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Rehoboth election set for August 13

Candidates discuss trees, zoning, parking
August 5, 2016

Rehoboth Beach voters will head to the polls Saturday, Aug. 13, at the Rehoboth fire hall to choose between three candidates for two city commissioners’ seats.

The candidates are incumbent commissioners Stan Mills and Mary “Toni” Sharp, and attorney Richard Perry. The winners will serve three-year terms. Each of the candidates is running as a resident. Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The candidates provided a short bio and answered four questions. Their answers are listed in alphabetical order.

Biography:

Mills, 61:  Raised largely in Montgomery County, Md., but has been in Rehoboth Beach, with wife, Marcia, for over 18 years. Graduated from Bucknell University and completed advanced courses at the University of Delaware Institute for Public Administration, FEMA, American Red Cross and Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources workshops. He has been a Rehoboth commissioner for three terms.  Has been a city advocate and participant in many city projects, such as Boardwalk reconstruction, over 18 years.  

“I know Rehoboth Beach and I don’t mind working hard to keep our city safe and prosperous as our Nation’s Summer Capital. I am seeking re-election to continue to address what I call our biggest challenge, managing our identity – that which gives Rehoboth Beach its special sense of place and which drew us all here to live, work and play,” Mills said.

Perry, 67:  Vacationed in Rehoboth since the 1980s and bought his retirement home here in 2009.  Before moving to Rehoboth, Perry was chief operating officer, managing member and general counsel of an SEC-registered investment advisor, several bank holding companies, and a national investment banking firm. Previously served as executive assistant to the chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp., and as a partner in several national law firms before founding a small boutique law firm. Graduate of American International College in Springfield, Mass., and has a law degree from Suffolk Law School in Boston.

“I am active in numerous charitable organizations and their boards.  I have funded and worked in the U.S. and around the world to rescue children from slavery and young women from sexual exploitation, personally delivered aid to victims of HIV/AIDS in Africa, and funded and helped construct housing for homeless children and families in Africa, Guatemala, Mexico and South America,” Perry said.

Sharp, 65: Seeking her second term in office, Sharp said she is focused on turning consensus into action. Worked in communications, which she said has helped her bring diverse opinions together to accomplish a goal. Elected in 2013, Sharp said her focus is on long-term financial planning, improved communication and the city’s comprehensive development plan.

“I am happy to say that these priorities have already seen some action needed to fulfill these promises. I have successfully pressed for the city to adopt a five-year financial plan and a capital budget next year,” she said. “One of my proudest accomplishments is securing the funding to hire a city communications specialist. If re-elected, I will focus on long-term financial planning, preservation of the essential character of the city we all love and public opinion research.”

1) The city has begun discussions on how to improve the tree canopy on private property. How can the city incentivize homeowners to plant more trees?

Mills: The best way is to have buy-in from the property owners by fostering a desire for more trees on private property and to do that, we need input directly from the property owners.  This exercise can include looking at offering free or low-cost trees to homeowners – with additional incentives to promote planting canopy trees and preferred species, offering trade-offs to protect a tree and disincentivizing cutting down of trees. We should also study the report on trees authored by the planning commission, which contains many suggestions.

How do we analyze these and other ideas? Again, we need the public’s assistance.  The large attendance for the first tree meeting signaled to me significant interest in trees and should translate into receiving lots of input from the public.

Perry: Improving the tree canopy in Rehoboth Beach is a public/private partnership and essential to maintaining the unique character of Rehoboth as a seaside city of trees.

I believe the city should implement at least three initiatives to incentivize homeowners to plant or retain trees.  First, the city should establish a cost-sharing program, similar to other municipalities within the Delmarva Region, to help defray the cost to property owners of planting trees of certain designated species.  This could be accomplished through either direct cash payments or a tax credit.  I propose that the city segregate tree-permitting fees received in a separate fund and look to outside organizations and government grants to augment the fund.  

Second, the city should allow limited waivers of zoning restrictions in connection with construction or renovations, such as relocation of front porches or side-rear yard setbacks if the waiver would result in preserving a worthy designated tree species. 

Third, budget economic resources to support the work of the city’s arborist, including sufficient resources to preserve, maintain, protect and systematically plant trees, develop a flexible, understandable ordinance and bury our utility lines.

Sharp: Trees deserve to be a top priority for Rehoboth Beach. It is long overdue that we focus on the preservation and planting of additional trees in the city. I believe that most people want to do ‘the right thing.’ But often they do not know which trees will add to the long-term health of our tree canopy and which will grow well in our local environment. The city needs to embark on a major educational campaign to help citizens understand what truly benefits our city.

We must combine regulations and measures to prevent destruction of trees with incentives for planting more trees on private and public land. Other communities have created incentives and have planted trees using tree rebates, conservation easements, community tree planting and certified tree advocates. While we have not settled on any course of action, we have much to learn and discuss to create a new and improved approach.

2) Last year was a very controversial time in the city with the pool and zoning ordinances. Do you believe the controversy was worth the effort, and do you believe the ordinances are working as intended thus far?

