City hall, parking and traffic issues dominated the final forum before Rehoboth Beach voters head to the polls for the municipal election Saturday, Aug. 9.
The two candidates for mayor and five candidates for two commissioner seats were all asked whether they supported the current plan to revamp City Hall, at an estimated cost of $15 million.
Incumbent Mayor Sam Cooper and commissioner candidates Francis “Bunky” Markert, Kathy McGuiness, John Meng and Lorraine Zellers all support the plan, while mayoral challenger Tom McGlone and commissioner candidate Larry Myslewski supported a different approach: a new police facility only. McGlone also supports the concept of a parking garage.
The seven candidates made their last pitch at the July 30 Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce candidates’ forum.
Asked if they could change one thing in Rehoboth, what it would be, Cooper said he would like to see more improvements to some of the buildings on Rehoboth Avenue. While not singling anyone out, Cooper said he thought more property owners would invest in the appearance of Rehoboth Avenue’s buildings after the Streetscape project.
McGlone said he would like to see more accountability to constituents from city officials with better long-term planning on issues such as parking and City Hall.
The two candidates were also asked about any negative perception of using ocean outfall to dispose of the city’s treated wastewater.
McGlone said he was against ocean outfall and, as mayor, wanted to work with the city commissioners to come up with another approach. He said he wanted Rehoboth to be known for doing the right thing and not adopting a technology from the 1960s.
Cooper said he did not think perception would be an issue and that facts would prove ocean outfall as the right choice. He said South Coastal Wastewater Treatment Plant in South Bethany and Ocean City have ocean outfalls that dispose of five times the amount of water Rehoboth would, and neither has had a problem in decades of operation.
After the mayoral debate, the forum then opened to the full panel of candidates. The first question was what is the No.1 complaint of visitors, business owners and residents?
Cooper said parking was always at the top of everyone’s list, but he does not think it is the biggest problem in town.
McGlone said parking was the No.1 concern of the visitor, while business owners dislike the city’s cumbersome regulations for opening a business. He said for residents, there is an unequal application of the law, particularly for building within Rehoboth.
Markert said parking was a major issue, but he is also concerned about civility within town during the heavy tourist seasons.
McGuiness said traffic management was the biggest issue for everyone in town.
Meng said business owners and residents’ biggest complaint was traffic, although for different reasons. He said residents have problems with delivery trucks blocking the road and not being able to drive through town in the summer. Meng agreed visitors biggest issue was with parking.
Myslewski said the parking situation in Rehoboth affects everyone, with visitors wanting more and less expensive parking, while residents want less parking on nonmetered streets.
Zellers said parking and traffic management, particularly concerning commercial vehicles, was the most frequent complaint she hears.
Along that same line, the candidates were asked what they would do to improve deliveries in the central commercial areas.
McGlone said he wanted to see more engagement with the businesses to better coordinate when deliveries come into town.
Cooper said the answer is to have deliveries during off-peak times, when fewer people are in town.
Markert said it was up to the business community to coordinate its deliveries to have as little effect on traffic as possible.
McGuiness said solutions can be worked out by the businesses themselves, such as night drops. She said she was happy the city has not stepped in and started regulating deliveries.
Meng said there were options to alleviate traffic issues caused by delivery trucks, such as having them park on the same side of the street so that cars wouldn’t have to slalom between parked trucks.
Myslewski said he would leave it up to the businesses to work out their deliveries.
Zellers said the city needs more input and should bring in professional help, with a traffic study showing how deliveries affect traffic patterns and how they can be managed.
Another parking related question was on increasing the amount of parking space for bicycles and scooters.
Cooper, Zellers and Markert said they were open to looking at more scooter parking if the demand is there. McGlone said he would like to see the city encourage more walking and biking, while McGuiness said there should be more bike racks and scooter parking.
Myslewski, who took Rehoboth to federal court over its scooter ordinance, said the city's policies discourage the use of scooters by taking away the convenience of having one.
The candidates were asked whether they supported a parking garage in downtown Rehoboth.
Cooper said he does not support a parking garage, believing it would be a financial boondoggle for the city. He said Rehoboth has a limited amount of space and should not be trying to bring in more cars.
McGlone said he absolutely supports a garage, but the idea must be further investigated. He said the idea of a parking garage was looked at seven years ago, but it should be looked at once again.
Markert said he does not support a garage and that the city should incentivize people to use other ways to get into town besides driving.
Meng said also does not support a parking garage, saying the trend has been for more people riding bikes and scooters and walking into town. He said building a parking garage sends the wrong message.
McGuiness did not commit one way or the other; she said parking was a traffic management issue that should be looked at comprehensively. She said she would like to see a jitney service providing another mass transit option.
Myslewski said he questioned whether a parking garage serves a real purpose, but it could be viable if tied into something like a new police station.
Zellers said she did not support a parking garage because the city wants to encourage alternative methods of getting into town such as walking, biking or mass transit.
The Rehoboth election will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 9, at the Rehoboth Beach Convention Center.