The Bethany Beach Board of Adjustments on Wednesday voted unanimously to grant variances to property owners Richard and Phyllis Brenneman for their lot at 305 Maplewood Court. The problem: the lot isn’t actually on Maplewood Court. Nor is it on any of the town’s streets.
In fact, the lot is, according to Building Inspector John Echrich, the only lot in the town that he was aware of that was entirely landlocked and for that reason unbuildable. For the Brennemans, that was a hurdle they simply haven’t been able to get over in the nearly 30 years they’ve owned the lot.
Richard Brenneman explained to the board that he’d purchased the lot in 1977, when it was technically on Maplewood Street, just off Route 1. In 1978 and 1979, development boomed in that area, with Bethany Proper Townhomes and the Iris Court Townhomes consuming every other parcel surrounding the Brennemans’ property.
During the process, Maplewood Street disappeared from maps, replaced with a relocated Maplewood Court, which didn’t connect to their property. Brenneman said he hadn’t paid much attention at the time but later inquired as to his access to the property and was told various things — the final element of which was that not only did he have no official access to his property via a public street but that he couldn’t use neighboring properties to do so much as go on the property to mow the grass.
Brenneman dropped the issue for years, without immediate plans to build on the property. But then came a notice from the Town of Bethany Beach and its Code Enforcement department, requiring him to mow that much overgrown grass. They were told by the Delaware Department of Transportation that no access would be had to Route 1, as is current standard practice on such requests.
The family was in a quandary and set about pursuing some kind of arrangement with Bethany Proper and Iris Court to gain access to the property.
The discussions on the subject consumed more years, with no substantial progress made toward an agreement. In the end, the Brennemans took their case to the state’s Chancery Court and pursued mediation with a court justice as arbiter. And, finally, all the parties involved came to a solution: the Brennemans could access their property via Oakwood Street, through a 20-foot-wide easement from Iris Court that joined their property to that development’s existing access.
That would seem to solve their problem of the unbuildable, landlocked lot. But town code requires all lots to have frontage on a public street before they can build (60 feet minimum in the R-2 zone, if not grandfathered, as the Brennemans were). So they also needed from the town a rubberstamp of sorts on the easement agreement, agreeing that indirect access was sufficient accommodation to town code to grant a building permit and waiving the requirement for street frontage.
They received that rubberstamp on Wednesday, with the 3-0 vote of Board of Adjustment members J. Robert Parsons, Robert Graham and Thomas Mahler, who cited the unique nature of the problem, the injustice that had been created by the circumstance of development around the property and the minimal nature of the variance in simply allowing legal building and access to the otherwise landlocked lot.
The 50-by-130-foot lot would allow for a sole single-family home. The board’s decision carries a 30-day appeal period through the courts, starting once the variance is formally filed. After that, the Brennemans can apply for a building permit under the variance, or sell the property. The variance carries with the property, even if they sell it.