At Thursday’s Regular Meeting, the Cape Charles Town Council rejected an appeal of the Historic District Review Board (HDRB) decision.
Q: What was the original application?
A: The application was for an extension of an expired Certificate of Appropriateness at 114 Pine Street for the construction and installation of a 3” tall vinyl vertical panel fence in the front and side yard and a 6” vertical panel privacy fence in the rear yard from Barrett Cree and Gerry Forbes.
Q: Why did the Board deny it?
A: The original Certificate of Appropriateness was from 2021, and was expired. Essentially, the applicant was trying to extend an expired certificate.
Q: Is vinyl fence even allowed in the Historic District?
A: No. At the time of this request, not only is the Certificate expired, but the material is no longer allowed.
Q: Were they trying to sneak the work in without anyone noticing?
A: Yes, the certificate expired on July 21, 2022, without the fence installation being started. The Planning & Zoning office received a complaint in September 2023 regarding 114 Pine Avenue. A violation was found regarding the fence being installed without an active Certificate of Appropriateness–work relative to the fence had been occurring sporadically in August and September 2023.
Q: What was the applicant’s excuse for the violation?
A: The applicant attempted to pass the fence work off as part of the ongoing renovation of the structure at 114 Pine.
Q: Was a more intelligent and forthright approach available?
A: Yes. Zoning Administrator Katie Nunez met with the property owners, Barrett Cree and Gerry Forbes, on November 2, 2023, concerning the violation and what options were available to him on this matter. Since he was adamant that he felt the fence was a continuous part of his house renovation project and wanted to have the opportunity to make that argument before the HDRB, Nunez finally indicated to him that he should file two applications for the November 21, 2023 HDRB: (1) a Request for Extension of the Expired Certificate of Appropriateness; and (2) a new Renovation Certificate of Appropriateness application for the fence and then to also make the case as part of that application why a vinyl fence should be allowed at this property.
Q: What happened next?
A: The applicant ignored the advice, and only submitted a Request for Extension of the Expired Certificate of Appropriateness, which was heard by the HDRB on Tuesday, November 21, 2023, and was unceremoniously slapped down.
Q: Why would they ignore what seems to be a logical path forward?
A: You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.
Q: During Town Council Deliberations, Vice-Mayor Bennett seemed taken aback about the appeal process. Why?
A: In the past, the Town Council ignored proper procedures and did exactly what they wanted to do.
Q: Katie Nunez seemed stunned by Bennett’s statement that they had never handled appeals this way before, so why do they have to do it like this now? Why?
A: The Vice-Mayor’s question left the Zoning Administrator temporarily speechless–that she would even have to field such a query was absurd. She stated that legally, the Town Council should have been doing it this way all along, especially if a decision was taken to Circuit Court.
Q: What is the correct appeal process?
A: When considering an appeal, the Town Council must rely on the written record of the decision. Information not available to the HDRB during their deliberations is not admissible during an appeal to the Town Council. The Town Council must also refer to Design Guidelines to determine if they were appropriately applied when rendering their decisions.
Therefore, the Town Council is only obligated to determine whether or not a procedural or application error has occurred in rendering the initial decision and not to override the independent judgment of the HDRB.
Q: What does it mean if the Town Council previously rendered decisions illegally?
A: Those decisions may now be null and void. An applicant or citizen could challenge those decisions in court if they choose, especially if they are fond of futile gestures.
Q: Are there any major decisions that could be questioned?
A: Yes. One of the major decisions could be the appeal made by the Hotel Cape Charles. In 2013, the hotel submitted plans for the design of the façade. However, when construction began, the plans had been reworked and were completely different from what had been originally submitted. The HDRB rejected the new plans, as well as the Certificate of Occupancy, and insisted that the hotel follow through with the design that had been submitted and approved. The HDRB followed procedure and the guidelines, however, the Town Council ignored those facts and instead delved into whether to approve the design plans or not. Town Council approved the new design, and the appeal, overriding the HDRB decision. Several members of the HDRB resigned in protest.
Q: Were there other instances?
A: Yes. In 2012, The Historic District Review Board recommended unanimously against permitting a 17-unit apartment building next to Central Park. “Converting the old school to apartments is not an appropriate use of the building,” the Board ruled. At the time, Chairman Russ Dunton reminded the Board that the Town Council is not required to adhere to the Historic District Review Board’s decision. The question now is, were they required to adhere to the decision and only rule on procedure?
Q: Is there a proper parable for Cape Charles this time of year?
A: Yes. Just ask the question.
Q: What makes Christmas in Cape Charles utterly unique?
A: The merry trio – a man, a goat, and a donkey- their antics an annual antique!
Q: How did the man from Cape Charles prepare for Christmas?
A: With a Santa hat secured and bells that jingled loud, knowing chaos with goat and donkey was around!
Q: What role did the goat play in the Cape Charles Christmas festivities?
A: The goat, a merry prankster with glee, turned tinsel into his salad spree!
Q: What was the donkey’s contribution to the holiday cheer?
A: With a wreath around his neck so grand, he watched the chaos, a peaceful stand.
Q: How did the man try to deck the halls in Cape Charles?
A: Tinsel and baubles adorned the scene, ’til the goat made them its snacking cuisine!
Q: How did the townfolk react to the antics of this trio?
A: They laughed and cheered, amidst the fray, embracing the merry chaos at play!
Q: What was the town’s favorite Christmas sight?
A: The man, goat, and donkey, quite a sight to see, spreading joy and laughter, wild and free!
Q: What was the essence of Christmas in Cape Charles?
A: Amidst the tinsel, chaos, and cheer, it was the trio’s antics that made it dear. The town embraced their lively spree, making Christmas in Cape Charles a sight to be!