Mills: The zoning package addressed multiple concerns such as environmental issues with loss of trees and stormwater runoff, increase in houses that are out of scale in the community, and reduction of natural area, etc., while the pool ordinance addressed  life safety measures, drainage, excessive noise and lighting over-spilling yard boundaries.  All of these issues became agenda topics in response to a significant number of citizens bringing them forward.  So yes, addressing the concerns was most appropriate and worth discussion as they addressed quality of life and life safety issues.

The zoning ordinance passed last July was validated first by the referendum vote in November. And after one full year since implementation, you can drive around town and see many houses being built or renovated. We've had very few complaints. I feel the new ordinances are working as intended.

Perry: I believe the noise ordinance that was adopted by the city is working.  I have always felt that the issue was noise, from whatever source, and that sources of noise should be dealt with directly.  To date, the evidence collected by our police department clearly demonstrates that noise – from pools or otherwise – has not been a significant issue. 

Quite frankly, I feel that the board of commissioners should have stopped after adopting the noise ordinance.  What ensued with the pool ban (cover up and lock down), zoning and off-street parking proposals only fueled the fires of divisiveness that unfortunately persist to this day.  From that standpoint, I do not feel that the controversy was worth the result as the restrictive, later-adopted ordinances had little impact on the real issue.  A lot of initiatives pursued by the commissioners, like the zoning ordinance in particular, have had an adverse impact on many, and unintended consequences – including financial repercussions to our city’s revenues and the attractiveness to many of Rehoboth as a destination.

Sharp: Controversies often arise as a result of a lack of planning and open communication about existing problems and the effect of proposed legislation. Public input coupled with better city communications will go a long way to understanding our direction. 

Rather than ask if I think the ordinances are working, I think a better question is how we will assess whether or not the community feels the ordinances are working. I am a strong advocate for public opinion research to help direct city policies and ordinances, and a citizens’ advisory group to consult with commissioners on important issues. Asking this question might be a good place to start.

3) The commissioners recently undertook and then dropped a proposal to extend the parking season on Rehoboth Avenue after it proved unpopular with constituents. In what ways can the city increase its revenue without alienating residents and tourists?

Mills: If we are to discuss additional ways to increase revenue, we first need to know what the additional funds are needed for and then look at ways to generate that funding.  By example, if additional monies are needed to fund services and capital improvements related to visitor services, then seeking additional funds might focus on how to have the visitors pay their fair share.

Parking revenue and property taxes are our big funding sources. But we keep coming back to the same well, and new sources of revenue need consideration. Past discussions of additional sources of revenue have included implementing an add-on to the accommodations tax, which gathered no steam but could be considered again, and more recent discussion targeted looking at total fee structures to determine if any adjustments should be made there - both ideas of which would benefit from additional feedback from the citizens and the business community.

Perry: The suggestion to extend the parking meter season on several blocks of Rehoboth Avenue generated a quick public response that was informative.  Public input is what I encourage.  It became clear that virtually no one wanted to extend the parking meter season.  Increased revenue should never be an objective at the expense of our businesses or inconvenience to our residents and seasonal guests.  I have yet to see the results of a survey that the chamber of commerce offered to conduct.  If businesses perceive that turnover in parking is indeed a problem in the off-season, other options, such as three or four hour maximum time limits might be a more common-sense approach.  Parking, in general, is an issue that must be addressed.

Sharp: Before Commissioner Paul Kuhns suggested this topic, it would have served us well to have been informed by public opinion research on the subject. The uproar over this proposal to extend parking meters could have been avoided had we asked the opinions of others, listened to them and openly discussed the traffic, parking and revenue ramifications of the proposal.

Parking revenue from meters, permits and fines represents a large portion of the city’s revenue, but we also derive revenue from transfer and property taxes, permits and licenses, and other sources. Any proposal to increase revenue should be considered as part of solid, long-range financial planning to determine what options benefit the city most, considering the financial impact, the effect on the quality of life in our community and the impact on tourism.

4) Favorite Rehoboth restaurant and why?

Mills: Goodness!  There are too many wonderful eateries in downtown Rehoboth Beach to pick out just one.  I could say I prefer ones within walking distance, but they all are within walking distance!  Marcia and I usually pick a cuisine and then an eatery. And we mix it up.  A favorite warm-weather eating location? The Boardwalk with carry-out!

Perry: If I weren’t a lawyer, I would have been a chef – so my favorite restaurant is really my own kitchen.  When I don’t feel like cooking, I venture out to one of Rehoboth’s fine restaurants.   It really depends on what you want.  For breakfast, I like Otto’s Sandwich Shop’s breakfast sandwiches and Goolee’s blueberry pancakes.  Purple Parrot and Summer House are among definite lunch destinations and Blue Moon for Sunday brunch.  I like Aqua Grill and Henlopen City Oyster House for great happy hour fare.  Eden, DiFebo’s, Café Azafran and Stingray offer diverse dinner menus and a(MUSE) for late-night fare.

Sharp: It is impossible to pick just one, or even a few favorite restaurants in Rehoboth Beach. We are blessed by a multitude of great restaurants to meet every taste that are owned and operated by warm and welcoming restaurateurs throughout our community.

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