Ad Hoc ARC Committee public hearing brings more complaints than suggestions
by Joe Reynolds
A public hearing of the ad Hoc Committee on ARC Process last Tuesday was billed as an opportunity to present suggestions about how to improve the ARC procedures for obtaining building permits and variances, but there were more complaints than suggestions.
Committee Chairman Joe Schanno opened the hearing clearly stating the purpose was to solicit ideas about how the process for obtaining permits, variances and other items handled by the ARC committee and staff could be made more transparent for lot owners. Schanno even read the OPA Board motion that created the committee.
Testimony at the sparsely attended hearing was dominated by two local builders, Dave Walter and Steve Rakow, both OPA Association members.
“I’m trying to rustle up some letters the Eastern Shore Home Builders Association sent to the Board of Directors about issues with ARC,” Walter began. “In one response Mr. Duffy (OPA Board President) said he didn’t think there was any benefit to meet with anybody on anything, and that they (OPA board) were doing what they needed to do. That’s the type of thing we’re seeing here. It’s arbitrary.”
Duffy later declined to comment on Walter’s testimony.
In recent months the ARC has required a lot owner to prove a hardship before granting a variance to the guidelines, a change from long-standing policy of granting certain variations almost automatically. “What’s a hardship?” Walter asked rhetorically, referring to a couple of recent variances granted on the basis of unusual circumstances, while ARC required other lot owners to prove hardship.
“To me it looks like Ocean Pines has opened itself up to a rash of lawsuits,” he continued. “All it’s gonna take is for the right people to come in here with the money and the time. It’s gonna open up a can of worms.
“I had two customers go in for a variance. Their response to me when they got out was, ‘They might as well have a sign on that wall that says We’ll take your $80, but we’re an arrogant bunch of people and we’re gonna say No anyhow.’”
Walter then went on to permit fees. “Fee costs in here now are out of hand. Just putting a window in an existing wall means a $180 permit fee and a $750 escrow deposit. The job is gonna be done in four hours, before they can even take the check to the bank. You don’t want to talk about individuals, but we have problems in the ARC and they need to be addressed. I’ve commented on this to Mr. Ferguson and his reply was essentially ‘It is what it is. If you don’t like it, too bad.’” General Manager Dave Ferguson later said, “I’m willing to meet and discuss any alleged problems with ARC.”
Walter was followed by Steve Rakow, vice president of the Eastern Shore Homebuilders Association. Rakow began by expressing concern over what he termed “builder notification letters” from OPA. “The letters seem to go out in an arbitrary fashion, often undated. They are signed by somebody who may or may not have the authority to sign them. In particular, I’m referring to letters to some builders in 1993 who were building down at The Point, telling them they needed to comply with ARC guidelines and obtain an ARC building permit, even though there is no connection between Ocean Pines and The Pointe until the subdivision is officially turned over. I never got a copy of that letter and I built three homes down there. I don’t know what’s gonna happen now when there is a turnover between The Point and Ocean Pines.”
Rakow said the homes he built are well over the lot coverage and height restrictions allowed by ARC. “They’re beautiful homes, by the way,” he remarked. “What am I supposed to do? Tell the homeowner he’s supposed to tear his house down because it doesn’t comply with Ocean Pines guidelines? I don’t think so.”
Schanno interrupted and explained that the issue was one for the Board of Directors to resolve, not his committee.
Rakow then went on to another issue. “What about ARC stop-work procedure?” he asked. “We’ve all been told by inspectors they can stop work at any time, but what’s the procedure for that? Is there a due process hearing? What if I as a builder say I’m not stopping work and there’s nothing you can do about it? What are you going to do? You gonna send the Ocean Pines police out? We always hear this threat from inspectors that they can stop-work. What does that mean?”
Rakow then addressed what he called the arbitrary imposition of new regulations. He provided an example of an ARC building permit with a hand-written note by Chief Inspector Bill Nelson at the bottom saying a vertical survey was required on the house height. “So Bill Nelson took it on himself to impose a regulation on a builder that isn’t required in the guidelines. Is Bill Nelson allowed to implement policy for the Ocean Pines Association and ARC?”
Building setbacks were Rakow’s final topic. “What’s the procedure when the guidelines are silent on an issue?” he asked. “What I’m referring to are setback encroachments. Why is this such a big issue in Ocean Pines? The county zoning code allows for setback encroachments for cornices and architectural features other than walls that project up to three feet into the setback. Steps from landings can extend up to six feet into the setback.”
At this point Boge interrupted and said, “You’re getting into the guidelines again.” It was a clear challenge that ARC guidelines were not an issue for the public hearing.
“No, Steve Rakow replied, “I’m asking about the procedure when the guidelines are silent. I’m giving examples of what the zoning code allows on step encroachment but the OPA guidelines are silent. ARC prohibits the encroachment even though the guidelines do not mention it.”
Boge again interrupted and said, “There is (a restriction) in the DRs.”
“No there’s not,” Rakow snapped back.
“The DRs clearly state the plats recorded at the county are the defining documents that say where you can put a building,” Boge said.
“The DRs say the same thing the zoning code says,” Rakow responded.
“I don’t believe so, but we need to look into it, no question about that.”
“I know I’m right.”
Schanno interjected to end the exchange, “You’re asking for some type of criteria to be considered when there are no rules written?”
“My suggestion is that when the guidelines are silent then you fall back on the county zoning regulations.” Rakow concluded.