In an effort to prevent bulky houses that block light and air, Rehoboth Beach commissioners voted 6-1 to widen side-yard setbacks for lots that are more than 5,250 square feet and 52.5 feet wide.
Mayor Sam Cooper, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said the zoning code was written to address single-family homes on 50-by-100-foot lots. The ordinance, he said, "really puts the larger lots on par with the 50-foot lots."
Commissioner Lorraine Zellers said she does not want to penalize property owners with larger lots, but the ordinance promotes the well-being of the community. “I feel that it’s about striking a balance,” she said. “I think it’s fair, and I think it’s reasonable.”
Commissioner Stan Mills, who cast the dissenting vote, argued the ordinance prevents property owners from using side-yards for home accessories that do not block light and air, such as patios and in-ground pools.
Mills also said the ordinance punishes homeowners with wider lots. “We’re penalizing the person that has a wider property,” he said. “We’re kind of taking something, but we’re not giving anything back.”
Commissioner Mark Hunker voted in favor of the ordinance but agreed with Mills; he wanted only to address bulk, not take away the ability to install a pool or a patio in the side-yard. “The smaller you make someone’s house, the more they will want to do something outside,” he said.
Commissioner Bill Sargent, who approved the ordinance, argued furniture placed on the patio and a fence surrounding the pool would account for mass and would have a visual impact on the city.
Resident Walter Brittingham opposed the ordinance, saying many property owners who are affected by the change do not realize it. “You’re going to change side-yard setbacks for a lot of people,” he said. “This takes a big chunk away from a lot of people’s property.”
Resident Tom McGlone asked commissioners how many lots were affected by the change and whether those property owners had been notified of the ordinance.
Cooper said city officials do not know how many property owners the ordinance would affect. Mandalas said the necessary noticing requirements had been met, and it would be too burdensome to notify each property owner of the change.
Planning commission Secretary Francis "Bunky" Markert said the commission recommended the change. He said the ordinance allows property owners to build a substantial house but prevents massive structures that deter from the smalltown streetscape of the city. “We certainly support this ordinance,” Markert said.
The commissioners also approved a resolution to grant relief for property owners who have invested at least $5,000 toward a renovation that exceeds the new setbacks prior to the Jan. 17 vote.
Town Attorney Glenn Mandalas recommended the change based on a letter from Bethany Beach attorney K. William Scott, whose clients bought the home at 607 Scarborough Ave. in September and have invested $40,000 into a side yard extension of the home. Eligible property owners must apply for relief by Friday, Jan. 31. For more information, call Rehoboth Beach City Hall at 302-227-6181.