City Council Signs Off Lot Release

OCEAN CITY — Two long-vacant lots in a north-end neighborhood could soon see new homes on them after resort officials this week agreed to release the owner from a long-standing agreement.

On Monday, the Mayor and Council had before them a request to release a property owner in the Caine Woods community from a recorded agreement dating back several years that restricted the sale and development of two vacant lots adjacent to the developed lot. When the property owner built the home, a stairway, landing and deck were added to the side of the residence that encroached on the adjacent vacant lots.

As a result, the owner entered an agreement with the Mayor and Council that those lots would not be developed. Now, years later, the property owner has requested a termination of the old agreement in order to be able to sell, and ultimately, develop the vacant lots. Planning and Community Development Director Bill Neville explained the issue.

“Back in the 1980s, the solution to building across some of the property lines would be an accessory use on an otherwise vacant lot,” he said. “The solution was to enter into an agreement with the Mayor and Council that those lots would not be sold for development purposes. The vacant lot would be an accessory to the lot that was built on.”

Neville explained accessory uses on the existing residence encroached on the vacant lots.

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“This request concerns three lots,” he said. “A house was built on one and the other two lots are vacant. The house that was built included to side stairway to the lower level and a deck that crossed the property line by several feet.”

Neville explained the trade-off for releasing the property owner from the agreement with the town is that the property owner would replace the current arrangement with a perpetual 10-foot easement between the lot owners. Releasing the property owner from the agreement would avoid removing the existing steps and deck.

“With this request, rather than remove those improvements, they would like to provide a 10-foot easement across the rear of the vacant lot,” he said. “They would still be able to encroach several feet into the vacant lot.”

Councilman Mark Paddack asked if the proposed 10-foot easement would reduce the size of the vacant lots to the point they were unbuildable. Neville said the lots are already considered non-conforming according to their zoning designation.

“Those two lots are already undersized,” he said. “They would be less than the required 5,000 square feet for the zoning district. They would be considered existing non-conforming lots. They would be buildable, but they would have to be within the required setbacks.”

Councilman Lloyd Martin said he was familiar with the lots and achieving the desired setbacks for any new construction would likely be challenging.

“I live right there and when I looked at this, I didn’t realize the property line was that close,” he said. “I don’t know the owners, but I do know those lots have been vacant for a long time.”

Councilman John Gehrig wanted to be sure releasing the property owner from the agreement was in the town’s best interest.

“What are we not thinking about?” he said. “Are there any downsides to doing this?”

City Solicitor Heather Stansbury said she had reviewed the request and it appeared to be an amenable solution.

“This is just one of those agreements that comes up from time to time,” she said. “This is one way to resolve it. It seems like a reasonable resolution to this issue.”

In the end, the council voted 6-0 with Councilman Peter Buas absent to release the property owner from the existing recorded agreement.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.