Claiming they were misled by their contractor, a Montego Bay couple convinced members of the Ocean City Board of Zoning Appeals to buck a staff recommendation last week to keep a larger-than-allowed deck on their home.
The contractor, however, claims the couple was fully aware of the special approvals required to build their deck to the larger size, and said this week that he wants to set the record straight.
“I just feel that it’s important that my company is represented in a manner that we’re not ‘that’ contractor,” said Damien Mareno, the owner of Ocean City-based Coastal Cabinetry & Renovations — the contractor that Anne and Richard Froble hired last year to build a new deck on their Sunshine Lane home.
“We’re not the guy in the pickup truck that’s doing things behind peoples’ back, that’s not what we do,” Mareno continued.
The Frobles appeared on July 8 before the city zoning appeals board requesting an after-the-fact variance to allow their newly constructed deck to encroach 1.7 feet into a required 5-foot side yard setback, providing just 3.3 remaining feet of space.
The couple said they were not told they needed to get the variance before the deck was under construction last year, and scrambled to obtain the proper permits when they learned the new structure was not up to code.
“We entered into a contract with a professional … that we thought and presumed would build a deck that would pass city inspections and comply with their rules,” said Anne Froble. “There was no deliberate wrongdoing and we are stuck in the middle. We are suffering the consequences of the builder’s actions. We want to make our position clear as we were misled and misrepresented by the builder.”
According to documents on file, Ryan McManus, who works for the contractor, told Zoning Administrator Kay Gordy in an email in September 2020 that the Frobles did not want to go through the variance process to build the deck larger. Mareno confirmed that claim this week.
“We explained to the homeowner they couldn’t do this, it would be too big. He was not happy with that,” Mareno explained. “At that point I told him, well, you could apply for a variance and it’s going to take some time because, you know, variances always take some time.”
Mareno said the homeowner did not want that because their old deck was already demolished and it was the only entrance into the house.
“I said again, ‘either way, you’re going to have to apply for a variance or build it back the way they said.’ He said build it and I’ll get the variance,” Mareno continued. “And I have several text messages with him, knowing that he had to get a variance.”
At the zoning board, though, members believed the Frobles. After some discussion, they unanimously voted to grant the variance with a condition that they also obtain a letter of approval from the Montego Bay Civic Association. The vote refuted a staff recommendation to deny the request “since it was discussed via telephone and through emails presented that the 5-foot minimum side yard setback must be maintained unless a variance was granted prior to the issuance of the building permit.”
Board Chairman Alfred Harrison was leery of approving the request, citing a precedent it could set for the more than 1,500 other homeowners in the north Ocean City development.
“Looking at Montego Bay, with however many hundreds of lots, if we start letting people do this on a regular basis, build something that is basically against the zoning code and spelled out … to your builder — who may or may not be at fault here — if we get into that it’s going to be a wild west out there,” he said. “And everybody’s going to take advantage of the situation and go ahead and build these things without really knowing what they’re doing.”
In the end, though, his concerns were overshadowed by the belief that the Frobles had no idea that they needed the approval in the first place.
“This is an interesting case,” Harrison said. “It seems the builder did them wrong.”
There were also suggestions that the Frobles explore civil action, however Richard Froble said he was not comfortable with that.
“Everyone who has guided us told us we should sue them. We have every right to go and do that,” he said. “Frankly, I’m not comfortable being in here, I don’t like this. I don’t want to be in some courtroom suing some small business when they’ve been suffering through covid and everything else.”
Mareno’s claims would also make a civil lawsuit tricky.
“As early as October, I have messages from [the homeowner] stating that he needed information so he could submit for the variance,” Mareno said. “I usually wouldn’t even get involved in something like this but this is my name and reputation.”
He added that he has run Coastal Cabinetry in Ocean City for five years and worked in construction before that, and has not experienced any other issues or complaints.
“I’ve built additions, countless kitchens, bathrooms, remodel projects in Ocean City and I’ve never had one project, ever, have an issue,” he said.