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BZA opts to deny variance request for Berlin property

Junior and Janet Fortney were denied a variance during a Board of Appeals meeting last Wednesday evening for a proposed 20 by 24-foot garage on their property on Brittany Lane in Berlin.

By Rachel Ravina, Staff Writer

(May 9, 2019) Berlin residents Junior and Janet Fortney will need to find storage elsewhere for their cars after a variance request for a side yard setback was denied during a Berlin Zoning Board of Appeals meeting last Wednesday evening.

The Fortneys originally sought ae variance to put a 20 x 24 garage in their back yard on 9 Brittany Lane in Berlin.

“The variance will be on or near the property line,” according to the application.

Janet said one of Junior’s hobbies is car restoration, and they wanted to use the garage to store tools and vehicles. They also notified their neighbors of their request and the meeting by letter.

After much discussion, board member Doug Parks moved to approve the variance request, which member Robert Palladino seconded, although the motion was denied in a 3-2 vote, as Chairman Joe Moore, Vice Chairman Woody Bunting and member Jay Knerr dissented.

“We don’t like turning people down, but the standard for a variance is different than the approval, for instance, for conditional use, which is simply whether or not the conditional use has any adverse effect on the use of the surrounding property,” Moore said. “With a variance, the standard is, in fact, that there’s something unique about the lot that creates a hardship in maintaining the regular standards.”

Moore said he felt the request did not meet the parameters to grant a setback.

“Respectfully … they [the laws] say that economic hardship is not equal to hardship,” Moore continued. “So it’s supposed to be something unique about the property that prohibits you from utilizing the property and building within the required setback.”

Bunting said he feared a favorable decision would set a precedent.

“Once you start allowing zero setbacks to property lines, then I don’t know why we have a setback in the code,” Bunting said.

Bunting also expressed reservations with the drawing the Fortneys presented to the board.

“My concern is … the sketch that you’ve prepared doesn’t accurately depict where you’re going to place it,” Bunting said. “And it doesn’t allow us to determine how far it’s going to be from any of the buildings, including your neighbors.”

Bunting also offered his services as a surveyor to the Fortney’s if they choose to revise their proposal.

“We would be pleased to hear you again if [there were] some change[s] that you could make that [could] perhaps makes this less difficult for the board to make a decision.

Before the end of the meeting, Moore welcomed the Fortneys to town.

“I’m glad you decided to come here from Calvert County,” Moore said to Junior. “There’s nothing wrong from Calvert County, but we’re always glad to have you.”

Junior, referring to the board’s rejection of his request, replied, “Maybe I might move back now.”