They're homeless in a million-dollar neighborhood. Why did Ocean Springs pull their permit?

2017-09-12 | The Sun Herald

Sept. 12--OCEAN SPRINGS -- Corey and Miranda Chaney found a lot and a half in a million-dollar neighborhood on the water along Fort Bayou in Ocean Springs last year.

There was a garage apartment left on the property. Hurricane Katrina got the house.

The city assured them that both lots could be built on, Miranda Chaney said. So they bought them, sold the home they had plus a rental next door in the same subdivision of Cherokee Glenn, and put everything into their new home on the water, a few streets over.

The Chaney's secured an architect to work with the city and received permission to renovate and add to the garage apartment, which is on the half-lot. They planned to sell the full lot to help recoup some of their cost.

With the city's blessing in February and a building permit for the project in March, they secured a construction loan.

They gutted the apartment -- opened it to the elements -- and began to add a loft on top and a deck outside. Their goal was a small, but modern, 1,200-square-foot home on the water they could afford, even as they aged.

Two days before they were to lay the roof boards and black in the work -- something that would have protected the exposed wood -- the city pulled their construction permit.

Between early July, when the stop work order was issued, and early September, the structure was ruined.

What happened to the Chaneys culminated in a roar at City Hall during last week's aldermen meeting. Person after person went before the Ocean Springs mayor and Board of Aldermen to speak in support of the Chaneys.

More than 60 people filled the board room and central hall leading to the board room. Mothers sat on the floor with their children. The contractor, neighbors, family and friends all spoke to the aldermen as the plight of the Chaneys spilled out.

The contractor, Matthew Gill with Gill Construction in Vancleave, told the Board of Aldermen that the wood of the structure has been rained on for two months. They haven't been able to protect the work they started.

Gill told the board everything stopped because a neighbor complained.

"I'm out for $70,000 of the project," he said. "I have a building permit from Ocean Springs. Where can I go to get this rectified?"

Miranda Chaney said, "We've been asking the city since July 5, how do we move forward, and we still don't know.

"They said they made a mistake when they issued the building permit, but we have to pay for it," she said.

"I'm homeless," Corey Chaney said outside City Hall last Tuesday, "I can't believe it. We don't have a home."

They put everything in

The Chaneys put everything into buying the lots and securing the construction loan. He's a firefighter and EMT with Biloxi Fire Department and she's a medical coder with an Ocean Springs doctors group. They used parts of their 401ks.

He is outgoing and friendly and one of the neighbors who is now once tagged him the mayor of Cherokee Glenn. When the Chaneys moved to the subdivision, which is north of U.S. 90 and west of McElroy's restaurant, they bought a run-down home that was a blight on the street, in the more modest, upland part of the neighborhood. They fixed that house, then bought and repaired one next door.

Corey Chaney said he knows a lot of people in the subdivision. They appreciate what he and his wife did with the blighted house. And in his line of work, he might respond to half of the life alerts in the area. People know him and like him, he said.

But somehow they got sideways with some of the new neighbors on Cove Avenue. Perhaps it was the squabble over how they would sell the empty lot.

They applied to the city to move the lot line and add 7 feet to the half-lot where the garage apartment was. That would still have left the full lot at 67 feet across and comparable to the widths of other lots on Cove Avenue. The city approved that.

The complaint that stopped the renovation, however, came from neighbors on waterfront Cove Avenue. They threatened to sue the city.

Speaking through an attorney, they told the city in a June 27 letter that changing the lot line made the full lot no longer a legal lot. They said the garage apartment was sitting too close to the road, that the construction was more like new construction than the addition the Chaneys applied for, and that the person who applied provided incorrect information on the building permit application, so it shouldn't have been approved.

"This is not a simple addition to an existing home as represented in the permit application," the letter said. If this is considered new construction, since the garage is 30 years old, it would now need to meet new flood hazard ordinance requirements. That would bring into question whether the foundation of the garage meets new standards.

The letter states that since the lots have been combined since 1983, you can't separate them now. It said the half-lot is too small and the garage apartment was never intended to be a stand-alone home.

The full lot needs to be 80 feet across to meet the city's current laws, the neighbors contended. There was a lot of talk about non-conforming lots.

Corey Chaney, however, pointed out that the subdivision was full of non-conforming lots.

The neighbor next door, to the south of his property, doesn't have room to turn into their three-car garage because they built too close to the property line.

Other lots in the subdivision are smaller than the full lot that the Chaneys want to sell. He's now wondering if it could be because he's black, a rarity in that part of the city.

The Chaneys were told in a letter from the Planning Department in late July they needed to resubmit their plans for consideration by the building official to see if a "variance" and subsequent variance hearing is needed. One solution the city proposed was to combine the lots, which would mean the Chaneys couldn't sell the full lot.

The letter says the city believes the full lot could be used for a home only if it was owned separately from the half-lot in 1985, when the city's zoning ordinances were put into place.

The Chaney's sought an attorney as well.

Loans and contractor left hanging

Their attorney, Billy Guice, said the city stopped the project without due process and ruined their home.

He said the Chaneys didn't get notification or a chance to argue.

Guice claims that's a violation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution and "a taking" under the 5th Amendment. He said the Chaneys had property rights in the form of the building permit the city issued, the city should not have made such a change without following procedure, and such a procedure doesn't include one-sided action on the part of the city.

Bank loans and a contractor were left hanging, he said.

One thing both sides agree on is that the Planning Commission or the Board of Aldermen should have been part of the process from early on.

The situation is currently under legal review, the city planning director told the Sun Herald, so details of the case cannot be discussed at this time.

Karen Nelson: 228-896-2310, @NelsonNews_atSH