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Commission denies retroactive application

By Staff | Aug 20, 2010

SHEPHERDSTOWN – A local couple’s application to install four wood-frame windows with vinyl windows in their 1957 home has been denied by the Shepherdstown Planning Commission.

On its own, this wouldn’t be so remarkable, save for the fact that the windows have already been installed.

Now, homeowners Jack and Pat Egle must successfully argue their case before the Board of Zoning Appeals, which can overturn decisions made by the Planning Commission.

The Egles, who live in a 53-year-old, single-story bungalow on King Street, said they mistakenly replaced the windows without going through the building permit application. Normally, the process takes applicants first through the Historic Landmarks Commission for approval before being forwarded on to the Planning Commission. Jack Egle explained that he purchased the new windows from Home Depot. He also paid to have Home Depot hire a subcontractor to install the windows. He was told that Home Depot would handle the application paperwork through a permitting agency based out of Baltimore, he said.

Unfortunately, the Home Depot’s permitting agency failed to flag the Egles’ renovation as requiring municipal approval before construction could begin.

“I want to apologize to you all,” Egle told members of the Planning Commission. “It was never our intention to pull a fast one on you guys.”

The unapproved windows were discovered by Harvey Heyser, Shepherdstown’s zoning officer, as they were being installed. By that time, Heyser said the wooden windows were already removed. When asked why he didn’t order further work halted, Heyser explained that “three windows had already been taken out. There was no sense in stopping the project with four holes in the wall.”

Scott Coy, a sales manager from Home Depot, was present at Monday’s Planning Commission meeting.

He explained that the Egle’s renovations were not flagged for permits because the company’s permitting agency’s database only flags projects in locations where Home Depot has done renovations in the past. Home Depot apparently had not done work in Shepherdstown in the past and was thus unaware of the need for a building permit.

Many members of the Planning Commission expressed dismay that the work was completed without a permit.

“It sets a dangerous precedent,” said new Planning Commissioner Chris Stroeh.

Councilman Josh Stella, who also serves on the Planning Commission, said that work being performed without permits is becoming troublesome.

“In general, we have seen a pattern of contractors moving forward with work without a permit,” he said. “And we’ve had other applications for vinyl windows which have been contentious.”

Many members of the Planning Commission are loathe to approve the installation of vinyl windows in historic Shepherdstown. Local zoning laws do not ban the use of vinyl windows outright. However, those laws do say that the use of vinyl windows is “strongly discouraged.”

“If they didn’t have these windows already installed, I’d not approve of the vinyl windows,” Councilman and Planning Commissioner David Rosen said.

“The use of vinyl is left to our discretion,” reminded Planning Commissioner Karene Motivans.

The vote was 6 to 2 to deny the Egle’s application.