Dewey planners seek input on zoning changes

Sea- and bay-level rise prompt officials to adapt
Heavy rains flooded Rodney Avenue, Oct. 10.  Dewey Beach Planning Commission is set to vote on proposed changes to the town zoning code to mitigate sea- and bay-level rise. BY DIANE HANSON
October 23, 2013

Dewey planners are seeking public input on how the town should adapt to sea- and bay-level rise.

At an Oct. 12 Dewey Beach Town Council meeting, planning commission member David King introduced a series of proposed changes to the zoning code that would improve safety when streets flood.

King said if the sea rises by 1.5 feet, portions of the bay side of Dewey Beach would be inundated.  “It’s not ‘if,’ it’s just ‘when,’” he said.

King said the commission has developed more than 20 ways town officials can mitigate flood damage, including creating no-build zones in flood-prone areas.

Many of the changes could be phased in as sea- and bay-level rise occurs, King said, including a 1-foot minimum base elevation requirement when sea level rises by 1 foot.  “Rather than saying, ‘Today, you have to go up three feet,’” he said.

The commission is also proposing waiving half of the building permit fee for property owners who make improvements to adapt to sea-level rise, King said.

The commission wants community input before proposing other changes, such as road and infrastructure improvements, increasing freeboard requirements and - in some cases - allowing buildings to exceed the town’s 35-foot height limit, King said.  “We have a lot of work to do, and we can’t do it by ourselves,” he said.

Mayor Diane Hanson said South Bethany created a committee on sea-level rise, and the planning commission could invite its chair, South Bethany Town Councilman George Junkin, to exchange ideas at its next meeting.

Hanson also said residents should consider how far they plan to go to mitigate sea-level rise.  “Do people really want a sea wall around Dewey Beach?” she asked.

King said the planning commission proposals aim to make property in Dewey Beach resilient, not to block the sea.  “This is adaptation,” he said.

The planning commission also aims to change nomenclature in the zoning code to match the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood map language, making the rules and risks easier for property owners to understand, King said.

Another proposed change would prohibit property owners from rebuilding in a flood plain at low elevation if more than 50 percent of the building is damaged during a storm, King said.

Commissioner Anna Legates said the town should take a common sense approach to adapting to sea-level rise.  “Who in this day and time would ever build without elevating?” she asked.  “We just have to use common sense.”

Commissioner Ellen Danaher said the town should try to notify property owners in high-risk areas about the proposed changes.

Danaher also noted the depth of understanding on the planning commission and said town council should not vote on any changes until it better understands the issues surrounding sea- and bay-level rise.  “Let’s educate the commissioners,” she said.

Harry Wilson, chairman of the planning commission, said the commission would vote on which proposed changes it would bring to town council at its next meeting and public hearing at 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 16.  For an agenda, go to

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