MARYLAND

Backyard home causes controversy in Md.

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GAITHERSBURG, Md. (WJLA) - A tiny home is causing a big controversy in Gaithersburg's East Deer Park neighborhood.

Homeowner Darline Bell-Zuccarelli claims the city approved construction of a livable shed behind her home in the 300 block of Woodland Road. However, following a Dec. 23 feature story in the Gazette Newspaper, Bell-Zuccarelli says city inspectors returned to her property and condemned the 192-square foot structure.

"My daughter called and said, 'Mom, are you sitting down, and don't start crying. The shed is condemned,'" Bell-Zuccarelli recalled.

The mission to create the backyard micro home began in 2010. Bell-Zuccarelli, an accountant by trade, budgeted $15,000 to craft the abode for her then 22-year-old daughter, gainfully employed but tight on cash. Multiple binders packed with research proceeded any hardware purchases, let alone construction. Now nearly four years later, the cozy space, featuring a kitchenette, bathroom, living area, loft bedroom and two flat screen televisions sits freshly complete, yet totally empty.

"I don't know how it got 'dangerous' and I don't know how it got 'unsafe,'" Bell-Zuccarelli remarked. "I spent years doing this. It wasn't like I just threw this up in my backyard willy-nilly."

John Schlichting, the director of Gaithersburg's Planning and Code Administration, admits his inspectors approved the structure in March 2013, when it looked a "simple shed." Schlichting argues Bell-Zuccarelli added all the cozy accouterments in the time since: cabinets, sinks, a shower, toilet, and deck, to name a few. Those late "un-inspected" improvements, Schlichting says, violate a longstanding Gaithersburg's zoning ordinance, which permits only one livable dwelling per lot, in Bell-Zuccarelli neighborhood. As city leaders see it, she currently owns two homes on one plot of land.

Unfair, Bell-Zuccarelli argues, swearing she played by the rules, going so far as to keep city and county leaders abreast of construction progress.

"I invited everyone to come see it, thinking, 'maybe this will work for low-income people in Gaithersburg.' Now why would I have asked them to visit if I was trying to hide something?," Bell-Zuccarelli asked rhetorically. "I think they're just condemning me, that's at least what it feels like."

For now, the "condemned" sign is etched in Bell-Zuccarelli's mind, and taped to the shed's front door. It threatens a $500 fine, and 90 days in jail. While neither have been issued, the city says it will not back down.

"To see a condemned sign on her house is the most painful thing," daughter Adrienne Baker said. "It's at least something that should be kicked around. It's not a bad idea. I feel like she's put forth the effort, so someone else should too."

Forget the heart, Bell-Zuccarelli joked, home is where the headache is: a 10-by-14 foot migraine sitting smack dab in her snow-covered backyard.

"You're taking it too far, this is just too much. I built a really well-made house, and I think it's a good idea for homeless and low-income families. I'm going to keep pushing because I think it will work," Bell-Zuccarelli concluded.

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