façade renovations, Irwin said, the value of the property is in the land, while the building itself is worth relatively little. But those who wish to invest in their property “are constantly adding to this 50 percent target and running up against the value of their existing building,” Irwin said.

“If they go over and have to bring it to code, it would have to be upgraded all at once in so many ways that you could never recover the cost of doing so,” Taylor said.

The commission will discuss the matter at future meetings with city staff.

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