Cape Charles town halts work on fence that took too long to finish

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BY STEFANIE JACKSON, Eastern Shore Post —

For one Cape Charles property owner, there was no mending fences with town officials over his denied request for an extension on a home-improvement project in the historic district.

Barrett Cree, who owns a home on Pine Street, told the Town Council on Thursday, Dec. 21, that “the delays we incurred were not of our choosing” regarding the installation of a vinyl fence around the property.

He had asked for an extension to complete the fence even though the certificate of appropriateness for the work had expired 16 months prior and vinyl is no longer a permitted building material in the historic district.

Cree said he and Gerry Forbes “didn’t mean to do anything wrong,” and he had been unaware of the process to renew the certificate, which had expired one year after its July 2021 issue date.

Cape Charles town staff had discovered the long-expired certificate of appropriateness after one neighbor had complained about another issue with the property, which has been corrected.

Cree filed for an extension for the fence installation but was denied by the Cape Charles Historic District Review Board in a 3-2 vote, leaving him one remaining option — to appeal the decision to the Town Council.

Forbes noted that $13,000 had been invested in the fence that is consistent with the architectural style of the neighborhood, and one-third of the fence has been installed.

Several neighbors spoke or wrote in support of the project.

Ann Hayward Walker said there were “extenuating circumstances” and the Town Council should approve the extension.

The certificate was issued during the COVID-19 pandemic, when labor shortages were high, she pointed out.

Walker said she and her husband also have been trying to improve their property and have experienced a year-long delay.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ambushed contractors on job sites or where they go to have coffee at 7 in the morning. I have groveled, I’ve begged to please commit to work … on our projects,” with no success, she said.

Bob McLanahan in an email wrote that, as a builder, he understands the challenges of working on such a small lot, and that grading, landscaping, and fencing are always the last steps in a major home improvement project.

Sheila Shields, who lives across the street, wrote in support of the project. “I have watched as these owners have put in an exorbitant amount of time, money, and effort to improve this property, which had been an eyesore,” she said.

Town Council Members Steve Bennett, Andrew Follmer, and Tammy Holloway indicated that they would like to see the work continue at the Pine Street home, but they could not approve the extension of a certificate of appropriateness that had been expired for 16 months.

Cape Charles Zoning Administrator Katie Nunez suggested that an extension was inappropriate because work had not begun on the fence until this summer, after the certificate expired.

According to a document submitted by Cree, fence post holes had been dug in May 2022, while the certificate of appropriateness was active.

However, Nunez did not consider that the start of work on the fence, as there had been project delays, with heavy equipment sitting idle on the property, and the holes had collapsed.

Cree said the project had never been abandoned and that work had continued daily, even “in between medical procedures and treatments.”

Nunez pointed out that she had recommended Cree apply both for an extension of the previous certificate of appropriateness and a new one.

When applying for the new certificate of appropriateness, he should explain to the historic district review board why the use of vinyl fence should be allowed, she said.

However, he had chosen to apply only for the extension.

The Town Council unanimously voted to deny Cree’s appeal.

Holloway said making the decision was “so hard, because the work is incredible … but that is not our position tonight.”

She told the applicants, “I really wish that you guys had submitted the reapplication … and I hope that you do that.”

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