This story was updated at 3:55 p.m. on Jan. 28, 2014.
Gaithersburg officials recently condemned the structure that a woman built in her backyard as a miniature home for her daughter after they read about it in a December edition of The Gazette.
Darline Bell-Zuccarelli said a city inspector came to her house Jan. 16 and condemned the 192-square-foot structure behind her own home on Woodland Road in Gaithersburg.
To help her daughter, who was struggling to afford her own place, Bell-Zuccarelli and her husband spent about one year and $15,000 to build the small building.
Complete with a living room, kitchenette, sleeping loft, bathroom and porch, the structure is small but functional, Bell-Zuccarelli said. It also has electricity, air conditioning and heat, and it is set up for plumbing.
She has city electrical and building permits for a shed of up to 216 square feet under city code. The house also passed city foundation, framing and electrical inspections, according to Bell-Zuccarelli.
The tiny house had been sitting unoccupied in the backyard while Bell-Zuccarelli saved up to pay for the water company’s charge to connect its pipes to those on the street.
At least that was the plan before the city became involved.
Wes Burnette, the city’s permits and inspections division chief, confirmed that the city condemned the shed. He said he thought the structure had been modified without permission since it was first approved and that the zoning law does not permit more than one dwelling unit on a lot in that community.
“I can say that based on the article and pictures in The Gazette, there have been modifications to the structure after we closed out the shed permit without obtaining further required permits or inspections,” he wrote in an email to The Gazette.
Burnette wrote in the email that the city reached that conclusion based on the newspaper coverage, not by visiting the site.
After coming home to find the notice on the structure’s door, Bell-Zuccarelli said, she was fuming that the city condemned it without speaking to her or visiting the house. She noted that the inspector first put the condemnation sign on the front door of the primary house until he was corrected by her daughter, who was home at the time.
“If you didn’t go visit, then why did you condemn it?” Bell-Zuccarelli asked. “All of this could have been resolved if someone came out to actually visit it and talk with me.”
Bell-Zuccarelli said she built the house to the exact specifications outlined in the blueprints, which were approved by the city in June 2012. She said she thought she had all the necessary permits and inspections as required by the city.
Zoning, however, was one issue she forgot to check.
“I didn’t even give zoning a second thought,” she said.
Even though she now knows that zoning requirements will prohibit her from ever having people live in the structure, she said she is still fighting to keep it as a shed — a really nice shed.
“You can’t condemn me for what I might do, but for what I am doing,” she said.
After completing a physical inspection at Bell-Zuccarelli’s home Monday, Burnette said he cited several projects that were completed without proper permits, including the staircase, railings on the staircase and loft, extra kitchen cabinets, kitchen sinks and some plumbing work, exterior deck, extra electrical outlets and fixtures, and bathroom toilet, shower and sink.
Bell-Zuccarelli said she plans to apply for the appropriate city permits to get approval for the projects, and have the condemnation order reversed.