BZA Tables Garage Variance Over Fire Safety Concerns

BERLIN –  The town’s board of zoning appeals opted to delay a decision on a variance request that would allow a homeowner to build a new garage.

At a meeting last week, the board agreed to table a variance request from South Main Street homeowner Daniel Jacobs in an effort to get more information. The board wanted to make sure the fire marshal didn’t object to Jacobs’ request to put a garage within just a few feet of his neighbor’s garage.

“If there is a standard of fire safety that takes the issue to another level,” said Joe Moore, chairman of the board.

Jacobs told the board he was seeking a variance in order to replace his existing garage, which is roughly 12 feet wide, with a new pole building that would be 24 feet by 24 feet.  Jacobs said he and his wife had moved to the Main Street property last May and in the months since had noticed the dilapidated condition of the garage.

“We were looking to improve upon it,” he said. “Due to the narrow nature of our lot we’d lose of one the parking spots.”

According to Dave Engelhart, the town’s planning director, the proposed garage would be two feet from the property line instead of the required six feet.

Moore told Jacobs that in order for the board to approve the variance there had to be some hardship for the property owner.

“We have a shared driveway already…,” Jacobs said. “Living on Main Street in Berlin, parking’s already at a premium as is.”

Jacobs said he’d spoken to all of his neighbors and that none objected to his proposal.

Moore pointed out that it was the size of the proposed building that was creating the need for the variance.

Jacobs replied that he and his wife needed more space for their lawn and gym equipment and also wanted to improve the look of their property.

“We’ve started stacking things on top of each other,” he said.

Board member Jay Knerr said that as proposed, the building would be just three feet from Jacobs’ neighbor’s garage, which was non-conforming and sat right on the property line. He said that might be a concern for the fire marshal.

Moore agreed and suggested delaying a decision in order to contact the fire marshal. He added that would also provide Jacobs with more time to gather information to present in support of his variance request.

“You can tell we’re struggling with your notion of hardship,” Moore said, adding that he was a lawyer who frequently did zoning work. “It is to your credit that you have the support of your neighbors. We applaud you for that.”

He said he’d like to defer the board’s decision until Engelhart checked with the county’s fire marshal to confirm there wasn’t an issue with Jacobs’ proposal.

The board agreed and voted unanimously to table the matter. The board is expected to reconsider the case in the coming weeks, as Engelhart has determined that the fire marshal had no input on the proposal.

“They would have no involvement or inspections required for a detached pole building or garage here in Berlin, or anywhere in Worcester County unless there was a dwelling unit included,” Engelhart said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.