A structure built in the waters of Silver Lake has once again raised eyebrows – but this time the structure is not a house but a dock.
At issue is a pier, soon to have a gazebo, under construction in front of 96 East Lake Drive. Rehoboth Beach officials placed a moratorium on all building within 15 feet of the city's lakes in May, but that hasn't stopped construction of the new pier.
At the Jan. 7 city commissioners’ meeting, during a discussion of a site plan review ordinance for construction around the lake, Commissioner Lorraine Zellers said if the city is committed to protecting the health and welfare of the lakes, “How is it possible that someone is building a pier into Silver Lake? How can someone be building a pier when there’s a moratorium going on?”
Zellers said the city is sending mixed messages by implementing site plan review, which will affect only 12 to 15 homes in the city, while allowing a pier to be built in the lake.
City Solicitor Glenn Mandalas said the city did not issue a permit for the pier, and the property owner was building the pier on his own. While the house is within the city, Mayor Sam Cooper said, the land under the water where the dock is being built is not. "As I understand it, it’s not within the city limits, so the city has no jurisdiction over it.”
Mandalas said the state’s Subaqueous Lands Act does not regulate Silver Lake.
“It’s certainly another unfortunate circumstance we find ourselves in,” Mandalas said.
Even more surprising is the person building the pier: board of adjustment member Frank Cooper.
“I don’t think I have done anything here, nor would I do anything that would deteriorate or damage the lake at all. Anytime you build something new, some people won’t like it. But I think everything I have done here is legal, and I think I’ve done it in the most responsible way that I can,” he said.
He said when he signed the deal on his house, it specifically gave him riparian rights to the property. He said he contacted Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and Precision Marine Construction, which is building the dock, the day of settlement to ensure he could build the dock, and he began building immediately after settlement.
Frank Cooper said the city's building moratorium forbids land improvements within 15 feet from the ordinary high water mark, which is not where he is building the pier. The moratorium prevents building on land, so Cooper said he cannot connect the dock to the lake’s edge, although the pier is close enough that he will be able to step onto it from the edge.
Cooper said he discussed the dock with his neighbors.
“I did everything I could to have as little impact, and not obstruct anybody’s view, as best I could,” he said.
Ownership and authority
Who owns Silver Lake? That is the question that complicates all discussions of the lake. DNREC has recently claimed they own the lake, however, DNREC officials have not officially confirmed the state's ownership. The city has been reluctant to adopt an ordinance mandating a 10-foot no-build area around the lakes until the ownership issue is settled.
At the Jan. 7 meeting, Mandalas said building inspector Terri Sullivan tried to get Frank Cooper to stop work on the dock because the state could possibly take ownership of the lake. He said Sullivan did not issue a formal stop-work order because the city does not have jurisdiction. Zellers said Sullivan told Cooper he could not put the dock in the lake, and City Manager Greg Ferrese also said he could not build the dock.
“He did it on his own,” Ferrese said.
Mandalas said despite what has happened, the city should not acquiesce that it has no jurisdiction over the lake. Commissioner Stan Mills said while he did not want to rush regulation through, he wondered if the city should consider extending its moratorium. Commissioner Patrick Gossett said the city should move forward with the regulations proposed by the planning commission – site plan review and a 10-foot no build zone – and if the state claims ownership of Silver Lake, amend the ordinances as needed.
“I just think we need to take action,” he said.
The city already has a site-plan review ordinance on the books for large commercial and residential developments. The law gives the planning commission the authority to review and recommend changes.
Mayor Sam Cooper said he wanted to have a public hearing on the site-plan review ordinance. He proposed passing a resolution at the Jan. 18 regular meeting and then holding the public hearing at the Friday, Feb. 15 meeting.
Frank Cooper: “I’m truly sorry if people are upset”
When a building permit for a large new home at 6 Silver Lane was appealed last year, the board of adjustment voted against hearing the appeal. Only one person voted in favor of hearing the appeal – Frank Cooper.
Cooper said he understands people may see his opposition to 6 Silver Lane and his building the dock as being hypocritical. He said he was not opposed to the building of the house, but he believed the building inspector had misinterpreted where the property line was. Cooper said after reviewing the case, he now believes the building inspector's interpretation was correct.
As for Cooper's dock, he said he will restore the shoreline from any damage done by building the dock.
“I’m truly sorry if people are upset,” Cooper said. “On one hand, it would be foolish not to exercise these rights while I can. This is what I paid for. I’m trying to do it in the most tasteful way I can. I think it will be a beautiful addition to this end of the lake.”