Visitors and residents of Rehoboth Beach will soon have access to an Italian-style garden in Cranberry Park along Lake Gerar.
Rehoboth Beach Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve The Garden of the Navigators, with benches, walkways, greenery and a cement compass at the center.
The park, which could cost up to $100,000, will be funded by Rehoboth Beach Sister Cities Association, which promotes Rehoboth Beach’s relationship with sister-city Greve in Chianti, Italy.
Mayor Sam Cooper cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the garden. Before the vote, Cooper spoke in opposition to the garden, saying he was in favor of protecting open spaces. “Natural areas are good. We ought to have a darn good reason to plow them up,” he said. “I don’t want more and more of these.”
Commissioners Patrick Gossett and Pat Coluzzi also voted in favor of the proposal. Coluzzi said she was shocked at Cooper’s vote.
Coluzzi presented a final draft of the garden to Rehoboth Commissioners at the Dec. 21 meeting. Coluzzi said landscape architect Ray Zebrowski revised the design based on requests from the commissioners.
Commissioner Stan Mills was the first to voice opposition to the design. “I’m not against the garden,” he said. “I think the scale should be much, much smaller.” Mills also said he did not like the Cranberry Park location. Mills was the only commissioner who voted against the garden’s location at the Nov. 5 meeting.
Commissioner Lorraine Zellers said the garden seemed too formal, and she was disappointed with the final design.
Commissioner Bill Sargent said he hoped the architect would have removed the cement compass as part of the compromise. “I can’t support the current design,” he said.
Commissioner Mark Hunker, who voted to approve the garden, said Zebrowski took some of the more formal parts of the proposed garden, such as walls and a terracotta patio, out of the final design. “When does it become acceptable?” Hunker asked. “This is the third compromise already and it gets smaller and smaller and back and back,” he said.
Hunker and Coluzzi said they had received more letters and testimony in support of the garden than against it. Coluzzi asked Sargent who he was representing by voting against the garden.
“Believe me, there are an awful lot of people,” Sargent said. “The perception is a small group of people have forced this on the town.”
Hunker said Cranberry Park is currently a place where people walk their dogs and do not clean up after them. “I just can’t imagine how people don’t think this is an improvement,” he said.
Of Sargent’s opposition to the circle, Hunker said, “I don’t understand how that is formal – a piece of cement.”
About six residents testified against the park. Longtime residents of Olive Avenue, such as Jean Cochran and former Commissioner Bitsy Cochran, said the garden would encroach on the open space of the park. “I’d like to see that park stay the way it is,” Jean Cochran said.
Another handful of business and property owners testified in favor of the park. Tom Romando of Henlopen Avenue said the garden would enhance the open space of the park, and the proposed garden contains structures that already exist in front of the Convention Center and Rehoboth Beach Museum. “I don’t understand what the controversy is,” he said.
Resident Tony Sharp said discussions about the park began in September. “This horse, to me, is way out of the barn,” she said. Sharp said commissioners should put personal preferences aside and vote with the majority opinion. “I already think you have your win,” she said.
The sister cities agreement between Rehoboth Beach and Greve was signed in 2010. The agreement was meant to promote tourism and foster cultural, artistic and educational exchange.
In April, Coluzzi visited a garden in Greve honoring Rehoboth Beach. City officials hope to have The Garden of the Navigators ready before a delegation from Greve is scheduled to visit in June.