Central Delaware
Dover panel rejects House of Pride’s appeal for occupancy
City of Dover Construction Code and Appeals Commitee members, from, left, Scott Koenig, Adam Perza and Sean Lynn, listen to House of Pride representative Lamar Gunn during Wednesday’s meeting at City Hall. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — An appeal by House of Pride representatives to the city’s Construction Code Appeals Committee to reverse its requirements to obtain certificates of occupancy was unsuccessful on Wednesday evening.

The three-member committee of Councilmen Adam Perza, Sean Lynn and city manager Scott Koenig found that by order of code enforcement, House of Pride representatives had to provide written documentation of an agreement with an outside structural engineer in order to move forward with certificates of occupancy for the properties at 29 S. New St., 37 S. New St. and 20 S. New St.

Ann Marie Townshend, appointed building inspector testifying on behalf of the city, stated that the Oct. 14 letter the city mailed to House of Pride representatives clearly stated that due to the code violations, the organization would have to provide an investigative report with an outside structural engineer in order to gain certificates of occupancy for the three houses.

These are minimum requirements, she said.

“When I sign that paper I am putting my professional credentials on the line,” Ms. Townshend said. “And I simply can’t do that without having documentation by someone qualified to make determination that the structures are sound and that they are minimally compliant with code requirements.”

Some of the code violations range from deteriorated siding, electrical issues and weak, spongy floors. Ms. Townshend prepared a report to the committee which listed a host of violations from 2008 to the current state of the homes. In addition, according to the deputy fire marshal, the city insinuated two of the buildings looked as if they were occupied, despite current condemnation.

“I want to make sure there is some clarity,” said House of Pride executive director Bishop Marion Lott. “All the houses are fully furnished.”

He said that, if inspectors were to go into the buildings today, they would find clothing and furniture, because the men that have lived at the houses were under the impression they could always come back.

“If it’s not your intent to work with us, then state clearly,” Bishop Lott said. “We are here because we want to work with the city. We need our houses. We are not going to give the houses up; we are not going to allow the city to take our houses because that is wrong.

“Mistakes were made in the past, but at the same time all of us can make a commitment to the future.”

Bishop Lott asserted that the building code violations have been corrected and they are explictly trying to work with an engineer.

Mary Beth Johnson, project manager for the House of Pride, stated on the record that she has been attempting to corroborate with various engineering firms, but with no luck.

“It’s been difficult to find anyone to tackle the project,” she said, since the city of Dover is involved on the other side. “It’s been difficult and we are trying to do the best we can.”

La Mar Gunn, who represented the House of Pride during the meeting and is former House of Pride director Marian Harris’ nephew, called for a complete due process trial.

He independently filed an ethics complaint against Councilman Perza and Councilman Lynn, and said that with such disciplinary action they should not be hearing the appeal. On top of that, he stated in that in the international building code law that the city draws from, the construction appeals committee should not be made up of city officials.

“So we can’t go forward,” he said during the hearing.

Ms. Townshend responded that the city has the power to interpret the code and add provisions as it sees fit.

After the meeting’s conclusion, Councilman Lynn said, “We learned that the complaints were dismissed.” And as such, he said, the city would not be in conflict.

Bishop Lott, understandably frustrated after the hearing, was adamant that the city was being uncooperative.

“I don’t know exactly what the course of action will be going forward,” he said. “They have another agenda.”

In conclusion, Ms. Townshend said the House of Pride will be able to obtain certificates of occupancy once it provides the appropriate structural engineering documentation. There is no time limit for that process.

Staff writer Jen Rini can be reached at 741-8250 or Follow DSNJen_Rini on Twitter.