Dewey planners debate sea-level rise proposals

Commission considers no-build zones near lakes, bay
Dewey Beach Planning Commission is considering amendments to the zoning code to address sea- and bay-level rise. BY RON MACARTHUR
September 2, 2013

Buildings close to two lakes and Rehoboth Bay would be prohibited in Dewey Beach, under proposed changes to the zoning code.

Dewey Beach Planning Commission met Aug. 24 to discuss amendments to the town zoning code to address sea- and bay-level rise.  Possible changes include establishing no-build zones along the shore of lakes and Rehoboth Bay.

The proposed changes are aimed at mitigating the impact of flood-loss and lowering the town’s flood insurance costs.

Flood Hazard Mapping is part of the National Flood Insurance Program and is the basis of the program’s regulations and flood insurance requirements. The NFIP Community Rating System is a voluntary program that encourages municipalities to exceed its minimum requirements; in return, the community sees discounted flood insurance premium rates.

One amendment would establish a minimum setback of 10 feet from the natural shoreline of Silver Lake and Lake Comegys, both located on the north end of town. According to the proposal, renourishment of the lake’s shoreline would be prohibited.

A similar proposal would prohibit landowners from building within 10 feet of Rehoboth Bay.

Planning Commissioner Mike Paraskewich argued the discussion was not properly noticed.  “Sea-level rise is not going to affect the lakes,” he said.  “We’re actually voting on a zoning change that hasn’t been advertised.”

The commission did not vote to recommend any of the proposed changes to town council.  Another meeting to discuss the changes is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 28.

Chairman Harry Wilson said the commission could consider imposing zoning changes when the sea- or bay-level actually reaches a certain height.  He said imposing the changes now seems excessive.  “We’re talking about 50 to 100 years,” he said.

Another proposed amendment to the zoning code would increase the freeboard – or feet above flood-level – requirement from one foot to two feet.

Planning Commissioner Chuck McKinney said increasing the freeboard requirement could make it more difficult for commercial property owners to comply with the 35-foot height limit in Dewey Beach.

John Davidson, a local contractor noted that nonconforming structures in town are not allowed to elevate.  Planning Commissioner David King said according to town code, a structure can't be elevated if it encroaches on setback requirements.

Davidson said property owners often want to elevate their homes to get out of the flood level, but cannot.

Planning Commissioner Jim Dedes said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control plans to release recommendations for towns facing sea-level rise in the fall.  Dedes said the commission could wait until after DNREC releases its recommendations before proposing changes to town council.

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