Lewes homeowners who live near unimproved and unmarked city streets do not support a proposal to use the streets for parking. Lewes mayor and city council agreed, and rejected a proposal to improve the unmarked streets at the July 8 Lewes Mayor and Council meeting.
Homeowners near unmarked paper streets – Wilmington, St. George, Smyrna, Seaford and Viola avenues, which are on the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal side of Cedar Street, would be most affected by the proposal.
Although paper streets and their names are shown on Sussex County tax maps, the streets are not paved and are not marked with signs.
More than 80 people squeezed into Lewes City Hall Council Chamber to oppose the parking proposal at a July 1 public hearing.
Lewes Mayor Jim Ford explained that the proposal to use unmarked streets for parking grew from plans to replace parking space lost because of Bay Avenue reconstruction, completed last year.
He said because the proposal originated with the city, city council has freedom to vote on the idea, withdraw it or take no action.
Charlie O’Donnell, a city engineer with George Miles & Buhr, engineers and architects, at mayor and council’s May meeting said it would cost less than $10,000 to remove grass and brush from the five streets, put down a layer of crushed stone and install barriers to define parking spaces.
O’Donnell estimated 51 parking spaces could be created without encroaching on wetlands, and there would be only minor issues for bordering properties.
Ford said the city received a lot of correspondence about the proposal – none in favor of the idea – but only recently did city officials get a feeling for how overwhelming homeowner opposition is.
“Well, we’re getting a sense for the feeling tonight,” Ford said, tongue-in-cheek, his levity causing laughter.
Ford said letters received mentioned concerns about litter, noise, security and loss of privacy, public lewdness and a decline in property value.
City Councilman Dennis Reardon, a Lewes Beach homeowner, said he asked real estate agents Nick Carter and Lee Ann Wilkinson what effect paper street parking might have on property values. Both agents said the parking would devalue properties, Reardon said.
Homeowner opinions, experiences
Jim Bastian, a Bay Avenue homeowner, said there are no public restrooms near any of the paper streets, but there are facilities at the city’s two public beaches, which also have metered parking.
Bastian suggested seeking permission to level a dune separating the city’s two parking lots and use the space created to expand parking capacity. Bastian left the podium to audience applause, as did all who spoke.
Suzanne Smiley, a Cedar Avenue homeowner, said public lewdness in the area has been increasing over the past several years. “At three in the afternoon I saw a man urinating in the street. I have young grandchildren, and I don’t want them to see that and I don’t want to see it,” Smiley said.
City Councilman Fred Beaufait said 12 vehicles would be the maximum any single paper street could accommodate.
“We’re not talking about 20 or 30 cars on these streets,” Beaufait said.
Asked what the street widths would be, Ford said the project has not been designed, and that kind of detail has not been considered.
Ed Goldenberg, a Bay Avenue homeowner, asked why Lewes exists. “Are we trying to make Lewes like Rehoboth? I once heard it said that Rehoboth is a beach with a town, and Lewes is a town with a beach,” Goldenberg said.
Liz Ross said she has lived across from the Children’s Beach House on Cedar Street for more than 18 years. She said motorists regularly make U-turns on Cedar and when they do they drive onto her property.
“People use the dunes as a bathroom. I used to consider it a residential area, but not so much anymore,” Ross said.
Ford said Delaware Department of Transportation maintains Cedar Street and the agency does not oppose bike lanes or crosswalks, but the city would be responsible for paying for them.
He said if the city creates bicycle lanes along both sides of Cedar Street and if designated crosswalks were painted along the street, parking would be further reduced.
Ohio Avenue homeowner Barbara Tucker said she’s concerned about environmental damage people are already causing in the area. “People allow their kids to run around on the dunes and they damage the beach grass. When I say something to them, they tell me it’s none of my concern. More people would only add to the damage,” she said.
Area resident George Kelly said Lewes already has an area with plenty of beach, beach access and public parking – Cape Henlopen State Park. “All people need to do is buy a pass,” he said.
Bay Avenue homeowner Rich Bacon said to allow parking on paper streets would be precedent setting. “There’s a limited amount of beach and an unlimited number of people who want to use it. There’s no brake on the locomotive once you get started,” Bacon said.