Dagsboro significantly reduces fee for BOA applications

DAGSBORO – Variance requests in the town of Dagsboro have been few and far between.

Town leaders say it has been well over a decade since the last request was addressed by the town’s board of adjustment.

A variance application will soon be in the pipeline. That application – and future applications – will cost significantly less than before following town council’s action at the March meeting.

Dagsboro’s town council on March 26 voted unanimously to reduce the fee from $2,500 to $1,000 for all future applications involving the town’s board of adjustment.

The fee reduction was among several recommendations presented to council by Brad Connor, planning and zoning chairman.

“Since we have not met or had anything go to the board of adjustment for at least 15 years to my knowledge, maybe longer, the fee was $2,500 at that time,” said Mr. Connor. “For a lot reasons but mainly the real cost the commission is asking that the fee go from $2,500 to $1,000 for all future applications involving the board of adjustment.”

The planning and zoning commission also recommended that Dagsboro residents Matthew and Karen Kern go before the board of adjustment with a side setback variance request. Mr. Kern, executive chef at Heirloom in Lewes, and his wife are proposing to renovate the former Heathman Jewelers property into a restaurant/bar. That property borders the Bodenweiser property on Main Street.

Council’s 4-0 vote to lower the fee – council members Theresa Ulrich, William Chandler, Norwood Truitt and Mayor Brian Baull cast approval; councilman Patrick Miller was absent – followed lengthy discussion.

“The whole point was to lower it from the $2,500. It’s not something that is going to occur that often,” said Ms. Ulrich. “I say let’s take it to $1,000 and leave it at that. It’s something that can be changed later, correct.”

“Yes, we can change it,” said attorney Rob Witsil, the town’s solicitor.

In comparison, research by town consultant Kyle Gulbronson provided board of adjustment application fees in surrounding towns: Georgetown $750; Millville $750 plus professional fees; Millsboro $1,000; Frankford $1,500.

“That is your surrounding area,” said Dagsboro town Administrator Cindi Brought.

“I kind of like the idea of the application fee and the professional fees,” said Mayor Baull. “There has not been one in 15-plus years, so it may be another 15 years before another one comes to us.”

Professional fees would be anything encountered through the process, such as legal, planning or engineering, Mr. Gulbronson said.

“Some applications would be simple. I’d have to charge for getting here and attending, writing a brief,” Mr. Witsil said. “Other applications, if they are contentious, could be significant.”

Ms. Ulrich said a fee plus professional fees creates an air of uncertainty. “Whoever is coming in, a business coming in they are not going to be able to know exactly how much it is going to cost them. It’s not clean-cut,” said Ms. Ulrich. “And people like to know up front what it is going to cost.”

Ms. Brought estimated that the flat $1,000 fee would cover town costs. Mr. Gulbronson agreed, noting Dagsboro’s neighbor to the north.

“I know Millsboro’s fee is $1,000. I know almost every commercial project that is approved in Millsboro has had to have a variance, at least one. So, they go through this process quite often and I would think that if they are losing money at that $1,000 they would up the fee,” Mr. Gulbronson said.

Mr. Chandler tendered this suggestion.

“I am just wondering whether there is a way to phrase it where folks like the Kerns would be easily covered, so we don’t have to worry about them. But for those who are the problematic ones, is there some way to write it so the fee is this, unless the cost exceeds this in which case the property owner will be required to pay the difference?” Mr. Chandler said. “I only say this for one reason – and I may philosophically be on a limb by myself, which is fine, I am usually there anyway – but if a property is occasioning some action by the town that costs something I think the property owner ought to pay that, rather than the taxpayers subsidizing it.”

“For example, my own request to have my property rezoned, I pay for the advertising and all of those costs. And I should. I don’t think the taxpayers should have to bear any of that cost,” Mr. Chandler said. “The Kerns are going to be way under the $1,000. So that’s easy. But for the others who might be more complicated I am just suggesting that we think about it, maybe, in the future that we have it so that if it’s under $1,000 like this will be, that’s easy. If it is over $1,000 the property owner understands they have to pony up the difference.”

“Well, then you’re basing your fee on costs expended by the town which could be less than $1,000,” said Mr. Witsil.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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