Taking what they called a good first step, the Rehoboth Beach commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance establishing a 10-foot, no-build buffer around the city’s lakes.
The ordinance will prevent building of structures such as garages, sheds, walkways and driveways within 10 feet of the ordinary high water mark of Silver Lake and Lake Gerar.
Commissioner Mark Hunker said, “I believe this is the right thing to do. It’s a good idea that’s time has come.”
Commissioner Patrick Gossett said, “This is not onerous. I think it’s a small part of what we need to do to protect the lakes.”
Commissioner Stan Mills said preventing accessory structures within 10 feet of the lake will not only protect the lake, it will also protect the view of the lake.
The only objection to the ordinance was from the Flickinger family of East Lake Drive. In a letter, owner Kay Flickinger said the ordinance would impinge on her property rights. She also said the planning commission did not seek input from her or other lakefront property owners in preparing the commission’s report on the lakes, which recommended the 10-foot no-build zone.
Her son, Burt Flickinger, said, “Where do you get off? This is our property.” He criticized the city for dumping its stormwater into Silver Lake and said the city was impinging on his family’s riparian rights.
Commissioner Bill Sargent said the ordinance was intended to prevent situations like what happened at Lot 6 Silver Lane, where the house was oriented so the shorter, six-foot side-yard setback was closest to the lake. He said now, homebuilders will have to have their homes the full 10 feet from the lake. Sargent told Flickinger the ordinance does not take away property rights.
Planning commissioner Bunky Markert said the commission had several public meetings in drafting its report and would have killed to have more public participation.
While the ordinance will prevent new structures from being built within 10 feet of the lake, even its architects were skeptical of its environmental impact. Markert said the no-build buffer might not make a dramatic change in the environment, but it would at least stabilize the banks somewhat to reduce runoff from going into Silver Lake.
Planning Commissioner David Mellen said the 10-foot buffer had nothing to do with environmental protection, but will prevent homeowners from building right on the lakes.
For several speakers, the question was not whether to enact the 10-foot buffer, but whether 10 feet was enough.
Frank Cooper, 96 East Lake Dr., said 10 feet was a bare minimum if the city is trying to maintain the aesthetics of the lake. Cooper then addressed what he called “the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” the dock and gazebo he built on Silver Lake after the city passed a moratorium on building near the lakes.
Cooper said docks and gazebos are an iconic feature that add to the character of Silver Lake. However, he said he supported measures preserving sightlines around the lake.
Mabel Granke, 1015 Scarborough Ave. Extended, said, “I consider 10 feet a minimum. It’s moving us forward. It’s letting us begin to do something positive and concrete that will help begin to protect the lake.”
Toni Sharp, 1002 Scarborough Ave. Extended; Sallie Forman, president of Save Our Lakes Alliance3; and Guy Martin, 87 Henlopen Ave. all said the city should have a wider buffer. Commissioner Pat Coluzzi, while in favor of the ordinance, said she would favor a 25-foot setback.
Commissioner Bill Sargent said it would be wonderful to have a larger setback, but 10 feet was something he could live with.
“This is probably what we should do right now,” he said.
While the city is moving forward, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control is still sorting out its ownership of Silver Lake.
Michael Globetti, spokesman for DNREC, said numerous issues surrounding Silver Lake are not yet clarified.
“We are continuing discussions with the Delaware Department of Justice on legal issues and have not yet initiated discussions with landowners. DNREC hopes to have a path forward for Silver Lake identified soon,” he said.